Most of what I've learned from going open source are just good life lessons I probably could/should have picked up anyway, and this one's certainly in that camp. I've always idolized the renaissance man. I'm a big believer in knowing a little about a lot of things vs. knowing a lot about a little. I respect the need for specialists, but even then I think they tend to be better when they've put in the work to stretch their intellect across more than one silo of information. It builds empathy and humility to not always be the expert at what you're interested in.
Going open source has provided me the opportunity to run into any number of people who are very very bright at one thing, don't foster that fundamental curiosity about topics they have no expertise in, and yet seem to think their impressive intellect makes their opinion right on all topics regardless. Just because you're amazing at the 100 yard dash doesn't mean you know dick all about water polo.
I actually had one person complain about their in-ability to do something in concrete5 with the line "look, I /am/ a rocket scientist at such and such university.. I should be able to XYZ." Strangely I am not a rocket scientist and I dropped out of college, but I can do XYZ quite easily. Go figure.
I was reminded of this just now when a thread on slashdot came up. Some fellow is chastising Apple for calling their new iPhone screen technology "Retina Display." Apparently this "marketing drivel" has so offended this guy he feels the need to rant about it on slashdot:
"Again though, why the use of meaningless words? Couldn't he have just said "the resolution/DPI is so dense that your eyes won't be able to distinguish individual pixels"? What, does the average Apple customer really seek the need of some special word to wrap up the device's capabilities in? And if they do, what does that say about their average customer?
I think it's insulting to the people that buy Apple's products, regardless of whether people seek it out or not."
Holy crap dude! For real?? Yes. This is what we have language for. You use words and phrases to sum up larger concepts so a conversation can happen at an acceptable pace. Words do create some ambiguity as definitions tend to be subjective, but without some consolidation it's difficult for anyone to get beyond facts and into useful concepts in a real world situation. I mean clearly this individual is smart enough to understand what a pixel is, how DPI might work, etc… But the basic purpose of language (were not even talking about marketing yet!) seems to not only escape them, but insult them as well.
I take two lessons from this:
1) I am a moron. This one shows up a lot in my life lessons from open source. So far I find the dumber I assume myself to be, the more pleasantly surprised I am when I get something right. If I am hearing about something that others think is awesome and my geek-gland says "that's stupid marketing drivel," chances are they're right and I'm wrong.
2) Just because you're talking to someone "smart," doesn't mean they have a clue what they're talking about.