So it's a lazy holiday here in the US... and I was watching a talk by Eben Moglen at the Freedom to Connect conference titled Innovation under Austerity. As I was watching I was struck by a couple of things. But what I think was most interesting was how some of his ideas tie in with some of my recent thoughts about software and management.
For a few years I've been kicking around this concept of "software as a precipitate". Software is the byproduct of the collective understanding of an individual or organization. Software is an idea given form. Going further... this really could be applied to any product. The Android phone I use every day and the software on it are the result of a bunch of different groups' collective understanding at a bunch of different levels. And they interact with one another to give me new capabilities that weren't originally intended by the developers of the hardware I use or the people operating the network on which I run the device.
Another part of this which only recently occurred to me is the idea of "management as catalyst". In an organization (and to some degree with an individual as well) management's role is to create and maintain the environment to improve the collective understanding of the group. Through this role they achieve their goal of adding value to the company by facilitating the precipitation of a better product faster than would be possible for a single individual alone. This is basically the point of having organizations/communities at all... which is to allow things to be done that would be too difficult or take too long for an individual to accomplish in a reasonable amount of time.
So how does this relate to Eben's talk? From my perspective it seems like Eben is advocating for a major change in the way society is structured and in many ways this is about changing the forms in which we build our organizations (or to use my term provide the catalyst) for producing products/software (or to use his term innovation). These new organizations will be smaller but able to provide a much greater value and have a larger reach than in previous years. Thinking of services that I use like HockeyApp.net (for crash reporting) I can see a great deal of innovation happening in these ways with much lower capital requirements. James Burke was right when he said in Connections that the rate of technological change would just continue to get faster and faster. It seems like we're now at the point where the change is continuous and that if you're not able to learn and adapt at the current rate, you're just going to be stuck (or fighting against progress).