The most addictive drug in OSS

I’ve spent the last 22-ish years working on OSS and even longer on telco projects. Most of that time has involved way more than the typical 40 hour work week (often more than double). But the amazing thing is that it’s (almost) never felt like it. Time has almost always seemed to fly by so quickly when I work on OSS projects. 

I happily perform many OSS tasks for free. Writing this blog is one example. Connecting people and companies I respect highly is another. Proposals. Books. TM Forum contributions. There’s a long list of pro-bono tasks that mean my billable hours for PAOSS produces a way lower utilisation metric than when I used to work for consulting firms [I’d probably be fired from those firms if my billable hours were what they often are now].

As the saying goes, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That saying can be a bit of a smokescreen for the many people who use it, because it’s never an endless joy-fest. There’s always lots of grind in between the fun stuff.

Despite that, the cool thing is that I am excited almost every single day to get up and start on whatever OSS tasks are on the agenda for the day. The agenda often changes throughout the day too as new conversations, ideas, activities, connections and opportunities arise. That’s the really cool part about being networked with so many unbelievably clever OSS people spread out all around the world. There’s always something exciting happening.

Most of the important tasks in OSS take time. Sustained effort. Effort that’s not well suited to 15 minute snippets, constant interruptions, meandering meetings, an endless stream of emails / chat / socials to respond to, etc. We all need extended time to get into flow state. OSS work seems really well suited to flow state, for me at least. It’s common for me to think an hour has elapsed whilst doing a task, then checking the clock, only to find that four hours have flashed past. I seem to get lost in so many of the OSS tasks I do each day.

It’s in flow state where productivity increases, creativity increases and as a result, the corresponding sense of achievement increases. 

This is one of the main advantages to having left the days of being an employee behind. I can now allocate larger blocks of time to creating art. An OSS Roadmap is easier to produce when in flow state. Projects like Due Diligence, where time is of the essence, can be finished faster and more efficiently when in flow state. It’s easier to create thousands of words of content a day when in flow state, thus reducing the time to finish whitepapers, books (including the new one that’s due out shortly called “Digital Transformation: Simplified”).

When you can do the work because you love to, not because you have to, it requires no extrinsic motivation. When you can make time for flow-state moments, and use it to

  • Solve problems you didn’t think you could solve
  • Deliver outcomes you didn’t think you were capable of
  • Write content you never even realised you could dream up…

…then that’s addictive.

But the most addictive drug I’ve found in the world of OSS is in using existing OSS tools as a canvas to deliver new capabilities. That’s why I’ve created the personal sandpit project. Creating new capabilities could include designing an end-to-end workflow that delivers a business outcome or solves a business problem. It could be modelling a network and the services that reside on it to create a digital twin of the network. It could be migrating and cross-linking data sets so the OSS tools become instantaneously useable. It could be integrating products together to deliver more comprehensive capabilities. All of these examples (and more) show how to make the OSS tools come to life in creative new ways.

Now here’s the part that I find most interesting. On large transformation projects, we seem to do so many things that (intentionally or unintentionally) cause us to avoid these most rewarding of tasks. We sit in endless meetings. We argue about the prioritisation of requirements, resources, risks, sequencing of activities and such. We wage political wars to get what we think is best. We spend hours creating status reports so others can understand why productivity isn’t as high as it could be or why the project is falling behind schedule.

We create an environment where the grind pervades. Productivity suffers. Creativity suffers. Motivation suffers. I’ve seen how soul-destroying it can be on project teams. The passion is extinguished.

OSS is a passion for me. The domain name tells it all. I’d do it even if I wasn’t getting paid for it (which is often the case). But that doesn’t mean other members of your team are fueled by the same drug as me. The trick for you and them is to find your drug/s of choice. Help them to avoid doing the grind. Help free them up to enter their flow state. The path to better OSS outcomes depends on it.

No drugs were harmed, or consumed, in the production of this article (despite what some of you might be thinking).

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