at Hillwood Academy, Uttarakhand, India
Managing Director, Otermans Institute
Winner of Bengal's Pride Award, House of Lords UK 2019
Some of you might be feeling a bit lost, not knowing what to do in this lockdown. In many regions now, the present lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for more than 4 weeks. Your daily work may be going nowhere or maybe you don't have an option for working from home and you are bored of the household chores by now.
Well, one of the things you could do is connect with your childhood hobbies like painting or watching cartoons, but that too can become mundane after the initial thrill of reconnection. One of the primary reasons for that, at least according to us at Otermans Institute, can be not knowing or realising the impact of your activity. Remember this word, impact! In other words, it is what your work or activity is resulting in; and such a result is usually more than a sudden or short-term feeling of gratitude or excitement. It is the worth of your work. Remember that we spend most of our lives working, be it as adults or even children for whom work can be as simple as going to school, doing the activities set from school, attending tuitions and preparing for exams. Additionally, it’s worth noting that most people, who work, usually work with others and in a particular setting; which is different from their homes. Imagine, for instance, all the social connections we have at work. Well, what can we do then in this lockdown?
An exciting and innovative thing you can do is create a new project, right from home. Well, won’t we eventually feel bored with this too, just like we did with re-exploring our childhood hobbies? The answer will almost certainly be no, if done in a way that solves all your basic demands like making human connections in the process and if it leads to a tangible and worthy impact.
A project usually takes shape with the joint expertise of several members; just imagine a standard workplace. Secondly, the speed of creation, formation of a plan and refinement of the idea also comes through a collective approach; you can read more on this in our lesson on project management. Finally, the creation of a rather seriously thought out project, keeps us involved, presents challenges, gives us pleasure at the end of the cycle and, broadly speaking, improves our wellbeing. Hence, all of these directly support our internal demands. While your project can stem from your expertise at home or work, or even from your bygone passion for an activity like teaching or art, combining it with the expertise of others and launching a product, idea or service during the lockdown can be highly beneficial both for now and for after the lockdown. Moreover, if you are lucky, then this benefit can be shared with thousands of people globally.
This is what I call Open Source development, and in this lesson, I will share with you a few examples, tips and stories with which I hope you will not only learn new skills but will also create a community to support you and your project during the lockdown. More importantly through this, you will attempt to create something of value for the world with the time you now have. Just like our 'lessons for humanity' online lesson series came into existence within a few days with the support of many people and institutions from around the world, I hope you too can create something of value for the world and something you can talk about to your grandchildren. So, what are the principle advantages and steps of Open Source development?
Firstly, understand this; it is only your imagination and your will to ask from others that can become your limitations. This means that in open source, you can ask almost anyone anything that they want to contribute towards your project. You will be surprised even in normal circumstances, and more so in the lockdown period when people may have more time or are simply bored, how much people want to do and contribute to for free, as long as they are aligned with the vision. In fact, famous experiments like the ones from Professor Sam Glucksberg on incentives and rewards have shown that specially for creativity, people function better and work harder when they agree with a long-term end goal instead of the want for short-term profit making.
These are also some of the reasons why concepts like crowdfunding websites and open source academic and programming communities have gained so much popularity like OpenStack, Open Course Ware by MIT and ResearchGate. In fact, these concepts are only presented differently with today’s use of technology and the high-speed connectivity provided by the Internet. Most of these ideas are actually almost as ancient as the oldest civilisations where the arts had patrons, community and social movements had volunteers and academic institutions were free like certain gurukuls in India.
So, by simply accessing the world wide web and your circle of contacts, think about your social media friends for instance, you can tap into an abundant resource of support and expertise that you can use to create your, or our, quarantine project with. So, you want to make that website you always dreamed of, or you simply want to share your expertise with others so they too can learn and share back their own experiences; much like our 'lessons for humanity’ project. This is your time to do it along with the help of your friends and connections who are also spending much longer periods of time being free or at home. Maybe you could also create projects like ours to help the global community at this time of international crisis.
Think about even the simplest of ideas like several Facebook initiatives in the UK where people are contributing short 100-word stories or poems about the heroism of front line workers so that their children can read them while their parents are working day and night in hospitals. The hope here is to make the children appreciate the work of their parents, feel proud of them and find strength to accept their current absence. In this way society is giving back to these heroes by explaining to the children that their parents are champions and by assuring them of their safety.
Well by now, through our different experiences in life, we all should know that making any project has some costs attached to it. So how do you figure this one out in a period when our savings are running out and there is no clear news on when the economy will kick-start again and in what condition. Well Open Source luckily and primarily works to reduce this barrier.
Firstly, people contribute their time and expertise mostly for free! This removes one of the biggest costs associated with developing and running a project.
Some resources that you can ask from your immediate connections for your open source project
Secondly, you as a collective, can also use the resources available from each other to create common shared assets that are useful for the project. For instance, someone may have free space in their server in case your project is internet based and requires being online, or someone has a good set of microphones or a sound recorder that can be helpful in developing a lockdown special podcast or someone else has great artistic skills and software to support the design element of your project or to even add significant artwork if the project needs it.
