Is it possible to convey an idea comprehensively in 5 minutes? The Frismakers movement seems to think so. I had a chance to try it at the recent Frismakers Festival in Berlin, where I presented on how we apply the Open Source way to build Endocode and its corporate culture. This was a challenge for the five minute format because it is just not a trivial idea.
The question I raised in the talk was how experienced Open Source contributors would design a company. When asked about what motivates them, contributors often say it is the sense of creative accomplishment and working with others that share their interests. When we started Endocode, we wanted to retain and channel that kind of intrinsic motivation. While others are searching for the Open Source business model, we wanted to create a business that allowed us to work in the Open Source Way, a place where contributors like us would want to work. Among other things, this means implementing meritocracy, open governance and attribution. Meritocracy boils down to having influence that matches your contributions. In our case, it means for example that all employees gather share in the company according to how long they have been with us. Open governance is not anarchy, quite contrary it is implemented by having well defined, inclusive decision making processes. Attribution is a bit harder to implement, the contributions of individuals in Endocode should be visible, instead of the individuals disappearing in the machine like cogs. At Endocode, we actively strive to follow these principles while the company is growing. So far, our employees agree with us that Endocode is a great place to work.
The idea of creating a place for meaningful contributions and calling that a company induced a number of thoughtful questions and comments. It also raised attention in unexpected places, for example TechNet. One attendee raised doubts on whether our goals can be achieved. To that the answer is we do not know yet. Building a work place driven by purpose is a process, not a one-time effort. Companies change and grow. What we do want to do is keep these ideals in mind for future design decisions, and strive for it. I hope we can review the results in ten years time.
So does the Frismakers concept work? During the preparation of the talk, I found it quite hard to identify those bits of the train of thought that absolutely have to be presented to the viewer. Of course that enforces the presenter to weed out all the cruft. On the other hand I had the feeling that it would have been easier to understand the presentation in ten minutes than in five. For example, when removing a few of the comments I usually add, I firmly expected that interested people in the audience will ask questions about that after the talk. And that is exactly what happened. This means that those who did not have time to ask afterwards won’t get the full picture, or go home unsatisfied. Consequently, I am sure that there is a class of ideas that can nicely and profoundly presented in five minutes. This class however is a subset of all (potentially interesting) ideas, and I have the impression that it does not contain all the really fascinating ones. The five minute concept seems to be more suitable for product presentations and start-up pitches. Not bad per se, but something to keep in mind. TED talks have been claimed to “turn scientists and thinkers into low-level entertainers”, and they last 15 minutes. Given the current enthusiasm for brevity, make sure the selected format is appropriate for the content presented.