Learning from mistakes

Posted: August 16, 2012 in openstreetmap
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Last year I attended and wrote about FOSS4G 2011 in Denver. The 2012 FOSS4G event was supposed to take place in Beijing this September. Last month OSGEO announced that the conference was cancelled.
Cameron Shorter has posted a detailed analysis on how the conference fell apart. His post does a great job of looking at the sequence of events that lead up to the current situation.

In the corporate world when an event, company or product falls on its face the detailed reasons are hushed up and rarely get a public airing. When the government screws up sometimes we get an expensive public inquiry where lawyers argue about how someone else did or didn’t screw up. OSGEO has a tradition of building consensus and discussing non-technical issues on their mailing lists. Good open-source projects not only be give us amazing software but they allow us to learn valuable lessons on public relations, finances and management by letting us watch their inner-workings.

When I was learning too fly airplanes I made a point of regularly reading the investigation reports of plane crashes. A common theme was that a single mistake didn’t cause the accident but a chain of mistakes, malfunctions and bad luck all added up to the crash. Common thinking in the aviation community is that if you learn about the mistakes others have made then you will be more likely to avoid making the same mistakes. The story Cameron tells is about limited options, ignoring red flags, communication break downs and bad luck. These are all issues we see everyday across all aspects of life.

The mailing list discussion about the lessons that can be learned for future FOSS4G events is still on-going but as outsiders we can follow their discussion and try to learn from their mistakes. When our events, initiatives or products don’t succeed we should also conduct a carefully look at how we got to that state and what things, with 20/20 hindsight, we should have paid more attention too.

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