This not so short posting is about a very big subject. As noted in the “categories” marked, it covers many aspects of the human condition. ‘Why’ is pretty simple: It is about a fundamental strain between two major ways of organizing human activity.
For those unfamiliar with it, there is a book that explores this strain in the context of software development. In my opinion, it extends far beyond software and has been with us for thousands of years. It shows up throughout our history, has shaped empires, republics, and determined the outcome of wars. I think we also see echos of it in the shape of the Global Warming “debate”, with the “Warmers” side dominated by Central Authority and the Skeptics a self assembled revolutionary rabble. (That same theme seen in many a movie and Star Wars episode…) The book is “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”
The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary (abbreviated CatB) is an essay, and later a book, by Eric S. Raymond on software engineering methods, based on his observations of the Linux kernel development process and his experiences managing an open source project, fetchmail. It examines the struggle between top-down and bottom-up design. The essay was first presented by the author at the Linux Kongress on May 27, 1997 in Würzburg and was published as part of the book in 1999.
I’ll be referencing / quoting bits from the online version here:
The reason this interest came about was a presentation on CSPAN. It was a gaggle of Corporate Lawyers having a conference on Security issues. Having reported to the Corporate VP
shark Council at a small 200 person start up, I was interested in that point of view.
I was, once again, treated to the spectacle of very intelligent folks with an odd mix of disdain, a tinge of maybe-admiration, fear, and recognition of clueless-ness as they would talk about The I.T. Staff. Large egos coping with the fact that the I.T. staff were at least as smart and educated, just in something terribly opaque to them, and one on which they were dependent and at the same time responsible for it. I did feel just a twinge of pity. I always learn about anything for which I am responsible; but clearly a lawyer can’t just soak up the whole I.T. culture and methods in a year after being assigned Responsibility. ( I suspect this is why some companies now have a Chief I.T. Officer so blame can rest with someone who really understands it.)
Now, being “up close and personal” with many lawyers of the years, I’ve come to have a fair understanding of them, their culture and training, and their world view. This includes having been on a Board Of Directors with a half dozen. I’ve also gone out of my way over the decades to keep my “Tech Talk” as jargon free as possible. I think that has lead to many moments of appreciation as I’d explain what went on in clear English…
One Corp Lawyer (from Georgia Pacific) described the collateral damage from a terminated I.T. employee. Now I could go on at some length about how stupid it is to run an I.T. shop such that any terminated employee has his gruntle dissed… but even with the best of efforts, there are times a disgruntled employee is an issue. In this case, the guy had good hacking skilz, had scattered some bits of tools around, and was doing a number on them remotely. I’ll skip the rest of the story. What I noticed was the Lawyer went out of his way to say “DHCP was down” and that he had no clue what DHCP was (though he read the full name of it out) and knew that when it was down all the other thingys didn’t work. Among them were things like the factory machines making paper… and that the staff set about hard coding (he used a description rather than the term) the IP addresses to get things back up. (Again, I’m going to avoid commentary on this course of action… and on the wisdom of having production on a DHCP server… While not technically ‘trendy’, I like all key infrastructure to have hard coded fixed IP addresses from the start.)
The point? He, and some others, went out of their way to express how it was difficult to have any clue what an I.T. guy was saying during any kind of security event. One other VP Corp. Affairs Lawyer even stated he had learned enough about I.T. to be able to translate some of it to the Board… and gave the story of the I.T. Guy during a Board presentation on an event giving a long Tech Talk that he translate as “You can trust me”. So first off: I.T. Guys ought to learn how to speak Jargon Free if they interface with management at all. Second: My decision so long ago was validated – being bi-lingual in Tech and Non-Tech is a good thing (even if many times it has resulted in tech challenges from folks mistaking English for Stupid and I’ve needed to prove myself…)
That’s the background irritant that lead to this article. A CSPAN broadcast that was very interesting, among Corp. Lawyers, all about how to handle security events. Why “irritant”? Well, aside from all good product ideas starting from someone being irritated about something ;-) their “prescription” was all “Cathedral”. It is part of the Legal Profession core nature to push for Central Authority. The entire legal system is one giant Top Down Hierarchy. Supreme court, District Courts, etc. etc. down to Old Country Lawyer. (A “Country Lawyer” isn’t what most folks think. It is someone who became a lawyer by “reading law”, not going to law school. Some States still allow that. You just apprentice to a Real Lawyer ™ and eventually take and pass the Bar Exam… so it’s the lowest form of Lawyer practicing today.) Lawyers just LOVE to make new laws. They love to have the same laws applied to everyone; thus the Supremes handing down edicts that apply everywhere and the sanctity of Stare Decisis forcing precedent to apply to all.
(Stare stand, Decisis decided; to stand by what has been decided before).
Now to be fair, there is a bit of the Bazaar (market of ideas) in Law. Lower courts get to make new decisions on rare occasion (often from political pressures to make brownie points with a group) and there are whole blocks of different legal doctrine in different countries (though, even there, the effort is to have a World Court and global law overriding countries). So there’s a tiny bit of a ‘market place of ideas’ between the different legal systems and the different division of the hierarchy, but it IS a hierarchy in structure.
It was that focus on the laws in the USA that must be met (a growing laundry list of acronyms) in I.T. Security (all from another Cathedral organization – the U.S. Government) and the vision that the best “fix” was yet more Cathedral was what kicked my can enough to send me to the keyboard. As you might guess, I’m an advocate for the Bazaar most of the time.
Sidebar: While running computer security for Apple Engineering for over 7 years, we had no successful breakins. This was accomplished by hiring very good staff and telling them “Prevent Breakins – it’s your reputation on the line.” and leaving them free to consult the Bazaar and cook up fun ideas. The Hierarchy was one level deep. Me and Staff. It isn’t needed to have hierarchy and Central Authority to have Security. Often, it impedes the effort. More on that below as a quote from the book about costs of hierarchy. You do need smart (often expensive) staff who can be trusted, but not many of them. I had 2 guys doing most of the work, and me checking on them. Computer security is a battle in an arena, hand to hand, and the best warrior wins, not the largest number of so-so hacks or most ‘credentials’. This truth is lost on Emperors and Princes counting their gold.
The Historical Bits
Now you might be suspecting that this strain between the Cathedral (or Empire or Organization or Corporation or Government or Socialism or Rome …) and the Bazaar (or Marketplace or Laissez Faire or Small Business or Libertarians or Individualism or Celts) has been going on for a very long time. You would be right.
