The Second Law of OSS Thermodynamics

Applying the Second Law of Thermodynamics to understanding reality, Boyd infers that individuals or organizations that don’t communicate with the outside world by getting new information about the environment or by creating new mental models act like a “closed system.” And just as a closed system in nature will have increasing entropy, or disorder, so too will a person or organization experience mental entropy or disorder if they’re cut off from the outside world and new information.
The more we rely on outdated mental models even while the world around us is changing, the more our mental “entropy” goes up.
Think of an army platoon that’s been cut off from communication with the rest of the regiment. The isolated platoon likely has an idea, or mental model, of where the enemy is located and their capabilities, but things have changed since they last talked to command. As they continue to work with their outdated mental model against a changing reality, confusion, disorder, and frustration are the results
.”
Brett & Kate McKay
here.

Does the description above resonate with you in relation to OSS? It does for me on a couple of levels.

The first is in relation to data quality. If you create a closed system, one where there isn’t continual, ongoing improvement efforts entropy and disorder goes up. If you only do big-bang data fix projects intermittently, you will experience entropy until the next big (and usually expensive) data remediation effort. And if your processes don’t have any improvement mechanisms, they tend to fall into a data death spiral.

The second is in relation to innovation. We can sometimes get stuck in our own mental models of what this industry is about. The technologies that are in enormous flux around us and impacting OSS mean that our mental models should be evolving on a daily / weekly / monthly basis. Unfortunately, sometimes we get stuck in the bubble of our current project and don’t get the feedback into the system that we need. PAOSS was spawned from a situation like that. For 18 months, I was leading a $100m+ project that had little to do with OSS and was increasingly drawing me away from the passion for OSS. PAOSS was my way of popping the bubble.

But I know my mental models still need to shift more than ever before (strong convictions, weakly held). Technologies such as CI/CD, AI/ML, virtualised networking, IoT and many more are changing the world we operate in. This needs vigilance to continually re-orient. That’s fun if you enjoy change, but many of our stakeholders don’t. Change management becomes increasingly important, yet increasingly underestimated.

Some even say that OSS is an old mental model (to which I counter by saying that new operational models look nothing like the old ones, but they’re still operational assistance tools, as per Theseus’s boat).

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