Do well and do good

This blog post is on purpose, Open Source, profit and pie. This week I had an opportunity to meet Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. I was inspired by the following comment he made (not his exact words):

"Because companies strive to have a positive balance sheet, they take more in, than they give out. However, as individuals, we define success as giving more than you take. Given that many of us are leaders as individuals *and* also leaders in our businesses, we often wrestle with these opposing forces. Therein lies the leadership challenge."

I’ve seen many Open Source developers struggle with this as they are inherently wired to give back more than they take. Open Source developers often distrust businesses, sometimes including their own employer, because they take more than they give back. They believe businesses just act out of greed and self-interest.

This kind of corporate distrust comes from the “fixed-pie concept"; that there is only so much work or resources to go around, and as pieces of the pie are taken by some, there is less left for everyone else. The reality is that businesses are often focused on expanding the pie. As the pie grows, there is more for everyone. It is those who believe in the "expanding-pie concept" who can balance the opposing forces. It is those who believe in the "fixed-pie concept" who worry about their own self-interests and distrust businesses.

Imagine a business that is born out of a desire to improve the world, that delivers real value to everyone it touches. A business that makes employees proud and where team members are passionate and committed. A business that aspires to do more than just turn a profit. A business that wants to help fuel a force of good. That is Acquia for me. That should be your employer for you (whoever your employer is).

The myth that profit maximization is the sole purpose of business is outdated, yet so many people seem to hold on to it. I started Acquia because I believed in the potential and transformative nature of Drupal and Open Source. The purpose of business is to improve our lives and create value for all stakeholders.

Acquia's growth and capital position has given me power and responsibility. Power and responsibility that has enabled me to give back more and grow the pie. I have seen the power that businesses have to improve the world by accelerating the power of good, even if they have to take more than they give. It's a story worth telling because business is not a zero-sum game with one winner. I believe Open Source companies are in a prime position to balance the opposing forces. We can do well and do good.

Comments

Homebrook (not verified):

When so many are castigating all corporations as inherently evil I appreciate your true assertion that they create an 'expanding pie', that running businesses is not a net-zero proposition where business growth does not necessarily 'take' from others. However I do think a more optimistic view is warranted. I believe the vast majority of business give more than they take. I think the world as we know it demonstrates the truth of this. What would the world look like if most businesses took more than they gave? Would anybody truly keep working for a company that actually took more than it gave? I wouldn't. Who would? Think about the billions of people that meet most of the needs of life through the income they receive from employment at a business. That alone, I think, comprises giving more than taking. Think of a world without an Apple Computer or Google, or Microsoft, for that matter. How many jobs would disappear, entire industries, millionaires and billionaires? For every single job I have ever had I was employed by a wealthy company. For that I am grateful. I do agree that Open Source companies play a very special role and particular appreciate the Drupal community and the companies that are a part of it. They certainly give a lot back, probably a lot more than we realize or could possibly be documented.

March 26, 2014 - 17:15
Anonymous (not verified):

Thanks for the writeup and for helping to open eyes regarding open-source, businesses and sustainability.

Given what you wrote, however, it is clear that Acquia is an outlier because the vast majority of businesses, especially small and medium ones definitely DO NOT give back at all, and when they do it's usually the bare minimum or has strings attached; sponsoring a meetup or a conference for example, sure a couple hundred bucks goes a long way to help organising an event, but it's more about saying that you're giving back (and hoping the visibility will grant cred, leads, etc) rather than doing it per-se, without expecting anything in return.

I see this day in and day out, not only with my employer but also with countless clients and also feedback from developer colleagues in other companies. Specifically regarding Drupal, we're all fine with using it to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, and not only with core but using tons of contribs, as well as 3rd party libraries. It's great to be able to make a buck off of someone else's heavy lifting; how awesome is it to produce a fully-functional dynamic website with a few clicks of a mouse and a few lines of code?

However, should we run into a problem with one of those open-source projects we use, and if there's no working patch in the issue queue, more often than not we're hacking it and moving on. There's zero interest in "wasting" precious budget to write an issue, add feedback or work on a patch in order to fix the issue permanently upstream.