At least as far back as Rome and the Celts. It was a ‘near thing’ in Britain when the Celts burned Lundinium and nearly destroyed the Roman Army on the island. The Romans typified the Empire and Hierarchy. In the Celtic culture “Anyone could call a war” and folks showed up if the cause was just. But for a last minute swap of strategy, the Celts would have won. (They let the remnant of the Roman Army choose the field of battle, and shifted from guerilla tactics of mobile hit and run warfare to a set piece battle where the Romans could form their “Turtle”. Worse, they blocked the exit from the valley with their own wagons, preventing their own mobility. I suspect many just died in a crowd crush rather than in actual combat; but I digress). Ever since then, the Celt style Bazaar of equals has been on the run from the Roman style Central Authority Cathedral.
But this “has issues” (again, see the quotes below). Large Organizations are not efficient. They stagnate and make bad decisions. This is so true it is woven into the core of the American culture. It is rampant as a meme in Silicon Valley. Rome eventually fell. It fell to a rabble driven by a shared set of ideas and poor hierarchy. (Actually, it fell a few times. A couple to the Celts, then the Carthaginians had a go at them, and the Goths and more. Eventually splitting East and West, the East to hang on as the Byzantine Empire until a hoard of Muslims took Constantinople and made it Istanbul.)
Yet the call of Empire and Central Authority continues to whisper in the ears of politicians and sociopaths the world over.
That unfortunate thing is that Central Authority works OK at mid-scale, so gets a good foothold, and then grows until it kills itself. The bad thing is we don’t learn from this cycle.
So the Holy Roman Empire sprang up to replace the Western Roman Empire. It, too, eventually fell. Followed by The French Napoleonic Empire and The British Empire and now the European Union. As folks once again learn the lesson that Distributed Authority in a marketplace is superior to Central Authority in one place. Those empires that last longest are the ones that embrace the most distribution of authority to sub-units and individuals. The E.U. has run this the other way, with massive centralization and a startlingly rapid whack-into-the-wall with Brexit.
From those experiences with European Empire, the USA came into being. Designed by folks who understood this dynamic (if under different names). A Very Limited Central Government, a collection of States with their own States Rights to go their own ways. Counties as the seat of law (the County Sheriff was usually the top lawman in any given area) and on down the line. The economy, in particular, entirely a Bazaar. Now, 200 years later, we have slowly migrated to a Strong Central Authority with a Satrapy Of States, and Counties as essentially slaves to the State. ( I was aware enough at the time to remember the vote in California to change the Senate from ‘representatives of the County’ to direct elected by the people – and I’ve observed the inevitable resource stripping of the Counties and reduction of their authority ever since. Much as the USA shifted from Senators as State’s Representatives to directly elected, and the enslavement of States that has followed.) As of now, we are well on our way to Central Authority Empire and that means collapse is just around the corner. And, as in the Roman model, may be many collapses as we “wobble down”.
The Corporate Lawyers were admiring the Central Authority Laws about security… and ignoring the Bazaar of Hackers with their rapid evolution of threats…
Christianity, started as a Bazaar and spread by volunteers, took over the Roman Empire in 300 A.D. The Romans centralized it as The Roman Catholic Church. Eventually another rabble of the Bazaar, the Muslims, took down The Empire of The East, but the Church lived on. Then followed The Crusades as the two clashed. Eventually, the Muslims formed their own Empire (the Ottoman Turk Empire) that lasted a good while as it Centralized Authority, only to fall to a world war as various empires (all those Kings and Queens of Europe) fought over the world. Somewhere in the middle, Protestants repudiated Central Authority in The Church and a thousand new churches formed. The Bazaar returned to Christianity and it flourished, without The Spanish Inquisition and The Crusades style of Central Authority… Islam is now having their own resurgence, post empire, as a distributed set of volunteers with a shared vision. (One we in the west may not like, but an effective one none the less). Call it Al Qada, ISIS, ISIL, Hezbollah, whatever. It is fully in the Bazaar model of distributed authority. What is the response of the Western Empires of today? (USA, EU, Russia) Why, to try ‘decapitation’ attacks on ‘the leadership’.
Dear NATO and Russia: “Beneath this mask, there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask, there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and Ideas are Bulletproof!” Watch “V for Vendetta” for additional clue… You can not decapitate an idea. It can only be defeated with other ideas. Now you can shape the battlefield such that the other ideas gain ascendance and the bothersome one gets deprecated, but that is a far different thing from what you are doing now. You can also kill all those holding the idea, and that can sometimes work, but you are not presently ready for that kind of action (though you make noises about it). BTW, incarceration does not stop ideas from spreading, and can often increase the pace and range… Just sayin’…
On a more small scale, we have Education. The Communist Manifesto lists Central Authority control of Education as a key goal.
Tenth Plank: Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.
(Gradual shift from private education to publicly funded began in the Northern States, early 1800’s. 1887: federal money (unconstitutionally) began funding specialized education. Smith-Lever Act of 1914, vocational education; Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 and other relief acts of the 1930’s. Federal school lunch program of 1935; National School Lunch Act of 1946. National Defense Education Act of 1958, a reaction to Russia’s Sputnik satellite demonstration, provided grants to education’s specialties. Federal school aid law passed, 1965, greatly enlarged federal role in education, “head-start” programs, textbooks, library books.)
The USA started with only the most distributed form of education. Everything was local. Over the years, local school boards ended up with State overlords. The Feds slowly started trolling money for control. Then under Jimmy Carter, The Feds got into the act big time. (Education was fine, pre-Jimmah, BTW…) Now, with Nickle-Bee (NCLB No Child Left Behind), education is a complete mess headed for collapse and Charter Schools are sprouting all over in a vain attempt to recover from the catastrophe of Central Authority. The real answer is simple: Disband Federal and State Education boards and authority. Return to local school boards. It really is that simple.
In similar fashion, the old Royal system broke down (where various Dukes and Lords owned the means of production – mostly land) in the face of Capitalism which was about as clean a case of the Bazaar as you could get. Oh, all the Peers scrambled to get a handful of that new money making thing, but in the end, the system of Royals and Central Authority Hierarchy ended. Taken down by the Bazaar of Capitalism. Many volumes have been written all about that. Even the whole “left” vs “right” thing we use (badly) today came out of that transition in France. On the right, supporters of the Royals. On the left, such rabble as capitalists wanting free markets…
History of the terms
The terms “left” and “right” appeared during the French Revolution of 1789 when members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king to the president’s right and supporters of the revolution to his left. One deputy, the Baron de Gauville, explained, “We began to recognize each other: those who were loyal to religion and the king took up positions to the right of the chair so as to avoid the shouts, oaths, and indecencies that enjoyed free rein in the opposing camp.”
When the National Assembly was replaced in 1791 by a Legislative Assembly comprising entirely new members, the divisions continued. “Innovators” sat on the left, “moderates” gathered in the centre, while the “conscientious defenders of the constitution” found themselves sitting on the right, where the defenders of the Ancien Régime had previously gathered. When the succeeding National Convention met in 1792, the seating arrangement continued, but following the coup d’état of 2 June 1793, and the arrest of the Girondins, the right side of the assembly was deserted, and any remaining members who had sat there moved to the centre.
