My good friend Lars Pind runs a company, Collaboraid, which embodies generosity in a number of ways. They develop e-learning software based on an open source platform, which is generous in itself, since they spend time and energy not only on creating solutions for their customers (among which you’ll find MIT, Heidelberg University and Greenpeace), but also on improving the platform itself.
And now they’ve taken it a step further, and have arranged a two-day conference about the technological platform for anyone who’s interested, and people are coming from all over the world. Cost of participation: Zero! They spend a lot of time arranging this event but won’t make a single buck on it. They do it simply for the sake of the community, and because they think it will be fun.
What does it signify, when a company does something this generous?
Most of all, it points to a commitment to something larger than and outside of the company itself. In this case, Collaboraid are committed not only to their own success, but are also working for the success of the OpenACS and dotLRN communities. This might even mean aiding your competitors, since they will also benefit from whatever improvements are added to the platform.
It also indicates a belief, that together we can achieve results, that are not possible alone. That the collaborative contributions of many people from many companies can create something that is better for the customers than a single company could alone.
To take it one step further, it also points to a belief, that to improve yourself, you must help others to improve and vice versa. The saying “no man’s an island” refers to the fact that noone is completely isolated, we’re all connected. And when we’re connected through something like an open source community, helping the community means helping yourself.
And lastly I think there’s a belief, that working in this way, will always be more fun. When you’re open and generous, you’re working in a way that’s more natural for most people. We like to be open and to share whatever we can – it makes us feel good. Conversely, when companies hold on tightly to whatever they have, refusing to share, and working only for their own good, it introduces a certain closedness. They risk seeing everything around them as potential threats, and miss many opportunities for fruitful collaboration.
All of this generosity seems to be working just fine for Lars and Collaboraid. They’ve recently completed a project which included a lot of improvements to the dotLRN platform. All of these improvements are now part of the platform, and anyone is free to use it, netting Collaboraid huge respect points from the community. They’re also increasing the workforce by 50% soon, when they’re joined by a new Australian developer.
All of this reminded me of an article in Fast Company I’ve written about earlier, about the value of generosity in business.