Sunday, January 28, 2007

To Share or Not To Share

Last Friday I had the pleasure to participate in a roundtable to discuss about “Ideas, Enterprises and Open Knowledge”. The roundtable was part of the Powerful Ideas Summit (see my previous post).

John Perry Barlow at Powerful Ideas SummitA number of powerful ideas (honoring the name of the event) were put forward, but I would like to single out here one of the thesis of John Perry Barlow (a real character and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) about the benefits of sharing.

He talked about the dynamics of intellectual property as opposed to physical property, and highlighted an interesting difference. Whereas with physical goods, its value increases with the scarcity, with intellectual property exactly the opposite happens. The value of an idea increases with its diffusion. Obviously there are many businesses based on owning ideas (call it licenses, patents or copyrights). And very profitable businesses indeed: software and pharmaceutical companies among them. However, these businesses are still successful because their ideas have reached a wide dissemination: Windows and Office for Microsoft or Aspirin for Bayer to name a couple of examples

In my keynote, titled “Building Global Open Source Enterprises” I also presented a similar argument: “Sharing your assets, strengthens your business”. This is a counterintuitive argument to many, but I can tell you that every day I see more tangible evidence that the statement is true. What other, more powerful, mechanisms exist to spread an idea than freely sharing it (with the help of the Internet, I might add)?

For me, being an entrepreneur who is trying to build a successful business following this concept, the beauty of it is that sharing is not an attitude easily replicated by your competitors. Many businessmen are not prepared (or even afraid) to embrace this concept, or they don’t know how to do it (Should I share all or just a part of my knowledge? What tools should I use to ensure that sharing is an activity that works both ways in and out of the company?)