Thirdly, in all of these and other things that are shared, chances are that the owners of these assets already maintain them on their own accord; like paying annually for the server space or renewing the license of their art software. In this way, the maintenance also comes for free or close to it; when you are asked to pay a tiny amount to use it instead of having to pay the entire retail price of the product or service. Moreover, their expertise or experience will guide you towards using the cheapest and most efficient tools available for the project, even if you or the team have to pay for it separately; saving significant amounts of time and money.
Another important aspect of open sourcing is the community we build as a result. While there are several benefits of this type of a community, one of its significant uses is the natural process of dynamic and multifaceted reasoning involved in developing the idea, the processes and the end-result of the project. This means that members of the community will always debate and contribute to almost every facet of the project, making it better thought out, robust and end-user ready than a single person run project. There are simply more tests and reviews at an early developmental stage. More importantly, the idea can grow and take a much larger shape with greater impact because of the different minds contributing to it.
On the contrary, it is popularly accepted that too many cooks spoil the broth. This is also true for open source content and projects where too many ideas and adaptations can lead to stalling a project, misguiding it from its intended impact or purpose and worse; destroying the project. Hence, it is key to maintain leadership if you are the initiator of the project and to delegate responsibility with the formalisation of a system for taking final decisions; you can check our next lesson on team work for more tips. If you are a contributor, then you should adhere to your responsibilities first and while you should always look to further support the project and the team, you shouldn't over step on the laid-out norms or on someone else's work without permission. All said, this also directly helps you build team work and leadership skills; which are taught extensively by the Otermans Institute school and college training programmes.
Another great strength of creating a community is its ability to quickly spread information to people who are more likely to appreciate or use the project. This is because, firstly every member of the community or the open source work team have unique people as their contacts who they can send news and information about the project to. In fact, even if there are only ten members in the community with 100 unique connections each, together they can send out the message of the project to 1000 unique people; 10 times more than the individual can in this case. Furthermore, human beings associate with like-minded people. Their involvement with the project or them being in the community which is supporting the project significantly increases the likelihood of their friends and contacts being interested and drawn to the project and the community since they should be like-minded. This along with the focused reviews you can get on your project from these contacts is absolutely comparable to gold dust.
My final tip would be to think about the impact of your project and create your vision so that you can attain it; remember the explanation of ‘impact’ at the beginning of this lesson? Having an impact-oriented approach and vision not only attracts more people to the community, as people are attracted to clearly defined and inspirational visions over facts and predetermined responsibilities. It also ensures that they are involved for longer and their input is more serious. Furthermore, the final result will definitely touch more lives if you think about its impact from day one. This is because it will allow you to think of a vision that that can not only help people or the world at this time of crisis but will also spread because of its usefulness. It will create a lasting legacy; which is more enjoyable for you and the community. Thinking impact early on helps your team direct all their energy towards a common end result.
So, what are you waiting for! Stop thinking all is lost and start your own quarantine project today and reach out to your community to fuel it with Open Source energy. Peace!
Testing: You can start by testing a few ideas for a project by putting it up as question on your social media status or by reaching out to five people you think might be interested and can contribute to any or all of the ideas.
Speed: Maintain a robust system of feeding into each other’s work so that the overarching project is completed, at least to a minimum viable product (MVP) stage, at the earliest. Daily communication at least in the first two weeks of the project is one way of doing it.
Accountability systems: Accountability is key to see any project through and to also maintain speed of decision making and development. So, do have some rules and a framework in place to maintain a high level of accountability from all team members and those in the overall community.
Normally ‘Open Source’ is used to collaborate on software creation with some move into hardware work nowadays. However, we at Otermans Institute believe that the core principles from this movement are just as important in basic life as they are for software development, as seen in this lesson. You can have a look at a more standard approach to software oriented open source here if you are interested.
What Leaders Need to Know About Collaboration
Courtesy Harvard Business Review
Finally, you should also check out our lesson on Ikigai to help you develop the your vision and the impact of your work more.
Self: Put out a few project ideas on your social media and decide on one using the responses you get. Then speak to each responder privately and get them involved in the project. At this earliest stage, private speaking is more useful and allows them to open-up more effectively then direct public questioning. Then create a WhatsApp group where you introduce them, ask them to speak about themselves, you set the ground rules and start exploring more ideas, developing the set idea or cracking on with the project!
Family: Create a family project that you can do where each member of the family becomes an open source contributor. Chances are that each one has specific skills they can contribute and you should manage to use these to make a small project. You will also be surprised to learn about all the skills that your immediate family members possess which you were unaware of. Apart from building that project, it will greatly help all of you connect, improve the wellbeing of the household and maybe, just maybe, you can become the next YouTube family or local community heroes. All the best and let’s get doing!
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