It is just one of the odd ironies of political re-definition by the Progressive Socialists that they have chosen to move businessmen to the “right” when they were always opposed to the royal monopolies… Then again, it was Stalin who called Hitler and his brand of “National Socialism” right-wing as it wasn’t “International Socialism”, so right vs left has been broken as least since W.W.II as a useful term.
The point here being more about distributed vs central authority. Central Authority can take power and hold it for a long time. Eventually, though, a Distributed paradigm comes along and displaces it. “Why” is due to the failure of Central Authority to work very well. We see this throughout all of history, from The Church / Reformation to Empires and even on into economics. Corporations get very large, become oppressive, and get replaced by other smaller competitors. A great deal of corporate effort goes into getting the other major hierarchy, government, to Force The Cathedral onto the legal system and oppress all those free thinking Bazaar folks. Communism takes this to the logical extreme and has the Government make all the corporate decisions as one big Cathedral. The USSR collapsed with spectacular speed, lasting only about 70 years. IMHO, largely due to the rapid pace at which they moved from the Bazaar to the Cathedral for economic structure. China was on that path, then shifted to a more market oriented systems (basically allowing some of the Bazaar to function) and has made a dramatic resurgence. Watch them for changes in the Cathedral / Bazaar ratio to know their future…
OK, so with that bit of historical sidewalk chalk, what are the quotes from the book?
The book isn’t the only exposition of the strain between the Cathedral and the Bazaar, and it is targeted mostly at software development, not at the broad sweep of history. Others use different terms for Central Authority vs Distributed Authority. But I’m fond of this particular book and his terms, as it is fairly approachable and not all that academic. I’m sure you can all think of a dozen other books looking at the same paradigm issue. For me, one of the nice features of The Cathedral and the Bazaar is that it allows for direct testing of the thesis. Various software projects have made the shift from Cathedral to Bazaar and done very well. Essentially, we have a clear existence proof of success. Hard to do that with Macro-Econ… Even the historical cases (USSR vs USA) are muddied by other global events.
Setting The Table
I anatomize a successful open-source project, fetchmail, that was run as a deliberate test of the surprising theories about software engineering suggested by the history of Linux. I discuss these theories in terms of two fundamentally different development styles, the “cathedral” model of most of the commercial world versus the “bazaar” model of the Linux world. I show that these models derive from opposing assumptions about the nature of the software-debugging task. I then make a sustained argument from the Linux experience for the proposition that “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”, suggest productive analogies with other self-correcting systems of selfish agents, and conclude with some exploration of the implications of this insight for the future of software.
“Self-correcting systems of selfish agents” – what a wonderful term. Describes capitalism and markets nicely. Describes democratic republics nicely too.
Note that the years quoted are out of date. So he says “five years ago” and notes that is 1991. That’s now 25 years ago. This book and its ideas have been around for a good while. It is set early in the onset of Linux. Now things are much more settled and clearly the Bazaar is winning. Any bolding is mine.
The Cathedral and the Bazaar
Linux is subversive. Who would have thought even five years ago (1991) that a world-class operating system could coalesce as if by magic out of part-time hacking by several thousand developers scattered all over the planet, connected only by the tenuous strands of the Internet?
Certainly not I. By the time Linux swam onto my radar screen in early 1993, I had already been involved in Unix and open-source development for ten years. I was one of the first GNU contributors in the mid-1980s. I had released a good deal of open-source software onto the net, developing or co-developing several programs (nethack, Emacs’s VC and GUD modes, xlife, and others) that are still in wide use today. I thought I knew how it was done.
Linux overturned much of what I thought I knew. I had been preaching the Unix gospel of small tools, rapid prototyping and evolutionary programming for years. But I also believed there was a certain critical complexity above which a more centralized, a priori approach was required. I believed that the most important software (operating systems and really large tools like the Emacs programming editor) needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time.
Linus Torvalds’s style of development—release early and often, delegate everything you can, be open to the point of promiscuity—came as a surprise. No quiet, reverent cathedral-building here—rather, the Linux community seemed to resemble a great babbling bazaar of differing agendas and approaches (aptly symbolized by the Linux archive sites, who’d take submissions from anyone) out of which a coherent and stable system could seemingly emerge only by a succession of miracles.
The fact that this bazaar style seemed to work, and work well, came as a distinct shock. As I learned my way around, I worked hard not just at individual projects, but also at trying to understand why the Linux world not only didn’t fly apart in confusion but seemed to go from strength to strength at a speed barely imaginable to cathedral-builders.
By mid-1996 I thought I was beginning to understand. Chance handed me a perfect way to test my theory, in the form of an open-source project that I could consciously try to run in the bazaar style. So I did—and it was a significant success.
This is the story of that project. I’ll use it to propose some aphorisms about effective open-source development. Not all of these are things I first learned in the Linux world, but we’ll see how the Linux world gives them particular point. If I’m correct, they’ll help you understand exactly what it is that makes the Linux community such a fountain of good software—and, perhaps, they will help you become more productive yourself.
My assertion is that this voyage of discovery needs to be repeated, and often, by managers at all levels and by anyone making law or running a country. We need a conscious education in how distributed authority is of benefit, even to Emperors and Empress Wanna-bees…
1. Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.
Perhaps this should have been obvious (it’s long been proverbial that “Necessity is the mother of invention”) but too often software developers spend their days grinding away for pay at programs they neither need nor love. But not in the Linux world—which may explain why the average quality of software originated in the Linux community is so high.
2. Good programmers know what to write. Great ones know what to rewrite (and reuse).
3. “Plan to throw one away; you will, anyhow.” (Fred Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month, Chapter 11)
In a software culture that encourages code-sharing, this is a natural way for a project to evolve. I was acting out this principle:
4. If you have the right attitude, interesting problems will find you.
But Carl Harris’s attitude was even more important. He understood that
5. When you lose interest in a program, your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor.
Now notice that many of these rules are very programming centric. It is my assertion that similar rules could be found for governance, for law, for education, etc.
The Importance of Having Users
Another strength of the Unix tradition, one that Linux pushes to a happy extreme, is that a lot of users are hackers too. Because source code is available, they can be effective hackers. This can be tremendously useful for shortening debugging time. Given a bit of encouragement, your users will diagnose problems, suggest fixes, and help improve the code far more quickly than you could unaided.
6. Treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.
Treating your citizens as co-lawmakers is your least-hassle route to rapid law improvements and effective governance.
Thus the democratic republic… As just one example of the parallel nature of the understandings.
