Friday, May 25, 2007

Lunch and the War on Open Source Terrorism

Each and every day in Mumbai India about 5,000 mostly illiterate men pick up and deliver about 200,000 lunches. They do so with such extreme precision that they make only 1 error in every 6,000,000 deliveries. What's also interesting about this organization is that there really is no documentation or management to speak of. Everyone is treated equally, gets paid more or less the same and doesn't answer to any lackey in middle-management. Compare this to an efficient Western corporation like FedEx. They've invested billions in developing information and logistics systems that could never dream of delivering the infinitesimally small error rates that the Dabbawala achieve every day.

Businesses like Fedex are said to be studying the Dabbawala to see if there is anything to be learned. I'm guessing they will be able to glean some useful bits but will find it difficult to apply these to their own business. This is because the two organizations are not really working towards the same ends. A western corporation works ultimately towards maximizing shareholder value and it tries to do this by maximizing profit and growth. The Dabbawala are not concerned with such goals. They are concerned with making a living to support their families. They are not trying to get rich through their work. The system is not designed to deliver quarterly numbers so that the markets will reward them with higher share prices. The system is not really designed at all. There is no command and control, it is just a platform for their work.

This is a serious challenge to capitalist theory which holds dearly the notion that the most efficient systems are those that are driven by personal greed. Open source software is another example that challenges this long-held notion. A collaborative effort to create a software program often results in a better more efficient product than those created by massively funded, profit-driven enterprises even though the people working together in the open source project are often not driven by personal profit motives. These people are brought together by a common desire to create a great piece of software and some of the others join in just to stick it to The Man, which in the realm of software for some time now has been Microsoft.

The American Military is another example of a highly structured organization that invests billions in maintaining a top-down hierarchical command and control system. They have been trained like the captains of industry to deal in measurable deliverables. The generals design the comprehensive plans that are carried out by the foot-soldiers and the practice of ranking participants makes it absolutely clear where one stands in the hierarchy and who one takes their orders from.

What happens when they are faced with an enemy like Al Qaeda? This terrorist organization is not really an organization at all. They don't have a command and control hierarchy, no ultimate commander is giving orders to be carried out and what semblance of organization and hierarchy that they appear to have has been bestowed upon them by western media and politicians that completely misinterprets them. By framing them in the same way as are western organizations the mighty American military lost the war on terror before it even began. These people are open source fanatics. They seem to be working in concert because they may share a common goal of creating a fundamentalist world or perhaps some of them just want to stick it to The Man, which geopolitically for some time now has been the US.

The cost of citizen global open communication drops ever closer to zero and as it does newer more efficient systems of delivering products to each other become more viable and if the captains of industry remain out to lunch on this, they will soon become lunch.

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