The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance

The Leader’s Role: Leverage Your Soap Box


By Jim Whitehurst

In this edited excerpt from his book “The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance”, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst discusses that by having capable, engaged people who recognize the importance of the goal and then expecting them to solve it in their own way is a much richer and subtler approach than a top-down planning process would generate.


As Red Hat has grown and the customer base has expanded beyond the early adopters who are technology savvy and value the technical merits of our solutions, I’ve worried about whether the company is truly focused on the needs of our mainstream customers. While organizations like the New York Stock Exchange Euronext and DreamWorks care about the performance of our products, most mainstream IT customers care more about issues like ease of use and quality of documentation. In addition, as Red Hat has become a larger part of our customers’ IT infrastructure, and as they begin to use more of our products, they expect us to understand their businesses. They expect us to offer solutions to their problems, not just offer great technology.

So clearly Red Hat needs to become more customer focused as it grows. The question is where to start. Some areas are clearly apparent, like making products easier to install. No one would disagree with that. Other areas are subtler. For instance, we need to ensure that our product road maps meet the needs of customers, such as by including ease-of-use features. But that’s not necessarily what open source focuses on. Open source is known for driving great technical solutions, and developers pride themselves on offering tremendous flexibility to the user. But they frankly don’t worry as much about whether the resulting products are simple to use. It’s almost a badge of honor to “drop to the command line”, which is techno-speak for using a text-based, terminal window that looks like it’s from circa 1970. So while I clearly want Red Hat to listen to customer needs and be responsive, I also recognize our core source of competitive advantage is built on using the power of open source.

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