Recently I watched a talk by Simon Sinek
about leadership. He talks about Endorphins, Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin
and how they make us feel and act a particular way. Then I though - maybe that’s why working
in the open source field always felt great and natural to me. Maybe we humans
are programmed to follow the open source way!
This article scratches the surface where body chemistry and open source intersect.
I hope it will help both volunteers and community managers get an insight of the
driving forces in our bodies, how they relate to the open source world and promt
further exploration. By seeking to better understand the positive effects and avoid
the negative ones we can become better contributors and leaders which ultimately
helps our communities.
Endorphins stand for endurance. Their job is to mask physical pain and it has been
suggested to have evolutionary roots based on the theory that they helped with the
survival of early humans. Athletes experience so called Runner’s high.
In the open source world one may work on a feature or task for hours and hours
without feeling exhausted. The task itself keeps you going and excited.
This is endorphins going through your brain.
In software one may experience an endorphin rush during public release days for example. For large
projects like Fedora the release process includes many steps and may take several hours.
During all that time the release engineer is usually available regardless of their native
Effects of endorphins could potentially increase the likelihood of injury or extreme exhaustion,
as pain sensation could be more easily ignored. Work and rest cycles need to be properly balanced.
This is the feeling when we achieve our goals or found something we were looking for.
Dopamine helps us get things done! This is why we’re told to write down our goals and then
cross them off. It makes people more productive.
Getting dopamine through open source is very easy - all you need to do is fix a bug,
then another one, and another one, and another one … After every task you complete the body
gets a small dopamine fix. “Release early, release often …” and you get your fix :).
Dopamine however is highly addictive and destructive if unbalanced. It has the same negative
effects as any other addiction - alcohol, drugs, etc. Be aware of that and don’t fall for the
Endorphins and Dopamine are so called selfish chemicals. You can get them without external help.
The next two are the social chemicals.
It is responsible for feelings of pride and status and assessing social rank.
Serotonin is produced when you are recognized for achievements by the open source community
or credited by somebody (e.g. Johnny Bravo mentioned a great idea on IRC today).
As a contributor one may work on items which will help you get recognition but ultimately this
is not for you to decide. However practice shows that credit and recognition are relatively easy
to get in the open source world provided one has contributed to make the project and the
community better in some sort.
In software this is being granted commit rights to a repository, being in the top spot of
some metrics, having your blog read by other members or simply people asking for help or
what you think about some topic.
Serotonin is considered the leadership chemical. As one becomes a leader recognized by the
community there’s a catch - the more your status goes up the more work you have to
do. The more people recognize you as the leader the more they expect you to sacrifice yourself
in case it all goes Pete Tong. If you are not ready to step up find a more suitable place in
the community instead.
Oxytocin is responsible for feelings of love, trust and friendship. It makes us feel safe.
It is also very good for the body because it makes us healthier, boosts our
immune system, increases ability to solve problems and increases creativity.
One way to get Oxytocin is by physical touch - e.g. a hand shake. This is probably one of
the reasons beer gatherings are so popular among open source developers.
Working digitally we need a way to
reinforce human bonds in our communities. Knowing the person on the other end of the wire
ultimately makes us feel safer. If you are in open source just go for that conference or a
local beer bash you wanted to go - it is good for you (but don’t get drunk).
Another way to get Oxytocin is by performing or witnessing acts of human generosity.
This comes natural in open source world where people give up their free time and energy to work towards
a shared goal. Just by working in an open source environment you get all that goodness for you.
The best thing about Oxytocin is that it is not addictive and slowly builds up in the body.
The bad side is that it takes a while to build up. This is why you have to stay a little longer
in open source before it starts feeling safe and welcoming.
The last chemical Simon talks about is Cortisol. It is bad, very bad. It will crash your body.
Cortisol means stress. It is designed to keep humans (and animals) alive by hyper tuning
our senses in case of danger. Trouble is you are not supposed to have it in your body for
long periods of time because it shuts down non-essential systems to deliver that extra energy.
Luckily most open source projects are not stressful and I think can be considered a safe place
to work in. In the end one can always shift to another role or move to another project if it
becomes too pressing.
to help another member or perform service to the community our bodies get all the good
stuff and beat the negative. Service to a community is exactly what open source does!
See, humans are programmed to live and work the open source way!