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🌿 The Spore

Welcome to The Spore, the Organizational Mycology newsletter.

Brought to you by the team at Organizational Mycology

Welcome to The Spore, the Organizational Mycology newsletter. Expect to hear from us about every two weeks. We're going to do pop-up Oblique Thinking Hours as ideas come up. So if you're interested in those, drop us a line at [email protected] and we'll add you to that special announcement list for those interested in the Oblique Thinking Hour.

💨 Open Source in Everyday life 

One of our focuses in Org Mycology is to support and engage with open source communities. But we often don’t define what we mean when we talk about open source, and our motivation and inspiration go beyond open source software. So what are some metaphors that help us think about "other forms" of open source that we can see in the physical world?

Is this open source? A piece of plate steel, a bent bit of rebar, two welds and a screw. Could you recreate it with appropriate tools (angle grinder, vice, pliers, welder, drill)? Is it worthy of intellectual property (IP) protections? What effort would it take to protect that IP? Would it be worth the work to protect the IP?

There is an idea that an innovation gives the owner of it an advantage in the market, but the question is - how long does the innovation continue to provide an advantage? And is that advantage the most important/most useful aspect of the innovation? Consider the Corsi-Rosenthal Box, an innovation that we saw during the pandemic and western fire season. This is an inexpensive box fan, cardboard, duct tape, and air filter setup that acts as an air purifier. One could potentially patent this innovation, but in a time of need, which is more important? Money or the impact the innovation can have?

The impacts of this idea are more significant than any research I’ve ever done. –Richard Corsi, co-inventor of the Corsi-Rosenthal Box

Consider also the fashion industry, which often struggles with copycats of their designs. There are people who spend their time watching runways and then quickly turning what they see into designs that can be made more affordably. There is certainly an argument about the IP of the original designs of the fashion, but there is also a fluidity to designing clothing as well: Who is to say that one person who designs a dress with a peplum is copying exactly the peplum of another designer by only seeing their design on the runway (e.g. not seeing their pattern)? Likewise, designers are influenced by all manner of things: nature, music, and art, for example, and these "open source" inspirations are often directly reflected in their designs.

One of the reasons Org Mycology often defaults to natural metaphors is that nature is open source (despite what seed patenting agro-industrialists would like to say about that). Nature shares freely, and propagates without reference to supposed boundaries. There's a sense that if the context (soil/light/situation) is right, then through environmental pressures and selection the "right" seeds will sprout. Yet in nature, the seeds got there by being blown, tracked, moved or otherwise sent all over the place.

Organizations can sometimes tend toward doing what one another does (if you're interested in the theory behind it, we org theorists call that mimetic isomorphism) - meaning that change can sometimes manifest via mimicry. When one small, liberal arts college decides they need to have en suite bathrooms in their dorms, others take notice and will copy what their competitors do. We see it often in fads and trends among organizations, too. There are management books that make the rounds - remember "Who Moved My Cheese"and "Fish"? New technologies, such as today’s AI-enabled automation, diffuse through industries in a similar fashion (whether merited or not).

Organizations are able to do this because much of what is around us is open source at its core. Sure that speaker or microphone in your laptop might have a patent on the specific design that made it fit into the case, but largely it’s the same kind of speaker as speakers have always been. Coffee mugs, plates, spoons, forks, oven racks... they vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they’re largely part of the open source landscape of humanity. 

As we’ve traveled around the world, and even in our own backyards, we’ve marveled at the cultural open-source we see based on available materials in various places. From an abundance of condoms being used to create soccer balls, to using particular metal working designs for gates and latches on farms, to centuries-old nautical knot-tying techniques, there is open source innovation all around us. What "open source" innovations have you noticed in the world around you?

✂️Short updates

Matt Beane, a former postdoc advisor to Dan, will be presenting findings from their three-year study of the development of an AI-enabled robotic solution in warehousing at the Stanford Digital Economy Lab’s Seminar Series. The research documented how "non-professional" workers were included in the engineering and development of the solution (but perhaps not the workers you might expect). It explores what the consequences of this development process were for the workers, the organization, and the technology itself. The seminar is free and open to all via Zoom on April 15 at 12 PT. Read the abstract and register here if you're interested!

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