But by a year later, as Linux became widely visible, it was clear that something different and much healthier was going on there. Linus’s open development policy was the very opposite of cathedral-building. Linux’s Internet archives were burgeoning, multiple distributions were being floated. And all of this was driven by an unheard-of frequency of core system releases.
Linus was treating his users as co-developers in the most effective possible way:
7. Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.
A spectacular example of this was shown by Hannity while interviewing Trump. Trump called for a show of hands from the audience about immigration. How many wanted bad guys deported quickly. Who wanted a family with one illegal who had done well for 15 or 20 years deported? Trump respected the few who said “YES!” to the second choice, and noted that this was “like a poll” (clearly understanding self selection bias with the “like a” not an actual poll) and was willing to treat his audience as ‘co-developers’ of his ‘policy’ on immigration.
Contrast with Empress Hillary where all ideas come from The Cathedral and you the public are just supposed to supply money and shut the f-up.
On that contrast alone, Trump wins the comparison.
We see another parallel with Trump in his use of Twitter and a constant supply of topics.
So, if rapid releases and leveraging the Internet medium to the hilt were not accidents but integral parts of Linus’s engineering-genius insight into the minimum-effort path, what was he maximizing? What was he cranking out of the machinery?
Put that way, the question answers itself.Linus was keeping his hacker/users constantly stimulated and rewarded—stimulated by the prospect of having an ego-satisfying piece of the action, rewarded by the sight of constant (even daily) improvement in their work.
Linus was directly aiming to maximize the number of person-hours thrown at debugging and development, even at the possible cost of instability in the code and user-base burnout if any serious bug proved intractable. Linus was behaving as though he believed something like this:
8. Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone.
Or, less formally, “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” I dub this: “Linus’s Law”.
Open government has more ‘eyeballs’ on it, and works better too. Contrast with Hillary and The Mail Server and with Hillary and The Foundation…
In Linus’s Law, I think, lies the core difference underlying the cathedral-builder and bazaar styles. In the cathedral-builder view of programming, bugs and development problems are tricky, insidious, deep phenomena. It takes months of scrutiny by a dedicated few to develop confidence that you’ve winkled them all out. Thus the long release intervals, and the inevitable disappointment when long-awaited releases are not perfect.
In the bazaar view, on the other hand, you assume that bugs are generally shallow phenomena—or, at least, that they turn shallow pretty quickly when exposed to a thousand eager co-developers pounding on every single new release. Accordingly you release often in order to get more corrections, and as a beneficial side effect you have less to lose if an occasional botch gets out the door.
And that’s it. That’s enough. If “Linus’s Law” is false, then any system as complex as the Linux kernel, being hacked over by as many hands as the that kernel was, should at some point have collapsed under the weight of unforseen bad interactions and undiscovered “deep” bugs. If it’s true, on the other hand, it is sufficient to explain Linux’s relative lack of bugginess and its continuous uptimes spanning months or even years.
Maybe it shouldn’t have been such a surprise, at that. Sociologists years ago discovered that the averaged opinion of a mass of equally expert (or equally ignorant) observers is quite a bit more reliable a predictor than the opinion of a single randomly-chosen one of the observers. They called this the Delphi effect. It appears that what Linus has shown is that this applies even to debugging an operating system—that the Delphi effect can tame development complexity even at the complexity level of an OS kernel. [CV]
One special feature of the Linux situation that clearly helps along the Delphi effect is the fact that the contributors for any given project are self-selected. An early respondent pointed out that contributions are received not from a random sample, but from people who are interested enough to use the software, learn about how it works, attempt to find solutions to problems they encounter, and actually produce an apparently reasonable fix. Anyone who passes all these filters is highly likely to have something useful to contribute.
IMHO, this applies to all sorts of things. People self select their careers. I have a love of things mechanical, I’m not very fond of drawing. Making me “take art” or “do art” is not very productive. Let me near a robot, and I’ll be tinkering away for free, and fast. IMHO, this is part of what makes education so dismal in America today. ALL kids MUST take EVERYTHING through high school. Thanks to Common Core, even a child missing the part of the brain for language must take English tests or not gradate in ANYTHING. (Yes, I know the Special Ed exception process, the wife teaches it… but it isn’t a graduation / diploma. I’ve also listened to way too many sob stories about giving a ‘pep talk’ to the special ed kids before they are forced into the humiliation of taking the standard test and not having a single clue what it says.)
Right now, on the spousal case load is a kid with exceptional art skills. He could be drawing for Disney today, with a fine paycheck and happiness. Instead, he is condemned to about 6 to 8 more years of hell trying to cope with things like math and history that are of zero interest and orthogonal to his skills and abilities. Likely to never get a High School Diploma (though the spouse is trying to get him to that point). Why? What’s wrong with the old German system of Aprenticeship for folks like him? Worked for Leonardo Da Vinci…
Level of skill and interest matter to performance. FORCE, from The Cathedral does not work.
9. Smart data structures and dumb code works a lot better than the other way around.
This one is a bit harder to explain or generalize. Essentially, all programs have some “data structure” and some “process” they do on it. Concentrating on process isn’t as valuable as structure. One example I’d use, is that at Apple, we had very little formal process. We had a cultural structure of “you are responsible, figure it out”. You gave someone a task and both responsibility and authority, made yourself available for help if desired, and stepped back. It “worked a champ”.
Later, we were sent off to reeducation camp under The German Herr Spindler, IIRC. (We also had a massive layoff of something like 4000 people who were internally referred to as “Spindler’s List” ;-)
In class, we were “taught” fishbone diagrams and root cause analysis and many other things. “My Folks” had self selected to be at the same table together and we were a bit rebellious, being Unix folks. A “Chinese Puzzle” was passed out, along with a metal ring. We were to take it apart, pass the parts through the ring, then assemble it on the other side. Groups were to analyze the problem, assign work, etc etc. Then after a timed test, analyze what would make it better, and try again. I looked at my table and said “Everyone know the goal?” Yes was the answer. OK, figure out what you want to do and do it. At the starting gun, we were off. I held one side of the ring and picked up bits with my other hand to toss through the ring when possible. Others did the taking apart and putting together and more ring holding and tossing. We finished in 90 something seconds. The nearest group was several minutes later. The “teacher” asked what we had done, and I “explained” (to her horror…) OK, we’ll now analyze and improve!! I looked around the table and said “Everyone think of ways to go faster and adapt.” We finished that run in 60 seconds. The “teacher” was reduced to praising one other group that had “improved the most” from something like 8 minutes to about 4…
Now I’m not against formal fault analysis and formal improvement and root cause analysis. I’m just a bigger fan of delegation and skill. The structure over the formal process.
