IDEAS.TED.COM has recently published an article from Seth Godin under the headline: Why I Want You To Steal My Ideas. In this piece of thought, Seth explains his own version on why it is profitable for you and me once we share an idea, use it and improve it. He compares the sharing side of an innovative idea to the threat of patents and its trolls. In fact, as he explains, patents were not developed to protect ideas but to protect the specific execution of useful innovations. His claim that ideas cannot be patented has a far-reaching implication on our understanding about the sheer existence of an idea.
Going into managerial idea management, ideas are still largely seen as property, i.e. something that can be owned. But as Seth impressively demonstrates, it is not about owning the idea, but about its execution. This is for example the branding of an idea in the conceptual economy, or, what matters for the real economy, to provide the physical infrastructure which is necessary to realize and implement the idea. However, eventually a service infrastructure cannot be copied or stolen. Either you possess it, or you don’t. If you don’t, but you pursue something similar, you will still do it differently and retrieve your level of success accordingly. We are still too scared that people can steal our ideas. Taking Google as an example, simply by reading its historic development explains why Google was able to move the idea of searching the web to the next level and monetize it. It is the people. Thereby I intent to say, the why is based on the people who liked the execution of the idea, saw its future growth potential based on the needs and wants of a greater amount of people (society) and supported it. Nevertheless, if we look around, we see new brands arising in the search engine market all the time. Business is lively and not restrictive. We should be able to capture that the core motivation of business is to prosper and learn. The strength of an idea does not arise from keeping the past alive until it has to die in a big break-down (preservative), being wound up in one idea (closed-minded) and being too weak-minded to acknowledge mistakes (unreflected). Not any longer.
When we look at it from a leadership perspective (which national states clearly possess in regard to patent laws) it is easy to realize that each great economic nation needs to change and adapt these laws. And it needs to be done quickly, with the outcome of a repetitive review and process adaptation system. Ideas such as the PDCA-cycle exist for a purpose. Our dilemma is that the idea of owning ideas puts inventors and innovators into a difficult decision-making process. To decide how much value an idea has for the inventor or innovator should always remain in his or her power. If I want to share my idea with you, it is because I want you to know. May this decision be based on trust, strategic purpose or the simple fact that I want to inspire you. Taking the final step of making this decision is elementary for each innovator and inventor and cannot be reversed. Do I want to own my idea, keep it secret and protect it from the world? Or do I want to share my idea with the goal to create a purposeful and prosperous company on top of it?
No matter which road you choose, owning patents on ideas without a solid execution of them are limiting and threatening our prosperity and growth potential. With such laws in place, we face a real need for a cultural shift to unleash our innovation potential in our sharing economy. How would this look like? It demands a need for a silent social recognition towards respecting the ownership of an idea once its inventor or innovator shares it. Managers of yesterday, today and tomorrow: It is time to start leading the change by listening to it. Seth says: “The connection economy steps in just as the glory days of the industrial age begin to fade.” Once you understand this change you have it a lot easier looking for new ideas, sharing ideas and creating innovative processes. Too much ownership cannot be a purpose. It is a gift and a life elevating fact, but it is protective and nowhere close to what we call a purpose fulfilling life. And this is what our young e-society is looking for. Innovation for the world. In times of constant reminders about global warming or the still existing financial crisis, we have the other extreme of a vibrant and energy loaded broadband-society that has just started to understand the value of IT; its connection to ideas, and that they can be visualized, displayed and structured in totally new ways. Why would you want to hold up generations from prospering by owning ideas which are relevant for the execution of another idea?
Why wouldn’t you use your idea to strategically connect → to a new innovation that elevates your company → to a new level without even having to own the idea?
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