Douwe Osinga's Blog: The Geeks should inherited the Earth

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Ever since the first humans started to hunt Mammoths together, the question as to how best run an organization has been central in the thinking about human behaviour. One of the first models to become really popular was the dictatorship-model, mainly because it was very good for the dictator and he was the boss, so only his voice counted. The Greeks discovered democracy of sorts and later capitalism experimented with shareholder run companies and many variants of these or rebranded old systems were tried in between or after. Usually these systems are about the balancing of interests: Military vs Civilians, Shareholders vs Managers, Politicians vs the People etc. Why is it that only the geeks came up with a system that does not tries to align interests in the best way, but comes up with the best solution in itself?

Great engineering projects are run like this and there is no better way to get an engineer angry than to modify a decision for political reasons. The early Internet is a great example. The Internet didn’t really have a government; there were projects that addressed some commonly felt problems and standards were drawn up so that different systems could communicate. Normal governments would have taken ages to come up with solutions like this and solutions would have been compromises only suitable for the short term. But the Geeks came up with a network that was designed for a few dozen computers with an eye for future growth and that scaled up to the current 600 million people online. Compare that with the growth of for example hard disk support under Dos/Windows.

The first version of Dos not only supported just 640Kbyte Ram (which really should be enough for everybody, some said), but also only hard disks up to 32 Mbyte. It was not the 32 Mbyte was an unthinkable large number in those days; it was just easier for the short term. Microsoft came up with a solution and now hard disks up to a phenomenal 128 Mbyte were supported and a year later even 512Mbyte. This of course didn’t last either and soon they had a new system which supported 2 Gbyte, which bought us another year of hard disk growth. They never learn. The version of notepad on Windows Millennium Edition only could read files of 64Kbyte.

There are examples of this behaviour of all walks of life. Pension reform is currently sweeping the world and it isn’t a pretty sight. Unworkable compromises if you’re lucky, with the occasional complete disaster thrown in. The evolution of the European Union isn’t a pretty sight, especially from close by (as Bismarck said, you shouldn’t watch when they make laws or sausages), but if you compare it to the African Union and similar disasters, you really want to send in the Geeks. They should inherit the earth.