The payoff from these simple measures was immediate. From the beginning of the project, I got bug reports of a quality most developers would kill for, often with good fixes attached. I got thoughtful criticism, I got fan mail, I got intelligent feature suggestions. Which leads to:
10. If you treat your beta-testers as if they’re your most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource.
I would generalize this to customers, too. At Apple, we were a pain in the butt to many vendors. For one thing, I insisted that we have the source code to ALL operating systems we ran in the computer room. DEC refused for Ultrix, until I stopped paying licenses for it and started replacing it with BSD. Eventually they “saw the light” and ponied up the source… initially on microfiche… sigh… We talked some more and a disk pack arrived. In exchange, Dec, Cray, and even Sun got “bug reports” complete with the source code to fix it… often with gratuitous enhancements tossed in for free. They got 3 or 4 of THE best Unix Systems Programmers on the planet working to fix their stuff for free.
Similarly, honestly ask your customers what they like and don’t like and listen and take action. Governments always fail on that one.
Even if you didn’t follow the preceding technical jargon, there are several important lessons here. First, this SMTP-forwarding concept was the biggest single payoff I got from consciously trying to emulate Linus’s methods. A user gave me this terrific idea—all I had to do was understand the implications.
11. The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your users. Sometimes the latter is better.
Interestingly enough, you will quickly find that if you are completely and self-deprecatingly truthful about how much you owe other people, the world at large will treat you as though you did every bit of the invention yourself and are just being becomingly modest about your innate genius. We can all see how well this worked for Linus!
(When I gave my talk at the first Perl Conference in August 1997, hacker extraordinaire Larry Wall was in the front row. As I got to the last line above he called out, religious-revival style, “Tell it, tell it, brother!”. The whole audience laughed, because they knew this had worked for the inventor of Perl, too.)
After a very few weeks of running the project in the same spirit, I began to get similar praise not just from my users but from other people to whom the word leaked out. I stashed away some of that email; I’ll look at it again sometime if I ever start wondering whether my life has been worthwhile :-).
But there are two more fundamental, non-political lessons here that are general to all kinds of design.
12. Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong.
See the problem. Ask others about the problem. LISTEN to them. Look again at the problem, and be open to change.
Ever seen Central Authority do that?
The moral? Don’t hesitate to throw away superannuated features when you can do it without loss of effectiveness. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (who was an aviator and aircraft designer when he wasn’t authoring classic children’s books) said:
13. “Perfection (in design) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away.”
When your code is getting both better and simpler, that is when you know it’s right. And in the process, the fetchmail design acquired an identity of its own, different from the ancestral popclient.
Governments always violate this one. They always add, rarely remove. Lawyers and lawmakers too. Big Corporate Management is rife with budget and turf battles just to prevent this one. Then there is the truth that “Armies always prepare to fight the last war”…
But multidrop addressing turned out to be an excellent design decision as well. Here’s how I knew:
14. Any tool should be useful in the expected way, but a truly great tool lends itself to uses you never expected.
In many ways, this is just the fundamental ethos of Unix. Make a bunch of small tools that can interact in unexpected ways as the user desires. The same can be said of an open and free market of many sellers. Not so the regimented market of the over regulated economy. It stifles such innovation in its crib. When you MUST meet some specification for the “dial” on your telephone, how can you invent a phone without a dial?
During W.W.II, the USA was known for creative solutions. In the hedgerows of France, some random G.I. invented a hedge clipper to be welded on the front of tanks. In short order it was copied and changed in hundreds of other places. Contrast with the Germans who could not even change the disposition of their tanks (Panzers) on D-Day since Hitler was asleep and left orders not to be disturbed. Similarly, some other G.I. put train wheels on jeeps and used them to move freight on the rails (as we’d shot up all the engines on the attack before capturing the rails…) There were thousands of such Bazaar adaptations during the war, collectively called “Yankee Ingenuity”. A product of the data structure over the process… Our culture, then, over Central Authority planning.
The next few points are way geeky, but I’m including them for completion…
15. When writing gateway software of any kind, take pains to disturb the data stream as little as possible—and never throw away information unless the recipient forces you to!
I’d only point out that Governments often diddle with the data stream… (GISS, Hadley)
16. When your language is nowhere near Turing-complete, syntactic sugar can be your friend.
Another lesson is about security by obscurity. Some fetchmail users asked me to change the software to store passwords encrypted in the rc file, so snoopers wouldn’t be able to casually see them.
I didn’t do it, because this doesn’t actually add protection. Anyone who’s acquired permissions to read your rc file will be able to run fetchmail as you anyway—and if it’s your password they’re after, they’d be able to rip the necessary decoder out of the fetchmail code itself to get it.
All .fetchmailrc password encryption would have done is give a false sense of security to people who don’t think very hard. The general rule here is:
17. A security system is only as secure as its secret. Beware of pseudo-secrets.
Again, parallels are a bit harder… Syntactic Sugar is the idea of putting things into a language that make it easier for the person, but are not absolutely needed to make the language work. Basically, the pure theory guys don’t like it and the folks who use the language every day do.
I take this to mean “do things to make life easier for the customer” even if they are impure to you…
In the family restaurant, we had a couple of folks who would order what I called “runny eggs and ham. Yuck.” Dad explained that, as I was not eating them, they were “just what the customer ordered” and were to be delivered with an approving smile. One guy then put hot sauce on them… “Double yuck” to me, heaven to him. Now contrast with Central Authority wanting to mandate what your kid eats in school and what the local restaurant can sell…
The other generalizes to “If you do something, make sure it really does something.” Often overtly violated by Governments. Just look at how often, in Yes Minister, the plot revolves around ways of giving the appearance of action, while really doing nothing. The bigger the government and the more central the authority, the more this is the case.
The next chapter I’m quoting in full, as it isn’t a rule, but an exposition of a thought. The thought is that you must get to a certain launching point, either as an individual or an organization, before you can break out into a Bazaar. Contrast this with large hierarchical organizations like multinationals and governments, who rarely attempt the Bazaar but just add more layers of “governance”.
Necessary Preconditions for the Bazaar Style
Early reviewers and test audiences for this essay consistently raised questions about the preconditions for successful bazaar-style development, including both the qualifications of the project leader and the state of code at the time one goes public and starts to try to build a co-developer community.
It’s fairly clear that one cannot code from the ground up in bazaar style [IN]. One can test, debug and improve in bazaar style, but it would be very hard to originate a project in bazaar mode. Linus didn’t try it. I didn’t either. Your nascent developer community needs to have something runnable and testable to play with.
When you start community-building, what you need to be able to present is a plausible promise. Your program doesn’t have to work particularly well. It can be crude, buggy, incomplete, and poorly documented. What it must not fail to do is (a) run, and (b) convince potential co-developers that it can be evolved into something really neat in the foreseeable future.
