Posts Tagged with “discussion”

The Big Picture — Part 3

July 4th, 2006

Here is the last part of Mike Shaver’s summary of the Categories: Mozilla | Tags: , , , | Comments off

Positive Reinforcement for Creativity

July 1st, 2006

The discussion Bob Sutton lead at the Mozilla Corporation was also very helpful in thinking about the need to find people who can see and encourage the possibilities in a new idea. This grew out of a discussion of risk-taking and trying new things. In particular, the need to be careful about changing our products too drastically while at the same time encouraging innovation and responding to changes in how people use the Internet.

The discussion with Bob helped me see this in more general terms. Creativity needs encouragement. It’s not that easy to generate relevant new ideas. Brainstorming, encouragement and a sense of potential are needed to foster creativity. But it’s often hard to see the possibilities in an idea someone else has come up with. And it’s very easy to be critical and to think of all the reasons something won’t work. Put these together and it’s easy to end up with a situation where new ideas seem nearly impossible to implement, require too much change to even think about, or just not worth the risk.

So having a group of people to test out new ideas and see something other than the difficulties is important. Of course, many people do this informally, testing out ideas on growing circles of people. Some organizational awareness and focus on this can also do wonders. The Mozilla project has some obvious groups for trying out new ideas — module owners, super-reviewers, the peers for a particular module, etc. Most of these are code specific, and few of these address ideas across code modules. Also, there are an entire range of questions related to the products (in addition to the underlying code) for which we don’t have obvious “seed” groups for thinking about new ideas.

Sometimes I hear people say that all ideas should always be in a public forum such as a newsgroup and that all discussions in selected smaller groups should be avoided. Now I have a better idea of why this hasn’t seemed right to me. Some ideas get no response in these forums. And these forums suffer from the problem that it’s much easier to criticize than to see the possibilities in a new, unformed ideas. And sometimes the loudest, most aggressive responses get the most attention, regardless of whether they are the most thoughtful, knowledgeable or rational.

I absolutely agree that public discussions are critical in open source projects, both in getting information to make decisions, communicating decisions and archiving the thought process that lead to decisions. That doesn’t mean that each that each germ of a new idea needs to be launched into the public as the initial method of thinking about it. Sometimes a small group of people with expertise and the ability to see possibilities among the constraints is a fine place to start. They keys are to get the discussion to ever broadening groups of people and to a public discussion at the right time, to be open to criticism and change of plans at all stages, to have a good ultimate decision-making process and to get records of rational eand decisions in a public pace.

This fit in well with the project currently and probably temporarily known as “Mozilla Prototypes”, which I’ll write about shortly. It also spurred my thinking about the types of groups that would be helpful in questions of Mozilla project governance. I’ll write about that soon too.

The Big Picture — Part 2

June 26th, 2006

Here is the first half of Mike Shaver’s marvelous summary of the discussions relating to Mozilla project goals held at the Mozilla Corporation in the spring of 2006. (More info about these discussions can be found in my summary discussionof this topic.) Mike outdid himself in capturing the themes of these discussions, and deserves greats credit for taking this on. I’m of course responsible for any problems 🙂

Major Themes

1. Our Work and Legacy Transcends the Browser

This was a nearly universal sentiment (possibly, in fact, universal, but my notes don’t permit me to be certain): what we are doing with the browser is vitally important to the future of the web, but what we are doing as a project and the technology that this project is building has ramifications that go well beyond that. Exactly where the project and corporation should invest to extend that influence is not a well-agreed point (see below), but that the browser is not the whole of what we do was not controversial.

Of the areas in which we hope to have a lasting effect on the industry and the world, some representative sentiments were:

  • “Kept the web open, making the Next Thing possible”
  • “Showed that open source can product great products, not just great technology”
  • “Built and sustained a culture of software development focused relentlessly on real people”
  • “Showed that open source and business can be mixed to the ‘benefit’ of a public-good mission”
  • “Grew, nurtured, and deserved a strong and energetic community of supporters and contributors.”

The openness of our communication and, of course, software licensing were seen by many as critical to our ability to achieve a lasting legacy. That the artifacts we produce — applications, platform software, records of decisions, organizational processes, business models — will remain for others to build upon even if our project or Corporation should cease to exist is itself a key part of what we do and how we do it, and not just a side benefit or tactical decision.

(An interesting intellectual excursion briefly explored if it was even *possible* for the Mozilla Project to cease to exist, while people continued to use our products and technology and such. Ended in a draw, I believe.)

