Decision making & critical mass

7:05 pm gnome

Benjamin Otte’s post today asking how decisions get made (in the context of GNOME) made me think of something I remarked last week.

Last Friday, I attended Critical Mass in San Francisco with Jacob Berkman, and had a blast.

I'm forever blowing bubbles...

I'm forever blowing bubbles...

The observation I made was that Critical Mass’s decision making felt a little bit like GNOME’s.

We all met up around 18h on the Embarcadero, all with a common goal – cycle around for a few hours together. Different people had different motivations – for most it was to have fun and meet friends, for some, to raise awareness of cycling as a means to getting around, for others, a more general statement on lifestyle.

After a while standing around, you could feel the crowd getting antsy – people wanted to get underway, and they were just waiting for someone to show the way. For no particular reason, someone who was only a leader insofar as he was the first one to start cycling, we got underway.

After that, thing proceeded more or less smoothly, most of the time. But every now and again, at an intersection, the whole thing would just stop. A group at the front would circle to block the intersection, and those of us behind had no choice but to stop, and wait for someone to get us going again.

Eventually, with Jacob, Heewa and Marie-Anne, we went up to the front to avoid getting blocked up like this, and to set the pace a bit.

When we got to the front, we still stopped every now and again to let people catch up, to keep the group together, and then set off again. Sometimes, we were followed, and sometimes, we’d go 50 yards or so, and for no discernible reason, we were leaders without followers – just two guys out taking a walk. At one intersection, we were stopped for fully 20 minutes. On 3 or 4 different occasions, small groups set off to try to get things underway again, and yet they weren’t followed. Until finally, as if some secret handshake were made, we set off again.

This is the kind of decision making you get when you have a mob with no clearly identified leadership – the direction is set by those who take the lead, and sometimes the ones who take the lead don’t get followed.

It’ll be interesting to see, in the myriad of projects setting direction for the GNOME project at the moment, which group(s) impose their vision and get us cycling on another few blocks, until once again we find ourselves circling an intersection. Will it be Zeitgeist/Mayanna? GNOME Shell? Clutter? Telepathy? GNOME Online Desktop? Or some other small group that captures the imagination of a critical mass of people so that everyone else just follows along?

To be honest, I don’t know – I’m stuck before the intersection, waiting for people to follow somebody, anybody, and let me get moving again.

One Response

  1. nixternal Says:

    Great analogy! I frequent the Chicago Critical Mass rides and it is exactly the same and I can totally see your point on the leadership of the ride and the leadership of many open source projects. Since I am unfamiliar with GNOME development and community unlike I am with the KDE community, I can still put the analogy to use, in pretty much every project I have been a part of, some worse than others of course.

    Keep up the cycling!