Open Source Social Innovation

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Last week Bill Gates entered the digital publishing world by establishing the Gates Notes – an online evolution of his now annual January letter sharing his thoughts and learnings on the progress of the issues central to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It’s interesting and symbolic that the next chapter of his life story would include an “open source” platform for sharing IP on social innovation.

It’s not that he’s such a great writer or that this will yield hints for the release of a revolutionary cause-related software program. But rather he’s put out there an experimental platform for sharing insights that might be absorbed and advanced by others.

Seth Godin would describe Bill Gates as a “linchpin”. “Linchpins invent, lead, connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.  They figure out what to do when there’s no rule book. They make their customers and peers happy.  They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn it into a kind of art.” As a software geek turned into a philanthrocapitalist, Bill Gates has taken the skills and passion he invested in the ground up technology business he started in the 70’s, to influencing positive structural impact in the systems that promote our global community welfare.

The Gates Foundation has been in the business of funding inventive approaches to solving some of the most pressing health, education and poverty issues for ten years. During this time Mr. Gates has met and connected with many government, business, and professionals with expertise on topics that extend well-beyond what a technology wonk should be able to comprehend, let alone act upon. But what this business mogul has taught us as we’ve watched the plethora of products and tech categories that Microsoft has explored, oftentimes succeeded in and more often times failed at, is that you need to be willing to experiment – a lot – before you get it right. The fact that policy makers meet with him and listen to his ideas, is not simply because he’s a quick study on the issues but because he and they recognize that pioneering development comes from the collaboration of diverse viewpoints and experiences.

Gates Notes is not visually clever nor does it appear to be chock full of spell-binding AHA moments. But change does happen incrementally and through experimentation. We should all be so fearless as to put ourselves out there to fail – or to succeed – as linchpins of the causes we believe in.

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