Here is a rare cross post from Fast Forward but I liked this story, and I like Firefox, and wanted to share it here. McKinsey published an interview with Mozilla's Mitchell Baker, titled Succeeding at open-source innovation. Like many people, I use Firefox (I also use Apple’s Safari) so I was especially interested. The noted that Mozilla, “relies extensively on people outside her company—not just for creative ideas, but also to develop products and make decisions. The result: Mozilla’s Firefox browser, with 150 million users, has become a rival of Microsoft’s market-leading Internet Explorer. As Firefox flourished, the process that created it became a model for participatory, open-source collaboration.” So what are the lessons?
Michell said, “our mission is about keeping the Internet safe and open, but also about building participation. We do that by setting up frameworks where people can get involved in a very decentralized fashion. These frameworks embody our values and our goals and get embedded in other people’s minds. We attract people who care about those things, and they go off and participate in the mission in a very decentralized way.”
She said that for some things at the core of their technology they must have extreme discipline. But she added, “there are lots of areas for participation—whether it’s building an extension or localizing the product or building new products—that don’t need that degree of discipline. And a key point is for people to “own” what they are doing, not in a financial or legal sense but in an emotionally committed sense that gives them a chance to decide.” To be successful they reply on a growing set of employees and volunteers from their large community.
Their volunteers are motivated by a desire to keep the Internet open to cut down on abuses like spyware, pop ads, etc. Mitchell said that this participation has made a difference in the volunteers’ lives. She added, “I don’t know if you could build this degree of motivation for something that really didn’t change people’s lives, something that they weren’t emotionally committed to. But the number of people who feel that Firefox is partly theirs is very high.”
Mitchell added some important points on motivation within an organization. She said, sometimes, just giving people permission does wonders. In addition they created scaffolding for people to work from, so that even if they were not innovating themselves, other people could. All this makes a lot of sense to me and is very inspirational. There is much more in the article. The Firefox story sounds in many ways what I learned from the Obama campaign and its use of the web, staff, and volunteers, (see especially, How Barack Obama is Using Web and Enterprise 2.0 in the US Primary Campaign Through Central Desktop, Rolling Stone Magazine and More on Obama’s Use of the New Web)