Part of the appeal of the open source movement has always been its pure unpredictability. Unlike a traditional corporate entity, open source projects–such as the newly launched Open Data Initiative, which seeks to help start-ups make the most out of freely available government data–seek to pioneer new territory without a focus on profit, at least initially. Although this can sound frightening to an experienced business manager, the truth is that this kind of innovative, pioneering spirit is essential to all business enterprises, especially in our current economic climate. Why is this so?
Any business that continues to put out the same product, year after year, with no discernible improvements or changes, will ultimately be the victim of shrinking revenues and declining market share. This is because in an age of information, competitors will ultimately either start making the same products for less money or simply find a better, more interesting way of delivering the same product to consumers. Innovation should not be confused with being gimmicky or ostentatious. Genuine innovation seeks to deliver an excellent product regardless of current market forces or other competitors.
Because open source is unbounded by traditional notions of business acumen, it can often render surprisingly creative and ultimately profitable techniques for market penetration and expansion. The process takes time, and requires a certain adventuresome spirit on the part of both the people participating in the open source program and the actual managers who are funding it. This is why open source projects often benefit from being part of a larger entity or department, where the pressure to find solutions is not driven by money concerns but rather by a playful drive or curiosity.
Although businesses can thrive for years, or possibly even decades without investing significantly in innovation, ultimately they will pay the price for not anticipating shifts in the market and out-thinking their competition. From a purely financial sense, business can only develop in so many ways. Competitors will eventually think of every pricing structure and financial scheme available to them. The trick is to literally think outside of the box by virtue of having a creative team that isn’t versed in the intricacies of accounting. Open source represents an ethos and a spirit that can’t be analyzed or outfoxed by hardened business associates. It is the best way for business to remain competitive and relevant in the 21st century.
Whether you’re managing a company over three time zones or simply trying to run a meeting with three co-workers, the art of communication is a vital one in management. As managers know, simply stating facts and expecting people to respond to them rarely works. You need to develop a sense of strong morale in addition to creating clearly achievable goals. Holding up vague, oversize goals in an attempt to motivate employees will only make managers look foolish or uninformed. Similarly, a draconian approach (“Do this or ELSE!”) may work in the short-term, but will ultimately drive away talented members of the staff, which causes its own set of problems. So, what is the mark of an excellent communicator?
Managers need to understand both the goals of the company and the motivations of each individual employee before formulating their statements. In a sense, managers must communicate goals by bridging the gap between a larger social goal and a very specific personal one. This can be difficult, especially if the manager knows that a particular employee is interested primarily in personal advancement, not the longer-term fortunes of the company. In many cases, working one-on-one with these personally motivated employees may be the best way to align both their ambition and the company’s needs without adversely impacting either.
The vast majority of employees respond to having their ideas recognized, even if they are not necessarily implemented. The art of communication for management involves occasionally publicly recognizing the contributions of employees before putting forth a new initiative or plan of action. When employees feel that their contributions are being valued, they are more likely to respond positively to a new plan of action, even if the plan of action doesn’t necessarily correspond with their suggestions or ideas. In this case, by publicly acknowledging contributions, a manager is fostering morale and, in the long-term, possibly sowing the seeds of genuinely useful innovation.
Whatever they do, managers must never appear to be condescending or petty. A manager must provide a role model of excellent behavior to employees. A petty or openly insecure manager will only succeed in impeding communication, not encouraging it.