Linux and fetchmail both went public with strong, attractive basic designs. Many people thinking about the bazaar model as I have presented it have correctly considered this critical, then jumped from that to the conclusion that a high degree of design intuition and cleverness in the project leader is indispensable.
But Linus got his design from Unix. I got mine initially from the ancestral popclient (though it would later change a great deal, much more proportionately speaking than has Linux). So does the leader/coordinator for a bazaar-style effort really have to have exceptional design talent, or can he get by through leveraging the design talent of others?
I think it is not critical that the coordinator be able to originate designs of exceptional brilliance, but it is absolutely critical that the coordinator be able to recognize good design ideas from others.
Both the Linux and fetchmail projects show evidence of this. Linus, while not (as previously discussed) a spectacularly original designer, has displayed a powerful knack for recognizing good design and integrating it into the Linux kernel. And I have already described how the single most powerful design idea in fetchmail (SMTP forwarding) came from somebody else.
Early audiences of this essay complimented me by suggesting that I am prone to undervalue design originality in bazaar projects because I have a lot of it myself, and therefore take it for granted. There may be some truth to this; design (as opposed to coding or debugging) is certainly my strongest skill.
But the problem with being clever and original in software design is that it gets to be a habit—you start reflexively making things cute and complicated when you should be keeping them robust and simple. I have had projects crash on me because I made this mistake, but I managed to avoid this with fetchmail.
So I believe the fetchmail project succeeded partly because I restrained my tendency to be clever; this argues (at least) against design originality being essential for successful bazaar projects. And consider Linux. Suppose Linus Torvalds had been trying to pull off fundamental innovations in operating system design during the development; does it seem at all likely that the resulting kernel would be as stable and successful as what we have?
A certain base level of design and coding skill is required, of course, but I expect almost anybody seriously thinking of launching a bazaar effort will already be above that minimum. The open-source community’s internal market in reputation exerts subtle pressure on people not to launch development efforts they’re not competent to follow through on. So far this seems to have worked pretty well.
There is another kind of skill not normally associated with software development which I think is as important as design cleverness to bazaar projects—and it may be more important. A bazaar project coordinator or leader must have good people and communications skills.
This should be obvious. In order to build a development community, you need to attract people, interest them in what you’re doing, and keep them happy about the amount of work they’re doing. Technical sizzle will go a long way towards accomplishing this, but it’s far from the whole story. The personality you project matters, too.
It is not a coincidence that Linus is a nice guy who makes people like him and want to help him. It’s not a coincidence that I’m an energetic extrovert who enjoys working a crowd and has some of the delivery and instincts of a stand-up comic. To make the bazaar model work, it helps enormously if you have at least a little skill at charming people.
That tendency to be “too clever by half” is endemic in lawyers and law writers. Hillary likes to make things horridly complicated (just look at her version of “health care”…)
It is truly written: the best hacks start out as personal solutions to the author’s everyday problems, and spread because the problem turns out to be typical for a large class of users. This takes us back to the matter of rule 1, restated in a perhaps more useful way:
18. To solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you.
There have been whole books written on finding the right career based on this premise. Yet our education system insists on forcing folks to spend at least to age 18 working on problems they hate. Then we wonder why they don’t like school, drop out, and / or become dispassionate about society. To make a better society, let folks work on what interests them, and don’t force eagles to walk all day…
19: Provided the development coordinator has a communications medium at least as good as the Internet, and knows how to lead without coercion, many heads are inevitably better than one.
Directed at distributed developers, this adds communications systems. I learned a different version early in my programming career. “The Law Of Mutual Superiority”. or “Anything YOU write, I can improve, and anything I write, YOU can improve.”
I think this is a universal fact. One day at lunch at Armadillo Willie’s, my boss and I had ordered the same meal. One difference, he drank Diet Coke. Arriving at the counter to pick up the meals, two apparently identical meals. Oh Dear, which was which. Asking the ‘burger flipper’ behind the counter, he peered at the two for about 5 seconds, then pronounced “This one is Diet”. Curious, I asked how he knew. “The diet loses the bubbles quicker”. DOh! Of course, sugar is sticky so the foam persists better. At that moment, the soda jerk was superior to me.
Now look at our rulers. Democrats especially, but many Republicans too. How many of them manifest “I am your superior” vs those who recognize the law of mutual superiority? Trump sent his kids out to work with the trades to learn to respect their mutual superiority. He “gets it”. Hillary not so much…
Then I found this chapter most effective as a whole, so quoting it all. It was added as an update to the original book.
On Management and the Maginot Line
The original Cathedral and Bazaar paper of 1997 ended with the vision above—that of happy networked hordes of programmer/anarchists outcompeting and overwhelming the hierarchical world of conventional closed software.
A good many skeptics weren’t convinced, however; and the questions they raise deserve a fair engagement. Most of the objections to the bazaar argument come down to the claim that its proponents have underestimated the productivity-multiplying effect of conventional management.
Traditionally-minded software-development managers often object that the casualness with which project groups form and change and dissolve in the open-source world negates a significant part of the apparent advantage of numbers that the open-source community has over any single closed-source developer. They would observe that in software development it is really sustained effort over time and the degree to which customers can expect continuing investment in the product that matters, not just how many people have thrown a bone in the pot and left it to simmer.
There is something to this argument, to be sure; in fact, I have developed the idea that expected future service value is the key to the economics of software production in the essay The Magic Cauldron.
But this argument also has a major hidden problem; its implicit assumption that open-source development cannot deliver such sustained effort. In fact, there have been open-source projects that maintained a coherent direction and an effective maintainer community over quite long periods of time without the kinds of incentive structures or institutional controls that conventional management finds essential. The development of the GNU Emacs editor is an extreme and instructive example; it has absorbed the efforts of hundreds of contributors over 15 years into a unified architectural vision, despite high turnover and the fact that only one person (its author) has been continuously active during all that time. No closed-source editor has ever matched this longevity record.
This suggests a reason for questioning the advantages of conventionally-managed software development that is independent of the rest of the arguments over cathedral vs. bazaar mode. If it’s possible for GNU Emacs to express a consistent architectural vision over 15 years, or for an operating system like Linux to do the same over 8 years of rapidly changing hardware and platform technology; and if (as is indeed the case) there have been many well-architected open-source projects of more than 5 years duration — then we are entitled to wonder what, if anything, the tremendous overhead of conventionally-managed development is actually buying us.
Whatever it is certainly doesn’t include reliable execution by deadline, or on budget, or to all features of the specification; it’s a rare `managed’ project that meets even one of these goals, let alone all three. It also does not appear to be ability to adapt to changes in technology and economic context during the project lifetime, either; the open-source community has proven far more effective on that score (as one can readily verify, for example, by comparing the 30-year history of the Internet with the short half-lives of proprietary networking technologies—or the cost of the 16-bit to 32-bit transition in Microsoft Windows with the nearly effortless upward migration of Linux during the same period, not only along the Intel line of development but to more than a dozen other hardware platforms, including the 64-bit Alpha as well).
