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David Henkel-Wallace on Open Source and Human Motivation

David Henkel-Wallace on Open Source and Human Motivation

Mar 1, 2021

Follow the White Rabbit podcastStart Listening

David "Gumby" Henkel-Wallace recalls how on multiple occasions he was called an idiot to his face because of his pioneering work on open-source only to be given a purchase order by the same people.

"Programming, development and all human activity is a social act. Corporations are great ways to harness people to help you reach a goal even if they don't care about your goal, or think it's a stupid goal," David said on the last episode of Follow the White Rabbit. "You do not care about my business model or my existence but what I am doing helps you solve a problem and you're willing to pay for it. I find that more effective than hectoring." 

David explained that the key to achieving many goals is to focus on what really drives people. "I often look for alignments in motivation and that's what people do in business all the time." He cited how toothpaste ads engage with the motivation of people to be attractive or how climate advocates found success when they could persuade people they would help their budgets. "It's hard to address climate change when it's 'Stop doing what you like doing.' But when the technology advanced far enough so that you could make an argument of 'save money,' people were like: 'Oh, OK, great I am helping the environment.' But really their motivation was saving money." 

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David founded one of the very first open source companies Cygnus in 1989, now Red Hat. David has held various executive roles in pharmaceutical companies, power generation, augmented reality, business development, and artificial intelligence. Most recently, David is a partner with Rodin AI, a symbolic startup in robotics and is the Co-founder of Open Source Election Systems, an election system that is completely open source leading to trust and transparency as well as cost effectiveness.

"When I think about issues of privacy, human rights, I don't think the people who violate them are all evil creeps. It's just that their motivations are such that they pass it by or they make truly terrible decisions because they have never thought it through. I approach all problems by thinking about how we can align people's self interests and get them to think locally in the way I want them to act," he said.

To hear more about David's views on weaponizing open source, the democratization of encryption and scrutinizing election systems, follow us down the rabbit hole. Listen to the conversation here or on your favorite streaming service.

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Feb 22, 2021
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