Culture Technology Wants To Be Free

Culture technology wants to be free.

Quick, answer this question: what kind of world are we building? An open, flexible, free-to-innovate world, OR…a closed, rigid world where just a few people can slow down or even STOP innovation… cold…with restrictive licensing?

Listen up…

Triads as described by Dave Logan in the book TRIBAL LEADERSHIP is a micro-culture design.

Scrum as described by Jeff Sutherland & Ken Schwaber is a culture design for teams.

Sociocracy as described in the book WE THE PEOPLE by John Buck is a culture design for large groups of people.

“The Core” from Jim and Michele McCarthy are a set of 11 commitments and 11 key interactions- a culture design for teams of up to 10 people. 

These culture designs are games– social games with goals, rules, roles and feedback loops. These are social systems designs.

Here is a quote to consider:

The field of system dynamics is leading to the new profession of enterprise designer. Methods now exist for designing the structure and policies of human systems so that the systems will better serve the people within them. Several decades of progress in system dynamics point to a new kind of management education. Such a future education will train a new kind of manager for the future. I anticipate future management schools devoted to “enterprise design.” Such business schools would train “enterprise designers.”…just as successful aircraft are possible only through skilled designers, so in the future will successful corporations, countries and social systems be possible through enterprise designers. Enterprise designers will be able to reduce the number of mistakes in the structure and policies of social institutions. -Jay Forrester, December 15, 1988, Sevilla Spain



Here is another:

In response to the demands of software, various high tech development disciplines have been articulated and “packaged up.” We have created several seminal management “movements” (such as Agile, Scrum, XP, etc.). These movements represent the birth of culture engineering and are primitive compared to what will soon follow. -Jim McCarthy, September 2012, CULTUREcon Boston



In my book THE CULTURE GAME, I explain how culture is a game.

Games can be and are designed.

If a culture is a game, it can be designed, just LIKE a game.

The current pace of change in business and society is unrelenting.  To rapidly IDENTIFY and rationally RESPOND to change, we must re-invent continuously. We must design new ways of organizing. We must INVENT new structures that are responsive to change.

And therefore, the time has come for the big shift: the shift into a new era of design…the era of social system design. An era where we routinely create, refine and re-create ever-more effective ways of working.


The Golden Age

The massive changes in society we are experiencing today are being created and amplified by software technology. Software is the dominant influence now: it is the engine of relentless change.

Because of this, we are on the threshold of a golden age,  a new era where social system design has suddenly become VERY important. For businesses, the implementation of good designs that serve the people who populate them is now a huge competitive advantage.

The various skills and disciplines from computer software (analysis, design, code, implementation, testing and maintenance, the use of patterns, refactoring and the like) are being ported to this new discipline. This is beginning to give rise to a new movement…a movement whose goal is to design and implement not computer systems but social systems… social systems designs that serve the people who populate them, instead of the other way around.

What can slow this movement?


What can accelerate this movement?


There’s an alarming trend in culture design. Some individuals and organizations are marketing social system designs while attempting to lock up their designs through licensing.

This is the OPPOSITE of what is needed now.

For example, anything published under the Creative Commons “Atribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives” license prevents those who build on it from selling or distributing those innovations.  This is a serious impediment to innovation at a time when the need for innovative culture design is accelerating. This license is bad for innovation. That why Creative Commons says plainly:

“This is not a Free Culture license.”

Jim and Michele McCarthy led the way by example, in 1999 by publishing The Core Protocols, their “social IP”, under the GNU-GPL license. Under the terms of this license, the The Core are published with two key features:

  • First: if you make a work derived from a GPL-licensed work, you must make it available on the same terms.
  • Second: if you distribute your derivation, you must make the “source code” that it is based upon available to absolutely everyone you distribute your derivation to.

These features of the GPL license encourage innovation at a time when we are on the verge of a new era: a Golden Age of culture design. Lack of attribution is also very big problem solved by open source licensing: people who do good work need to be recognized as the author of it, because that encourages them to do more of the same.

If your work is easily co-opted without considerate attribution, and an attendant increase in your reputation, why bother?

Open source licensing for culture designs is THE solution. The alternative- locking up “social IP” with restrictive licensing– PREVENTS others from distributing and profiting from innovation in the social sciences.

In one extreme case, an “integral” entrepreneur marketing a work derived from the work of others attempted to protect that derivation with a USA patent.

The USA patent was not awarded.

If it was, anyone that tried to build on that work would have to pay the patent holder a royalty!

That “integral” entrepreneur is now publishing a social system design called “holacracy” under one of the most restrictive licenses ever– the so-called “Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives” license which prevents those who build on the design from selling or distributing any derivative works.

This license impedes innovation!!

Moral of story: Some Creative Commons licenses impede innovation, and don’t take my word for it- Creative Commons also says so. The so-called “Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives” license DOES NOT encourage innovation. This is NOT an open source license.

What the world needs now is social intellectual property that is published under licensing terms that promote— instead of attempting to lock up– and prevent– innovation. With true open source licensing, innovators publish their works with intent to promote innovation. Truly open source licenses contain provisions that not only honor the originator, but also see to it that the originator’s ideas and work are ported into the future, attached to the innovations of others who build on the originators work.

Do you have a culture design? Consider publishing it under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA-40) license. This IS an open source license!

The nasty Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 (the one that the “holacracy constitution” is published under)  is NOT an open source license. Far from it! You cannot distribute ANY of your innovations on that work. You cannot recoup your valuable time and effort by commercializing your innovation.

This license IMPEDES innovation.



What kind of world are we building? An open, flexible, free-to-innovate world, with a commons, OR…a closed, rigid world with NO COMMONS where a few people can slow down or even STOP innovation… with restrictive licensing?

Social technology must be free to build on, derive from, and innovate. Otherwise, we’ll go backwards 30 years and kill an emerging golden age in sociocultural system design & engineering.

Culture technology wants to be free.


Related Links: Culture Technology

Triads from David Logan (link)

Scrum from Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber (link)

The Core from Jim and Michele McCarthy (link)

Sociocracy from The Sociocracy Group (link)


Related Links: Licenses and Licensing

The nasty Creative Commons “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives” license, a license that actually discourages innovation in culture design. Note: The so-called “holacracy constitution” is published under this license! (link)

The Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license, a license that promotes innovation in Culture Design. (link)

The GNU-GPL, a license that promotes innovation in Culture Design. (link)