The Herald Bulletin

September 16, 2013

Emmett Dulaney: Revisiting the cathedral and the bazaar

By Emmett Dulaney
For The Herald Bulletin

---- — About 16 years ago, Eric Raymond published a paper called “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” that has become a seminal read for computer programmers.

While it focused on open source development and his experience with a program called “fetchmail,” it issued a number of “lessons” that are applicable to programming of any sort.

Recently, I reread the paper from a different perspective and came to discover something novel: By changing only a bare number of words in each lesson, it is possible to transform a good many of the lessons so that they apply to business principles rather than computer code.

This translating does not work with each lesson, but those that it does work with become succinct business-related messages that pack a lot of information in a few words. The following is a list of 10 such lessons, paraphrased and/or re-purposed from the original article:

1. Every good business starts by scratching an investor’s personal itch. Someone has to have a passion and recognize that nothing else on the market is currently fulfilling it as well as they could.

2. Good business plan authors know what to write. Great ones know what to rewrite (and reuse).

3. When writing a business plan, “Plan to throw one away; you will anyhow.” Raymond borrowed this from Fred Brooks and the book “The Mythical Man-Month,” and it applies here without any revision needed.

4. If you have the right attitude, interesting problems will find you. This ties back to the first lesson: being inquisitive and looking for a better way can lead to great results.

5. When you lose interest in a business, your last duty to it is to hand it off to a competent successor. You owe it to those who believed in the business to help it flourish – the customers, the employees, the vendors, and so on – rather than milking it and letting it die a slow death.

6. If you treat your customers as if they are your most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource.

7. The next best thing to having good ideas is recognizing good ideas from your customers. Sometimes the latter is better.

8. Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong.

9. Perfection (in a business plan) is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away. Raymond borrowed this originally from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a children’s book author among other talents, and it initially applied to design.

10. To solve an interesting problem, start by finding a problem that is interesting to you.

It should be pointed out that the fourth, eighth, and 10th lessons do not have a single word changed in them.

Emmett Dulaney is an Anderson resident and the author of several books on technology. His column appears Tuesdays.