Tuesday Oct 28, 2008

Small Improvements Leading to Big Results

The Open Secret of Success: "Instead of trying to throw long touchdown passes, as it were, Toyota moves down the field by means of short and steady gains. And so it rejects the idea that innovation is the province of an elect few; instead, it's taken to be an everyday task for which everyone is responsible." -- James Surowiecki, The New Yorker

There is so much to say about that quote. I think it's anti-intuitive for many people, which is probably why many miss it. But what I love is that it's just liberating. If this is true, and if much of Toyota's success is based on everyone being responsible for innovation, then I find that inspiring. Empowering. It means that innovation is not exclusive. It's not necessarily only locked inside the special people with big names, big titles, big brains, big megaphones, or big salaries. How utterly democratic. That's not at all how innovation is generally characterized, though. Be careful what you read.

So, will the American auto companies eventually get this? I think they will. It's cool to see Ford getting back into the quality game -- Ford gains on Toyota -- the Toyota way -- now so things may be changing. This bit about companies trying to leverage the Toyota manufacturing system is really interesting to me. It seems difficult to implement because it's such a different way of thinking, but extreme circumstances are also efficient focusing mechanisms. People get back to basics because they have no choice. That's where Toyota's system came from, actually -- a group of people who built a company during difficult times.

As soon as I read these new links (thanks for the pointers, Chris), I thought about how the Toyota production system is open source, basically, and how leading FOSS developers embrace the very same principles of incremental improvement. Just see Linus Torvalds here and here for one obvious and high profile example, but any reading of open source culture and software development methodologies will bubble up many interesting associations.

Everything tagged Toyota here.

Monday Feb 04, 2008

Torvalds on Japan and OpenSolaris

Jim Zemlin released part two of his conversation with Linus Torvalds. I blogged about part one last month. Lots of interesting perspectives in the entire interview.

When asked to comment about OpenSolaris, Torvalds said, "It's generally hard to build a community around a commercial entity that also wants to be in control because everybody else around that commercial entity will always feel like they're at the mercy of Sun. And I'm not even going to go into OpenSolaris because, quite frankly, I don't even care." And there were a few more bits after that, but that's the gist of it. Following the comments of Torvalds about OpenSolaris has been interesting over the last few years. Sometimes supportive, sometimes negative, sometimes indifferent.

But more interesting were his thoughts about the Japanese and the value of incremental improvements: "But if you just incrementally improve on something, you will get there eventually. One analogy ... is the auto industry 40 years ago and how non-innovative Japanese companies that just plodded along, how they were looked down upon by the true innovators in the U.S. auto industry. And look -- who was it that actually ended up changing the auto industry?" Totally agree.

One of the things many Japanese are famous for is taking the long view. It's enough to drive the average westerner insane. But anyway. On OpenSolaris, very early on learned to embrace a long term perspective, and that came from dealing with many engineers at Sun who hold long term views of technology. So, I wonder, what happens if we just plod along, if we just keep improving OpenSolaris incrementally over time, if we keep learning from those who have gone before. I wonder what that perspective buys us?

Linus Torvalds - Part I | Linus Torvalds - Part II

Tuesday Jan 08, 2008

Torvalds on Democracy and Culture

Interesting interview between Jim Zemlin and Linus Torvalds. Two issues jumped out at me -- democracy and culture.

Torvalds on Democracy:

\*\*\*
Jim Zemlin: Let’s look a level deeper at the social interaction because open source is often described as this sort of democratizing process that, you know, everyone has a say, there’s this grand consensus, but at the end of the day, needs to be some sort of decisiveness when it comes to making decisions. How do you deal with that?

Linus Torvalds: Well, I mean, it’s really not a democracy at all and some people call it a meritocracy which is not necessarily correct either. It’s – I have a policy that he who does the code gets to decide, which basically boils down to there’s a – it’s very easy to complain and talk about issues and it’s also easy for me to say, ‘You should solve it this way.’

But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is actual code and the technology itself and the people who are not willing to step up and write that code, they can comment on it and they can say it should be done this way or that way or they won’t, but in the end their voice doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is code.
\*\*\*

I agree. But I'd just add that "code" to me means anything that you actually produce. It could be a document. A piece of artwork. A spec. Some code. A building. Whatever. Those who "do" always distinguish themselves from those who talk. To me that's the essence of a meritocracy.

Torvalds on Culture:

\*\*\*
So, the language barriers tend to be a huge problem for – well, actually, maybe more even the different cultural issues that – with Asian countries they have good penetration; some of them have huge penetration of Internet use, they have a obviously great education and they do not end up contributing a lot to open source, not the kernel, not to generally other projects either.

And that seems to be at least partly cultural and it’s really hard, then, for some of these people who have cultural barriers and a language barrier to then become actively involved. It does happen, but it certainly explains a lot of the reasons why Western Europe and the U.S. are the biggest development areas.
\*\*\*

This one's tougher. Although I agree that there are big language and culture issues in some Asian countries, at least in China I see these melting fast. It could be a very different open source world in a few years.

There are many other really interesting bits in the interview. Take a look. And a listen. Linus Torvalds - Part I | Linus Torvalds - Part II

Sunday Sep 23, 2007

Linus and Solaris Bugs

Seems Linus called Solaris a "buggy piece of crap" (here, here). Cool. But I'll listen to Casper, Joerg, Martin, and Richard instead.

Tuesday Aug 07, 2007

Andrew Morton on OpenSolaris

Linux kernel maintainer allays fears about forking: "Meanwhile, Morton did not put much stock in Sun's rival OpenSolaris project. 'From where I sit, I don't hear much about it. I don't see much evidence of people switching over,' or seriously considering OpenSolaris, said Morton. Sun should have moved off of Solaris and onto Linux, Morton said. 'They've fragmented the non-Windows operating system world and they continue to do so,' he said. But he acknowledged he did not see much chance of Sun moving away from Solaris." -- Andrew Morton

Oh, well. I guess not everyone has to love you, right? I wonder, though, why the jab now? Linus was critical of OpenSolaris recently, too. Anyway, I actually put a lot of stock in Linux -- especially Ubuntu because it's so open to non-technical users like me.
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