On constraints and innovation

Discontent spurs innovation for sure, but sometimes in the least expected ways.

How much should we be thanking Microsoft for its narrow vision of the web, its monopolistic business practices, and the browser it put out to pasture for over half a decade? Why? Well for one, it lead directly to the formation of the Mozilla project, later organization, later corporation, and the Firefox web browser they’ve spawned. I would even go so far as to say that no company has done more (albeit inadvertently) to solidify the goals and aims of the free and open source software movement than Microsoft.

And shouldn’t we be thanking our lucky stars for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the RIAA? Among other things they motivated Larry Lessig to create the Creative Commons, an organization which set out to produce and promote a series of copyright licenses not previously envisioned by politicians and corporate rightsholders. Rather than the one-size-fits-all copyright of All Rights Reserved, By Permission Only—which always seemed good enough—the Creative Commons demonstrated to people a parallel world where creators of all stripes could license their content in advance from an a la carte menu of permissions, in order to grant, if not encourage people to use their creations.

There’s a nugget of something here that keeps rattling around in my brain. Namely that often dire, draconian circumstances breed an intense sort of clarity, followed by a streak of rebellious creativity. For sure it’s a shame that such brilliance must start with tragic and disheartening earth scorchings, but man do they open people’s eyes in a way that flowers and butterflies don’t.

Another example, where the eventual outcome is yet unclear. People worry about the domestic and international mess that George W. Bush has managed to get us in, and that things may never be the same. For one, I say hear hear! After 8 years of Bill Clinton, we got lazy. Who knew government could be so hard but seem so easy? It’s just an unimaginable shame that the country of Iraq has had to endure chaos and torture and death because our democracy failed to keep our leadership in check. But you know what, I also say, don’t be so shortsighted. George has done more harm to the Republican party than perhaps even Richard Nixon. And his administration has angered so many people across the spectrum, I’m almost giddy with anticipation to see what the opposition (and I don’t mean the Democrats) eventually cook up to prevent a disaster like the last 7 years from EVER HAPPENING AGAIN.


You might enjoy Larry’s free culture talk from OSCON 2002.

This is relevant: Evolution in the species “companies”. How did I not link to this excellent post before? I thought for sure I’d neatlinked it, but no. Anyway, here’s the conclusion to whet your collective appetites:

The companies that couldn’t beat Microsoft have all died, and evolution has resulted in three very different types of companies that are each immune to Microsoft’s strategies in their own way. Yet all are still vulnerable to the same thing: a better product.


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