Culture Technology Wants To Be FREE

Daniel Mezick
Apr 17, 2015 · 7 min read

Something very, very big is about to happen in culture, and you’re about to get a front row seat.

But first, you should know I have been here awhile. In the 1990's I developed software patents now cited as prior art by huge firms like IBM, Microsoft, Xerox, and AT&T. I have personally taught over 70,000 professional software developers. I have consulted on culture for Zappos, Capital One, Intuit, CIGNA, TheHartford, and many other companies looking to improve.

I’m an author and developer of useful culture technologies, and so are many of my friends. These innovative colleagues include Michele and Jim McCarthy (Core Protocols), Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber (Scrum), John Buck (Sociocracy), Eric Raymond (open source), and Harrison Owen (Open Space).

I could go on , but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s time for the story.


Zappos and holacracy

And the noise-to-signal ratio is huge.

Lots and lots of noise. Not a lot of signal.


Is holacracy a large part of an open future? Or: is it already a large part of the proprietary past?

Hmmm. Let’s see…

Open-source licensing is GOOD. Closed source licensing is EVIL

If you create a derivative work, you cannot share it. You cannot attempt to commercialize your derivative work. Any innovation you create cannot be made public.

Dubious? Please don’t be: even Creative Commons is quick to say, on their web site:

“This is NOT a Free Culture license.”

(NOTE: For your convenience, the details of the nasty “CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0 ”closed-source license” are listed at the end of this story.)

Now, this is what I want you to know: this kind of license severely limits the ability of creative-problem solvers to use holacracy as a basis for any kind of spreadable innovation.

The closed-source license that holacracy is using severely limits freedom to share and innovate.

These license restrictions are designed to reduce your freedom.

This is a big, huge problem, because ‘holacracy’ is being held up as a paragon of business innovation. As the latest-and-greatest way to organize. As innovation. As something hip, and cool, and open, and great ! Part of the future…

Stop right there. Given the closed-source licensing model that holacracy is using, this is obviously not true. No one can use holacracy as a base for spreading innovation outside of their own company.

This raises a question:

…do we really want a future that is closed to innovation?

What is Culture Technology?

Culture technology includes frameworks, meeting designs and other kinds of sociological structures that make work (or knowledge-sharing) easier. Culture technology facilitates development and transformation in organizations. Culture-technology is any combination of roles, rules, artifacts, and meetings that facilitates efficient work in groups. Culture technology includes frameworks like Scrum, and meeting designs like Open Space. It also includes interaction protocols and templates, such as the Core Protocols. (You can access links to all of these culture-technologies and more, at the end of this post.)

OPEN Culture Technology: OPEN To Innovation

For example:

The Scrum Guide (from Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber) is now published under an open-source license from Creative Commons, the open, Free Culture “CC-BY-SA-4.0" license.

Likewise, the Core Protocols and Core Commitments (from Michele and Jim McCarthy) are also published in this way (they use another open source license, called the “GPL.”)

My own culture-technology for bringing change to organizations, called Prime/OS, also publishes under the open, Free Culture, free-to-innovate, free-to-share, “CC-BY-SA-4.0” license.

A system called sociocracy is a 100% free (and far more flexible) alternative to ‘holacracy.’ Sociocracy is published under an open source license.

That’s four major pieces of culture technology being published under open source licensing.

What is going on here?

Why are all of the authors and all the designers of all this culture-technology electing to publish under open source licensing?

Why are the authors of sociocracy, Scrum, the Core Protocols, Prime/OS (and more) all opening up their IP to innovation in the organizational design space?

Closed Culture Technology: Closed to Innovation

Meanwhile, the pace of change is actually speeding up.

The basic idea here is that we need more collaboration, not less.

More innovation, not less.

More freedom, not less.

More choices, not less.

Fewer restrictions, not more.

We need to be able to respond to change more quickly, not less quickly. The pace of change is changing fast… and close-source licensing severely limits the ability to share innovation in a timely, fluid, adaptive, creative way.

We have entered a period where attempting to control culture-technology IP via closed-source licensing is on the wrong side of history. Inappropriate for the times. Misguided. A vestige of the past. Not part of the emerging, very energetic, playful, full-of-innovation future.

If closed-source licensing for culture-technology is a vestige of the past, perpetuating the very problems we are trying to solve…why are we honoring that?

The Trend: OPEN SOURCE Culture Technology

We are conspiring.

We are releasing our culture-technology “source code” as open source culture-technology. Open source. Not closed.


Because: we are all here at a time when culture-technology wants to be free. Free: free for creative people to create derived works, in other words…free to innovate. Free to spread. Free to commercialize. Free to ignite real change in organizations…

The alternative model- attempting to control social-IP designs through closed source licensing- will set innovation back… by a decade or more.

This is why all of the aforementioned designers of useful culture-technology have elected to publish their designs as open source.

And this is why the licensing model being put forth by ‘holacracy’ is the wrong thing… and the wrong time.

Culture technology wants to be free.

Free to innovate, by making derived works.

Free to distribute.

Free to commercialize, so you can recoup your development costs…and maybe even make a few bucks from your innovations.

Closed source licensing for culture technology (like holacracy) severely limits innovation… at a time when we need to enable innovation, not restrict it.

And it is just a matter of time before everyone “clicks” with this reality in a really, really big way.

Because: culture technology wants to be free.


Jim and Michele McCarthy, the developers and designers of the Core Protocols, originally led the way with open source licensing for culture technology. Back in 1997, they published their great Core Protocols work under the GPL (General Public License) …way before it was cool. Way before anyone anywhere was thinking about this stuff.

Bravo Michele. Bravo Jim.

Related Links:

CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0 license: a CLOSED source license, from Creative Commons. Used by holacracy…

CC-BY-SA-4.0: an open source license, from Creative Commons. Used by the Scrum Guide and Prime/OS (see below)

The General Public License (GPL): the original open source license, used by Sociocracy and The Core Protocols (see below)

The Scrum Guide: culture technology published as open source

Prime/OS: culture technology published as open source

Sociocracy: culture technology published as open source. (Described here.)

The Core Protocols: culture technology published as open source

The ‘holacracy constitution’: culture technology published as CLOSED source.

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About the Author…

DANIEL MEZICK is an author, management consultant, and keynote speaker. He is the formulator of Open Agile Adoption, a technique for creating rapid, effective and lasting enterprise agility. He is the author of THE CULTURE GAME, a book describing sixteen patterns of group behavior that make any team smarter. Daniel’s client list includes Capital One Bank, INTUIT, CIGNA, SEIMENS Healthcare, Harvard University, TRAVELERS Insurance, and many smaller enterprises. Learn more and contact Daniel at

Daniel Mezick

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Consultant & keynote speaker on rapid team learning & game mechanics. I help you quickly apply what actually works. Author of bestselling book, TheCultureGame.