|For developer managers and project leaders that want to create highly motivated teams, this book is an excellent study in behavior and what leads someone to success.|
Success and motivation at work can sometimes be difficult to come by. But according to the author of Drive, Daniel H. Pink, the tools required to achieve high performance and success are autonomy, mastery and purpose. These tools are particularly relevant to open source developers.
Pink applies these principles primarily to work life– and the principles can be applied more specifically to open source developers and communities. Communities are effective because they’re made up of autonomous individuals. That autonomy allows each developer to make decisions and take responsibility, whereas in a for-hire work setting, it might feel like the environment stifles creativity and fosters short-term thinking.
The author describes two personality types: Type I and Type X. Humans default to Type I, where individuals are driven by the inherent satisfaction of completing a task – intrinsic motivations. However, many work environments reward Type X behavior, in which extrinsic motivations, or completing a task solely for the reward, take precedence.
After reading these descriptions, you can easily see why open source communities are so rewarding. The average open source developer spends some part of his or her workday working on a project separate from his or her work, resulting in a happier and more productive employee.
Looking at the more commercially oriented OSS projects that have adopted a meritocracy model, developers are not only challenged to solve complex problems, their mastery is well recognized by their peers, arguably a more effective carrot than a bounty for code. In fact, the author sites studies that point out that “carrots” often create the opposite effect desired. With the extrinsic motivator of money/cash/corporate earnings, one is more likely to cut corners and take short cuts to get to the reward as quickly as possible.
People want to be part of something larger than themselves in addition to directing their own lives. Take, for example, disaster management. While it’s not at the forefront of OSS, it’s certainly an important cause. The Sahana project is an open source disaster management system which addresses coordination problems during natural disasters, such as finding missing people, managing volunteers, and managing shelters. In terms of software development, being part of the Sahana community offers a sense of using technical skills for a greater good.
Purpose is also a part of mastery, the urge to get better and better at something that matters. An open source community offers the chance to work at something, get feedback, and work on it some more. This cycle repeats itself within the community until the project gets better and better due to the mastery of the developers. The mastery principle may be the most powerful of all three principles, due to the fact that it benefits the project’s success, supports the general goal of all OSS, and benefits developer skills.
Pink’s book leads me to think of a recent article written by Simon Phipps of the OSI. The piece described the best way to donate to a project, and contrary to what you may think, it’s not by directly giving money. Supporting the community in its entirety is the best way to support a project, which could include writing documentation, offering up requirements, participating in forums, and reviewing code submissions.
Giving money or other rewards to a few developers – not all developers – creates what Pink calls “if-then” rewards. So if the task is based on creativity, which open source often is, this type of reward would extinguish intrinsic motivation and cause it to be extrinsic.
I think we can all agree that motivation and success are complicated ideas, and even more complicated to really achieve. In general society, people work for extrinsic rewards (and to pay the mortgage), but in OSS communities people primarily work for intrinsic rewards. Community participation is a successful model that should be more widely adopted for productivity, a sense of purpose, and rejuvenation of our businesses.
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