One thing many people think the traditional mode buys you is somebody to hold legally liable and potentially recover compensation from if the project goes wrong. But this is an illusion; most software licenses are written to disclaim even warranty of merchantability, let alone performance—and cases of successful recovery for software nonperformance are vanishingly rare. Even if they were common, feeling comforted by having somebody to sue would be missing the point. You didn’t want to be in a lawsuit; you wanted working software.
So what is all that management overhead buying?
In order to understand that, we need to understand what software development managers believe they do. A woman I know who seems to be very good at this job says software project management has five functions:
To define goals and keep everybody pointed in the same direction
To monitor and make sure crucial details don’t get skipped
To motivate people to do boring but necessary drudgework
To organize the deployment of people for best productivity
To marshal resources needed to sustain the project
Apparently worthy goals, all of these; but under the open-source model, and in its surrounding social context, they can begin to seem strangely irrelevant. We’ll take them in reverse order.
My friend reports that a lot of resource marshalling is basically defensive; once you have your people and machines and office space, you have to defend them from peer managers competing for the same resources, and from higher-ups trying to allocate the most efficient use of a limited pool.
But open-source developers are volunteers, self-selected for both interest and ability to contribute to the projects they work on (and this remains generally true even when they are being paid a salary to hack open source.) The volunteer ethos tends to take care of the `attack’ side of resource-marshalling automatically; people bring their own resources to the table. And there is little or no need for a manager to `play defense’ in the conventional sense.
Anyway, in a world of cheap PCs and fast Internet links, we find pretty consistently that the only really limiting resource is skilled attention. Open-source projects, when they founder, essentially never do so for want of machines or links or office space; they die only when the developers themselves lose interest.
That being the case, it’s doubly important that open-source hackers organize themselves for maximum productivity by self-selection—and the social milieu selects ruthlessly for competence. My friend, familiar with both the open-source world and large closed projects, believes that open source has been successful partly because its culture only accepts the most talented 5% or so of the programming population. She spends most of her time organizing the deployment of the other 95%, and has thus observed first-hand the well-known variance of a factor of one hundred in productivity between the most able programmers and the merely competent.
The size of that variance has always raised an awkward question: would individual projects, and the field as a whole, be better off without more than 50% of the least able in it? Thoughtful managers have understood for a long time that if conventional software management’s only function were to convert the least able from a net loss to a marginal win, the game might not be worth the candle.
The success of the open-source community sharpens this question considerably, by providing hard evidence that it is often cheaper and more effective to recruit self-selected volunteers from the Internet than it is to manage buildings full of people who would rather be doing something else.
Which brings us neatly to the question of motivation. An equivalent and often-heard way to state my friend’s point is that traditional development management is a necessary compensation for poorly motivated programmers who would not otherwise turn out good work.
This answer usually travels with a claim that the open-source community can only be relied on only to do work that is `sexy’ or technically sweet; anything else will be left undone (or done only poorly) unless it’s churned out by money-motivated cubicle peons with managers cracking whips over them. I address the psychological and social reasons for being skeptical of this claim in Homesteading the Noosphere. For present purposes, however, I think it’s more interesting to point out the implications of accepting it as true.
If the conventional, closed-source, heavily-managed style of software development is really defended only by a sort of Maginot Line of problems conducive to boredom, then it’s going to remain viable in each individual application area for only so long as nobody finds those problems really interesting and nobody else finds any way to route around them. Because the moment there is open-source competition for a `boring’ piece of software, customers are going to know that it was finally tackled by someone who chose that problem to solve because of a fascination with the problem itself—which, in software as in other kinds of creative work, is a far more effective motivator than money alone.
Having a conventional management structure solely in order to motivate, then, is probably good tactics but bad strategy; a short-term win, but in the longer term a surer loss.
So far, conventional development management looks like a bad bet now against open source on two points (resource marshalling, organization), and like it’s living on borrowed time with respect to a third (motivation). And the poor beleaguered conventional manager is not going to get any succour from the monitoring issue; the strongest argument the open-source community has is that decentralized peer review trumps all the conventional methods for trying to ensure that details don’t get slipped.
Can we save defining goals as a justification for the overhead of conventional software project management? Perhaps; but to do so, we’ll need good reason to believe that management committees and corporate roadmaps are more successful at defining worthy and widely shared goals than the project leaders and tribal elders who fill the analogous role in the open-source world.
That is on the face of it a pretty hard case to make. And it’s not so much the open-source side of the balance (the longevity of Emacs, or Linus Torvalds’s ability to mobilize hordes of developers with talk of “world domination”) that makes it tough. Rather, it’s the demonstrated awfulness of conventional mechanisms for defining the goals of software projects.
One of the best-known folk theorems of software engineering is that 60% to 75% of conventional software projects either are never completed or are rejected by their intended users. If that range is anywhere near true (and I’ve never met a manager of any experience who disputes it) then more projects than not are being aimed at goals that are either (a) not realistically attainable, or (b) just plain wrong.
This, more than any other problem, is the reason that in today’s software engineering world the very phrase “management committee” is likely to send chills down the hearer’s spine—even (or perhaps especially) if the hearer is a manager. The days when only programmers griped about this pattern are long past; Dilbert cartoons hang over executives’ desks now.
Our reply, then, to the traditional software development manager, is simple—if the open-source community has really underestimated the value of conventional management, why do so many of you display contempt for your own process?
Once again the example of the open-source community sharpens this question considerably—because we have fun doing what we do. Our creative play has been racking up technical, market-share, and mind-share successes at an astounding rate. We’re proving not only that we can do better software, but that joy is an asset.
Two and a half years after the first version of this essay, the most radical thought I can offer to close with is no longer a vision of an open-source–dominated software world; that, after all, looks plausible to a lot of sober people in suits these days.
Rather, I want to suggest what may be a wider lesson about software, (and probably about every kind of creative or professional work). Human beings generally take pleasure in a task when it falls in a sort of optimal-challenge zone; not so easy as to be boring, not too hard to achieve. A happy programmer is one who is neither underutilized nor weighed down with ill-formulated goals and stressful process friction. Enjoyment predicts efficiency.
Relating to your own work process with fear and loathing (even in the displaced, ironic way suggested by hanging up Dilbert cartoons) should therefore be regarded in itself as a sign that the process has failed. Joy, humor, and playfulness are indeed assets; it was not mainly for the alliteration that I wrote of “happy hordes” above, and it is no mere joke that the Linux mascot is a cuddly, neotenous penguin.
