How to support that innovative spark

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1814156778_f5b7e6ac12_mSo, I’ve got this amazing new idea for a business model.  It’s going to be big!  And you, loyal reader, are completely welcome to get in on the ground floor for free.

Here’s the deal:

Take a bunch of highly skilled people from around the world and get them to volunteer their skill and knowledge—maybe twenty to thirty hours a week.  Together then, we create this really great thing, amazing, revolutionary stuff–best in the world.  Next—and this is the best part—we give it away for free!

I know what you’re thinking.  It’s not the traditional business model, maybe.  You’re wondering why anyone brilliant enough to create anything this good might volunteer to do it for nothing, right?  Or maybe you think I’m just blowing smoke.

Or maybe, just maybe, this sounds a little familiar.  Maybe you’re remembering something you once read about a computer operating system called Linux, which powers one out of four corporate servers in Fortune 500 companies and more than 90% of today’s 500 fastest supercomputers; or WordPress, which you may have heard gives away the software that runs over 60 million websites including business sites such as Ebay, CNN, The New York Times and Forbes; or perhaps you’re thinking this sounds a bit like the Apache web server software that serves 55% of all active websites; or maybe you’re thinking of Wikipedia, a little outfit disrupting the world of encyclopedia publishing.

All of these examples and more have been created and maintained by highly skilled people that are literally giving away their time and talent.  And, as it turns out, what they are collaborating to create is better than anything made for profit using the traditional corporate business model.

How is this possible?  Because these are not businesses or organizations as much as they are ecosystems. The traditional rules of motivation we believe are at play in our economy do not exist in this “open source” environment.  Supply and demand, profit and loss, investment and return, carrots and sticks, competition, survival of the fittest, rugged individualism—all things this great nation have been built upon—have absolutely nothing to do with the design or delivery of Linux, WordPress, or Wikipedia.  Facts we might be willing to ignore if these products were not among the most innovative and disruptive in the world.

So the questions I’d like to ask are: if not competition and profit, beyond cooperation and collaboration, what are the rules these new systems are built upon, and are they at all relevant to our world?  Can we learn anything from them in order to improve our families, schools, and day-to-day operation of our businesses?

According to Dan Pink in, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” there are three pillars that support high levels of innovation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Perhaps the quickest way to explain these powerful concepts is to offer a few quotes from Pink’s book.  As you read them, consider what you know about Linux, Apache, WordPress, Wikipedia, or any other open-source product or service you are aware of.  Reflect on their cost and how much of each you may include your own day-to-day life.

Autonomy: “The ultimate freedom for creative groups is the freedom to experiment with new ideas.  Some skeptics insist that innovation is expensive.  In the long run, innovation is cheap.  Mediocrity is expensive—and autonomy can be the antidote.” — Tom Kelly, General Manager of IDEO.

Mastery: “The desire to do something because you find it deeply satisfying and personally challenging inspires the highest levels of creativity, whether it’s in the arts, sciences or business.”  –Teresa Amabile, Harvard University professor.

Purpose: “I believe . . . a new form of capitalism is emerging.  More stakeholders want their business to have a purpose bigger than their product.” — Mats Lederhousen, former McDonald’s executive.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose: invaluable concepts that, when embraced, change everything.  So go ahead and get in on the ground floor.  Considering the cost, you’ve got absolutely nothing to lose—except maybe some mediocrity.

Founder of, Chris Wondra is just another Wisconsin public school teacher. Email Chris at:

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