'Professionals' in any field come in two flavors: Knowledge Sharers and
Knowledge Hoarders. The hoarders believe in the value of their 'Intellectual
Property'(IP). The products of their mind must be carefully guarded lest anyone
steal their precious ideas. But let's face it - if our only 'strategic
advantage' is our ideas, we're probably screwed. Or as CDBaby's Derek Sivers put
it in this post:
'It's so funny when I hear people being so protective of ideas. (People who want
me to sign an NDA to tell me the simplest idea.) To me, ideas are worth nothing
unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.'
Yes, there are some crucial exceptions, but for most of us, It's our
implementation, not our idea that matters. Even those who create something
revolutionary are still synthesising... still drawing on the work of others, and
making a creative leap. But even a big-ass gravel-hauling leap is still a leap,
not a physics-violating idea that shimmered into the universe from nothin' but
It's how we apply those ideas.
How creative we are.
How useful we are.
How brave we are.
How technically skilled we are.
How we anticipate what our users will love.
How we learn from the ideas and work of others.
And from our (my co-authors and myself) perspective, it's not about
our ideas, it's about what the ideas can do for our users.
Even if we are the only ones to have a specific new and protectable 'idea' (unlikely), the moment we reveal it, everyone else will have it too. The barrier to entry today
is way too low to use 'intellectual property' as a main advantage. And all too
often, we think we have a unique idea only to find that others are-independently-doing the same things.
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Back to the point. Knowledge Sharers and Knowledge Hoarders.
Project Red Stripe walked this tightrope nervously.
They started very openly, blogging everything. Their website described what they were doing, how they were recruiting team members, where their offices were. (Indeed, Joanna observed early on that the blog was too close to an introspective diary rather than being one that highlighted issues and ideas. Curious this, when she was probably the member of the team most likely to introspect publicly.) Their webcam was always on.
Then they got the ideas in.
They got a little cagey.
Acknowledged lots of the ideas.
Got involved in some rather public wrangling about whether a six-month subscription to The Economist was a suitable reward for someone who gave them a multi-million-moolah (please can someone invent a universal term for currency for occasions like this when it doesn't matter what currency you're talking about, except the Zimbabwean dollar) business idea.
Received a shot across the bows from people who are paid to worry about customer perceptions at Economist Tower.
Realised that they couldn't be too public if they were going to develop their idea far enough to be able to surprise and delight the GMC.
Were told that they shouldn't have gone quiet.
Went public again about Lughenjo, but cautiously so as not to upset the NGOs they were talking to.
Went quiet for the switch to HiSpace.
Then announced the switch just as they were closing Project Red Stripe.
The way I've described it sounds harsh. But look at it from the other end of the telescope. The Economist is a big brand. The magazine doesn't interview imaginary horses and has opt-out boxes that don't mention axe murderers. Red Stripe had to pay attention to these things. Getting closed down or massively alienating the Chief Executive or their readers wouldn't have helped them get a result. They could have spent more time on internal PR to make their case, but that wasn't their job.
Perhaps Project Red Stripe needed its own PR department. Perhaps they should have hired someone. But they'd still have had to agree an approach, brief the PR daily, have more meetings. Cul de sac? Another reason for stopping the blog was that it simply took too much time. I watched Ludwig, turned sideways from the desk, writing his blog of 13th March for the entire afternoon. It was, in essence, a defence of the terms and conditions attached to their request for ideas and a response to some of the criticism they'd received from Slashdot. It needed writing. But it didn't need writing.
On the subject of PR, and if you're not in the business, check out the emerging idea of Open PR, which, in the stress it places on the trustworthiness of employees and the need for honesty in business, could be the brainchild of Christopher Locke and Cluetrain but is actually an emergent property of Web 2.0 and Wikinomics.
At the other end of the telescope, Red Stripe was adapting and adapting fast. The team were open when they could be, closed when they had to be. At times they were just reacting (although that's been a bad word in business for a long time, it's what we all need to do to stay alive). What Linnaeus called Meteorici adjust their opening and closing times to suit the weather conditions. Seems as good a model as any for an innovation team - or maybe I just couldn't resist an opportunity to quote the proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society.
Be completely open on principle? Be secretive sometimes? Be secretive on principle? Wait till an idea is 'well-enough' formed that it won't get shot down. Invite discussion and analysis from the outset?
If you're going to be very public, delegate the PR job to one of the team? Share it out? Hire someone?
Flower clock: Athanasius Kircher Society