It may well turn out that one of the most important effects of open source’s success will be to teach us that play is the most economically efficient mode of creative work.
Even before I’d ever read this book, I had an instinctive grasp of this point. The problem is often too much management, not too little. “That Government which governs least, governs best” generalizes to management too. Yet any attempt to get other managers to buy into that point often got me ‘whacked’ in some way. At best ignored. Often looked at askance by superiors. I eventually stopped talking about it, just did it and folks wondered how I got so much done…
Finally, I do need to note that even the end notes contain useful bits. It discusses the utility of letting redundant work happen if it avoids more management wasted time. Something I observed working well at Apple many times; and observed in a failure of efficiency at other organizations when they didn’t follow it. At FMC Corp. I wrote (but did not design) the cost accounting software for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. To control costs, they would spend $20 to track the use of a 5 ¢ washer… I was chastened for questioning the wisdom of this…
One sample here:
[JH] John Hasler has suggested an interesting explanation for the fact that duplication of effort doesn’t seem to be a net drag on open-source development. He proposes what I’ll dub “Hasler’s Law”: the costs of duplicated work tend to scale sub-qadratically with team size—that is, more slowly than the planning and management overhead that would be needed to eliminate them.
This claim actually does not contradict Brooks’s Law. It may be the case that total complexity overhead and vulnerability to bugs scales with the square of team size, but that the costs from duplicated work are nevertheless a special case that scales more slowly. It’s not hard to develop plausible reasons for this, starting with the undoubted fact that it is much easier to agree on functional boundaries between different developers’ code that will prevent duplication of effort than it is to prevent the kinds of unplanned bad interactions across the whole system that underly most bugs.
The combination of Linus’s Law and Hasler’s Law suggests that there are actually three critical size regimes in software projects. On small projects (I would say one to at most three developers) no management structure more elaborate than picking a lead programmer is needed. And there is some intermediate range above that in which the cost of traditional management is relatively low, so its benefits from avoiding duplication of effort, bug-tracking, and pushing to see that details are not overlooked actually net out positive.
Above that, however, the combination of Linus’s Law and Hasler’s Law suggests there is a large-project range in which the costs and problems of traditional management rise much faster than the expected cost from duplication of effort. Not the least of these costs is a structural inability to harness the many-eyeballs effect, which (as we’ve seen) seems to do a much better job than traditional management at making sure bugs and details are not overlooked. Thus, in the large-project case, the combination of these laws effectively drives the net payoff of traditional management to zero
While software oriented, I think this too generalizes. In economics there is the concept of economies of scale, and the less often discussed (especially by upper management or governments) DIS-economies of scale. There is a minimum economic size and a maximum scale that bounds corporate size. For hotdog vendors, that minium is “one cart”. For steel mills, it is gigantic. For most enterprises, somewhere in between. Conglomerate companies often hit a wall of that exponential growth of management load. Part of how Birkshire Hathaway can effectively be so big is that Warren Buffet buys companies and their management and then leaves them alone. Adding no real management overhead and often removing various reporting overhead costs.
Failure to recognize DIS-economies of scale is, IMHO, one of the most wide spread and damaging failures pervasive in our corporations and our government. We need fewer Empire Builders and more folks in the Bazaar. Less law mandating big sized corporations so as to be able to handle the “compliance mandates” and more law letting a thousand small shops thrive by removing regulations and “compliance”.
Then this last sample:
[SP] Of course, Kropotkin’s critique and Linus’s Law raise some wider issues about the cybernetics of social organizations. Another folk theorem of software engineering suggests one of them; Conway’s Law—commonly stated as “If you have four groups working on a compiler, you’ll get a 4-pass compiler”. The original statement was more general: “Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” We might put it more succinctly as “The means determine the ends”, or even “Process becomes product”.
It is accordingly worth noting that in the open-source community organizational form and function match on many levels. The network is everything and everywhere: not just the Internet, but the people doing the work form a distributed, loosely coupled, peer-to-peer network that provides multiple redundancy and degrades very gracefully. In both networks, each node is important only to the extent that other nodes want to cooperate with it.
The peer-to-peer part is essential to the community’s astonishing productivity. The point Kropotkin was trying to make about power relationships is developed further by the `SNAFU Principle’: “True communication is possible only between equals, because inferiors are more consistently rewarded for telling their superiors pleasant lies than for telling the truth.” Creative teamwork utterly depends on true communication and is thus very seriously hindered by the presence of power relationships. The open-source community, effectively free of such power relationships, is teaching us by contrast how dreadfully much they cost in bugs, in lowered productivity, and in lost opportunities.
Further, the SNAFU principle predicts in authoritarian organizations a progressive disconnect between decision-makers and reality, as more and more of the input to those who decide tends to become pleasant lies. The way this plays out in conventional software development is easy to see; there are strong incentives for the inferiors to hide, ignore, and minimize problems. When this process becomes product, software is a disaster.
I always tried to make sure my folks were treated as equals or that I presented myself as available to serve them. It is essential to getting clear communications. No one was EVER chastised for giving me bad news. Even if critical of me. It was medicine to be taken with a “thank you”. Similarly, even if not appreciated, I’d tell my bosses what they needed to know. If given “push back”, I’d just say “I’ve told you so you would know, now I’ll shut up about it.” Good bosses appreciated it.
Now compare the Holier Than Thou approach of folks like Obama and Hillary… Think they communicate as equals with their staff and constituents? Then note the “conversational” method of Trump at his rallies, talking with the audience, asking questions and listening to the answers then saying “thank you” and “I like that guy” to the folks who do NOT agree with him! Clearly Trump has a lot more experience at effective managment.
What will bring down the USA is the same thing that has brought down all other Empires. That inevitable incessant push to ever more Central Authority. That Forcing The Cathedral on all the rest of us. Thus has it always been, thus it shall be.
The only way to “fix it” is to return to the original founding goal of a weak Central Government with a Bazaar of States, all going in different directions. Yes, there will be failures. Some of them perhaps even spectacular. But a 1/50 scale spectacular failure is nothing compared to a continent sized one… and serves as education to the other 49.
I’d further assert that to “fix” States like California, we need to return to a State Senate made of Senators appointed by the Counties. That returns some authority to the County level and re-energizes another level of The Bazaar.
Essentially, Authority must always be distributed to the very lowest level possible. There is a constant and strong pressure to Central Authority, and the only way to resist it is to push for the lowest level possible at all times. When you miss, and when Central Authority starts to creep back in, you will at least be starting from a better position.
The one thing we MUST do is stop Forcing The Cathedral and get back to encouraging the Bazaar.
This was the foundation that made America great, and let us change the entire world on the double quick. It can again.
The alternative is ever more Central Authority until we, too, enter the pages of history as Yet Another Collapsed Empire.