Subject: Re: How to run an FSB R&D lab (maybe)
From: Nick Jennings <nick@namodn.com>
Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 10:55:28 -0800

Tom,

 I agree that the "academia" environment does stimulate innovative, and
 exploratory projects; both technical, and non-technical. However,
 I think you are living in a pipe dream to think that this can be
 "conceived" artificially in a corporate environment with 
 "professionals" instead of students. You can only have too many
 Ph d's in a room before heads start to fly and bodies twitch
 aimlessly on the floor, tufts of someone else's hair clenched
 between white fists. I think a good deal of crying would be involved 
 as well.

 Seriously though. I think allot of that "magic" you seek is only
 very prevalent in a student/mentor environment. I never went to
 college (though I'm only 23 and might try for a BA with night
 classes), however I have always been extremely motivated as
 a learner, a student of all that interests me. I think I would
 excel in great bounds in a corporate environment as you describe,
 but only if I was constantly being challenged and learning from
 others (the paychecks wouldn't hurt). 

 You've got to maintain that balance of experience and eagerness.
 
-- 
 Nick Jennings

On Thu, Mar 21, 2002 at 12:34:08AM -0800, Tom Lord wrote:
> 
> 
> One of the most effective organizational structures for software
> innovation that I've ever seen is the college campus.  There you have
> a lot of people with substantial free time, intellectual curiosity,
> and no particular job requirements.  The number of people is large
> enough and general mixing of people effective enough that little
> cliques form, break-apart, and re-form as interest rises and wanes in
> various topics and projects.  There's plenty of machine and reference
> resources around to work with.  There's a constant barrage of
> stimulating lectures and the latest news of recent innovations
> elsewhere.  There's a walled-garden network for communication and
> results aggregation.  Projects that "make sense" gain momentum all by
> themselves simply because people want to work on them.  Projects that
> don't work out get dropped like rocks.  Influences come from far and
> wind -- including from far outside the domains of techie geekdom.  The
> pace is casual when there's not much going on, frenetic when it pays
> to be frenetic.  People have fun and express their joy by doing
> quality work.
> 
> That's where we get Gtk, from Berkeley: it came out of an
> undergraduate computing club.  At CMU, in the 80s, before the web,
> there was a sort of campus-wide web microcosm built out of AFS and the
> Andrew Project software: I could rattle off a half dozen very
> successful spontaneous projects, taking place in the space of maybe
> 3-4 years, that you've never heard of but that gave that campus, at
> that time, very effective tools.  It wasn't even the case of a huge
> hacker community out of which a half-dozen projects succeeded: there
> was a lot of overlap in those projects -- it was a small community
> being extraordinarily productive.
> 
> It's an _extremely_ efficient model: there's no proposal/approval
> process.  There's no per-project budgeting pains.  There's no mental
> gymnastics associated with trying to explain goals that make sense to
> decision makers not prepared to understand them.  There's no pressure
> to get a win out of a project that the participants have just about
> given up on.  There's just a society of mind and spontaneous action
> driven by informal consensus and excitement about newly discovered
> possibilities.
> 
> So I guess the right model is to pay people to hang around, have a
> budget for honorariums for lectures, buy stack privileges at some
> nearby campus libraries, encourage people to set up comfortable
> hacking nests, throw some good social events, patronize the local
> establishments of bleeding edge culture, hire a mix of people as if
> you were planning a really good party, then walk around a lot to keep
> up with what's going on and figure out where you need to send in the
> technology transfer troops.
> 
> Having shouted so long about pocket-protector process engineering and
> serious new business models, I thought I ought to mention the other
> side of the coin.
> 
> -t
> 
> "Oh for the love of g-d!  Where's the ROI, man?!?!  WHERE'S THE ROI?!?"
> 
>