And, God forbid, should this happen, it's infrequent and has got severe time constraints (spend no more than a half hour on this). The utter stupidity of this is that, if it's a module we use frequently, we're facing the same problems for every new project until some kind soul fixes the issue upstream.

Most companies are just downright greedy and it's hard to justify spending valuable resources on something that's not going to translate into an immediate profit. There's this dated Microsoft-like philosophy that if you share your code and help others, that you're helping the competition or giving them an edge of some sort. I've seen companies go to ridiculous lengths in order to obfuscate and hide little bits of code for various selfish reasons. To most, Drupal and other open-source software are just tools that some suckers build that we can use to many money, period.

The truth is that, in my experience, appearances are more important than actually doing good. Companies love to pretend they care but when push comes to shove and it's time to actually do something that matters, there isn't time, or budget or there's more important client work first.

PS - I chose to remain anonymous in order to avoid rocking the boat at my current job and putting my career at risk.

March 26, 2014 - 20:22
Useless Old Fool (not verified):

I often feel like a "Useless Old Fool" out of my depth, so bear with me. I am not trying to be contrary but to acknowledge that the "corporate distrust" comes from a Karma that should be learned from and addressed. While also following the Truisms 'Don't Let Perfect Be The Enemy Of Good.' and 'A good example is the best sermon.'

I follow futurist like David Brin and Peter Diamandis and hope for a better tomorrow.
"Reasons for Optimism and Concern: Can Technology Save the World?"
- See more at: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2013/08/reasons-for-optimism-and-concern-c...

I try to better understand the past flow of history and economics.
"Liberals, you must reclaim Adam Smith"
- See more at: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2013/11/liberals-you-must-reclaim-adam-smi...

But then I see the most successful take actions that are zero-sum.
"Good Eric Schmidt vs. Evil Eric Schmidt"
- See more at: http://www.epi.org/blog/good-eric-schmidt-evil-eric-schmidt/

http://www.applelabor.com/
$100 billion to Apple shareholders, any to Apple workers?
- See more at: http://www.epi.org/blog/100-billion-apple-shareholders-apple-workers/

So in hope of a more Transparent Society, with prosperous Open Source, and in support Positive Sum Games.
Can Acquia add to the marketing and messaging (maybe under Partners); to brag more about the "float all boats" actions it takes. It is implied, but not explicit in the current material; the Digital Alliance, CMIS, case studies, and the hosting for non-profits.

But we have been dealing with a 'zero-sum' and 'penny wise and pound foolish' culture for decades now. Being able to point at decisions and successes at Acquia as examples with specific actions that were win-win for all parties; that would make anyone proud.

March 26, 2014 - 22:44
Tom Wentworth (not verified):

We do need to do a better job of highlighting our efforts to "float all boats". You pointed out some great examples, and there are lots more including our work on Commons, the new Demo Framework, Drupal Gardens, etc.

I think this probably warrants a new page on acquia.com. I'll add it to the list of things for us to look into, and thank for your thoughtful comment!

April 1, 2014 - 19:26
Homebrook (not verified):

@Anonymous OK, if you limit the businesses behavior you consider to how it contributes to or takes from the open source community it may well be you are correct.
However I was simply raising an objection to the broad assertion made in Professor Klaus Schwab's quote, clearly not limited to the use of open source software, that most businesses take more than they receive. His statement is untrue and reflects the completely unwarranted general anti-business sentiment that has arisen in recent years. Businesses contribute goods, services, employment, income and benefits to employees, tax revenue, etc., etc. all of which, I think, far outweigh whatever 'taking' you might want to stack up against them, including the use/abuse of open source software. If it weren't for businesses the world would not 'go around'.

March 26, 2014 - 23:05
AnotherAnone (not verified):

That's what I thought too. That quote sounds clever as long as you don't think too hard about what it really means. As someone who runs a business the simple fact I live by every day is that we have to gave more than we take. It just happens in many different forms. Any business that doesn't do this can only survive if customers are forced to pay them.

That quote is referring to a basic fact of survival, in the same way that people need to eat to live while not being eaten. Yet if you focus on this narrow fact you will be missing a lot of other contributions that people make. Starving people and bankrupt businesses don't help anyone.

It's very hard to see the full impact that any individual business has. But it's easy to compare our lifestyle with other societies and times in history.

March 28, 2014 - 05:19

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