Purpose Driven Organizations

April 3rd, 2006

Tristan has a great new post about purpose-driven organizations. I’d like to pick up where his post ends. This is the question about why people participate in efforts that aren’t all about making money for themselves. I’ll speak about the Mozilla project; I’m interested in the degree to which similar motivations apply to other projects.

When I first started working in open source there was one obvious answer to me, and it was specifically tied to software programmers. This answer came to me from familiarity with two groups of people: software programmers on the one hand and artists on the other. I’m not a programmer myself, but living in Silicon Valley I know a gazillion software programmers, have worked with and watched them closely, and married one. In a previous era I knew a bunch of dancers and fabric artists (check this out for amazing work with thread). There is something in common. Many artists practice their art because the drive is in them and needs to get out. A set of programmers have the same internal drive. My husband is one — he will happily spend hours — days if he could — programming on his own, unrelated to any job or money. A lot of the great programmers are this way.

As I worked with the Mozilla project I’ve come to understand there are other, equally powerful forces that drive people to participate and which generate all sorts of non-monetary rewards for doing so. Here are a few that came to mind immediately.

Participating in a group effort to create something useful is rewarding. Having the flexibility to participate in the way one wants is a great motivator. Rewarding people through respect, reciprocal-effort, leadership and appreciation provides a level of gratification that a paycheck may not. This is not to diminish the need to earn a salary; most of us need this. But many people earn their salaries in ways that don’t engage them, or motivate them, or leave them feeling unappreciated or boxed-in or undervalued or mistreated. How often have we heard people say that their work could be interesting, but the social dynamics ruin it — the boss is bad, the colleagues are bad, the people are good but the product goal is predetermined and bad, their role is limited, etc. The Mozilla project offers people the chance to participate in a group effort of their choice, in the way they choose to participate.

Doing something for the “public benefit” or “general good” is rewarding. This is a great blessing, let’s all hope this continues. I have found many, many people who want at least some of their life efforts to benefit the greater good. I know this sounds na├»ve. It also goes against the idea that greed and personal gain are the only things that drive people. Nevertheless, I hear this from contributors to the Mozilla project regularly and I see it in their actions. I find it incredibly rewarding to work among such people. There’s a lot of distressing news today. Living and working among a community of people who care about more than themselves gives me hope.

Involvement in a healthy, productive community is rewarding. Being able to help create that community, having the ability to influence how it grows and what it does is a great motivator. The Mozilla project provides enormous opportunities to both participate in a healthy community and to help shape our direction.

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