The Best People Will Bring Innovation

December 22, 2005


Charlie Bess has a very interesting piece on the “EDS’ Next Big Thing” blog. He was asked to articulate what 2006 held for the open source movement and for innovation. And rather than just bloviate on key open source products (like Firefox or Songbird), he notes that innovation comes from people. So if the best and most innovative people are contributing to the open source codebase, then open source projects will generate innovative solutions.

This is an excellent point. I’ve seen many open source projects live and I’ve seen most of them die. The same is true for commercial products. Some have thrived while most have perished. But innovative people come in all forms. Some believe in a strict set of ethics concerning intellectual property. Most are just trying to make a living and provide for their families.

But long-lasting success is always built upon the foundation of others. I am reminded of a very intriguing scene from an Adam Sandler movie – “50 First Dates.” In this movie, the female lead (played by Drew Barrymore) has a debilitating memory problem. She has a condition where she starts each new day as if it was a specific day BEFORE she was in a serious accident. Everything that occurred after the accident is lost when she sleeps. In one scene, the neurologist (Dan Akroyd) tells us of the scientist who “discovered” this condition. As a sufferer of the condition, it took this scientist years to simply record his findings since he couldn’t remember them from one day to the next.

As funny as the movie was, it made an important point. Every day we live, we must depend upon the knowledge we have gained beforehand. This is especially true for software development. No one builds computers from the ground up anymore. We rely upon hardware, firmware and infrastructure that we are often unaware of. We must stand on the shoulders of previous generations of programmers.

So while innovation can occur in any context, real products must be delivered from a complete foundation that is based upon recognizing and building upon the efforts of others. Does such a framework require a commercial or “free” IP perspective? Certainly not. But it does require the humility to voluntarily stand on other’s shoulders. And it requires the civility to attribute our foundation to its appropriate source. Think of it as footnotes required in your senior essay. Finally, it does require that we allow others to stand upon our shoulders.




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