2. The Need to Appropriately Balance Focus and Diversification

Unsurprisingly, a frequent topic of discussion was how we should balance efforts directed towards leveraging Firefox’s current opportunities and success with investment in other applications (such as Thunderbird, Minimo, or Sunbird/Lightning), or “generalized” technology (such as XULRunner or embedding support). While there is not widespread agreement about the relative value of different tradeoffs, it seems that we largely agree that the managing of such tradeoffs is an important factor in the direction of the project and Corporation both. Also, it was frequently expressed that guiding people in these sorts of tradeoffs should be an important goal for the mission

Discussion and positions on the issue itself were predictably wide-ranging:

  • How many different things can we (project, or Corp) manage successfully?
  • We should be ready to undertake things that are not as clear to us as “the browser” is today.
  • Related: if we were to start today without the history of Netscape’s source release, would we still be building a browser?
  • We should devote whatever we can to driving Firefox forward, lest we lose the window of opportunity.
  • We should not put all our eggs in the Firefox basket, and should “share the wealth” with other related projects and areas of work.
    • Related: is it easier to “convert” success with Firefox into opportunities in other areas, or vice versa?
  • How much of the “rest of the internet” (VOIP and IM were common examples) will be affected by our current work, and how much is outside of our influence as we currently operate?
    • Do we want to encourage more services to be brought into “the content area” via web services, discourage that trend, or remain neutral?

    3. “Choice and Innovation” Is At Least As Hard As It Sounds

    Whenever the conversation turned to our motto of “choice and innovation,” there seemed to be agreement that it was not concrete enough to be a useful guide in many areas. In particular, the opportunity cost element of choice, as reflected in the previous section, was felt to be especially troublesome. But for all that “C&I” is in sufficient to guide the bulk of our work, most felt that it was a good starting point for determining what the project could and should undertake.

    As noted in the overview of the “legacy” threads, the innovation element here was widely and strongly believed to extend beyond “mere” product and technology choices. The organizational, fiscal, and social innovations that the project produces are clearly an important element of our work as a project and as a Corporation, and areas in which people wish to see us continue to invest effort.

    Another common thread was that of “indirect innovation.” Whether through packaging our technology for others to use, improving the viability of standards on the web, or demonstrating a “third way” open source/business model, many of us believe that work to help *others* innovate was as important as innovation that we perform directly. (Several people mentioned that the changes in IE7 were an example of this indirect innovation, albeit where we helped create demand for improvment rather than the improvement itself.)

    “Choice” is of course no crisper than “innovation” in its impact on specific decisions, but virtually everyone agreed that “choice of browser” is not the only interesting choice for us to work towards. Whether choice of operating system, choice of device, choice of language, or of interaction independent of disability, though, most expressed that the user’s choice was paramount. One person remarked specifically that “putting it in the hands of the user makes [choice and innovation] real”.

    Our success in providing the user with meaningful choice is something that’s hard to assess (let alone measure quantitatively), and several people asked what we could use other than browser market share to track our progress there.

    Finally, how would a future in which Firefox’s success brought it to 50 or even 90 percent market share affect our pursuit of choice? Would a Firefox hegemony be better than the IE one we’ve been working to break? Would we be as happy with a browser market (for instance; as always, the discussion was frequently about non-browser domains) carved into ten equal slices as into three [or four]?

    The Big Picture — Part 1

    June 25th, 2006

    A while back the Mozilla Corporation held a series of small-group discussions on the topic of the mission of the Mozilla project, and the characteristics of the Mozilla Corporation, eight in total. I decided to start this time with Mozilla Corporation employees, since some of the questions related to why people choose to work for the Mozilla Corporation and also due to some procedural issues that I’ll discuss in a later post. We had a series of eight discussions, including almost all employees. (Shaver and I participated in each group. Otherwise I excluded the management group — schrep, cbeard, John Lilly, Brendan — to help ensure people said whatever was on their mind.) These discussions were intended as a first step and to try out a structure for a broader discussion within the Mozilla community as a whole.

    Mike Shaver was the moderator for these discussions, took notes and created a summary document. The language that follows in quotes is Mike’s work, with some minor edits on my part.

    The conversations were seeded with four questions:

    • What do we hope to accomplish, in the next year and in the longer run? What do we want our “legacy” to be?
    • What do we hope our products and technologies do? How do we make choice and innovation concrete?
    • What motivates us?
    • What excites us about getting up and coming to work each day?

    The intent of these conversations was not to establish any wide-ranging consensus, nor to democratically determine the direction of the Corporation (or, of course, the project). Instead, we sought to create a forum in which people could candidly and genuinely express their feelings on these topics, and hear those held by their co-workers, without some of the logistical or communication issues that have been seen in “all-hands” discussions of these subject areas.

    The only topic that was declared explicitly as “out of scope” was that of the Foundation/Corporation division of responsibility, simply because that issue alone could easily have consumed all available time and energy.”

    Mike identified a set of major themes from these discussions which are below. The overall summary is a bit long, so I’ll break down the contents of the major themes into subsequent posts of a more digestible length. Then we can look to move this discussion to a broader set of people.

    • Our Work and Legacy Transcends the Browser
    • Need to Appropriately Balance Focus and Diversification (balancing Firefox as our flagship product and our other efforts)
    • “Choice and Innovation” Is At Least As Hard As It Sounds (is “choice and innovation” crisp enough to guide our actions)
    • Communication and Openness (how to maximize these)
    • Why This? Why Here? (why do people choose to work at the Mozilla Foundation / Corporation?

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