Being a Leader in Your Industry

What is the best way to strangle your business to death?  Hording knowledge and over concern about protecting your intellectual property could be sending your business down the road to destruction.

In the past, businesses held tightly to their intellectual property and horded information.  The idea was to prevent their competition from getting a leg up on them by learning all about what they are doing and how they are doing it.  The competition could then develop competing products and services without having to spend as much on research and development of their products.

We can see in recent history that a number of companies have taken advantage of using a competitor's R&D to build better products, faster and cheaper.  Microsoft learned from Apple and created Windows.  Blizzard created their own version of Sony's EverQuest and made World of Warcarft.  You see it in every industry.  And the experts tell you you must KNOW YOUR COMPETITION and learn how to make your products and services better.

To protect your business from the competition, many companies horde their knowledge and hide information from the general public.  This is a must, especially when your product has not hit the market yet.  However, in today's world of easy to access information and openness and cooperation between businesses and other businesses and consumers, it is becoming ever more important to learn how to share.

Take for example Google.  Google has open APIs that allow you to add your own advertisements, searches and news feeds to your web site.  This can help you create a revenue stream.  This openness makes it very easy for consumers and other businesses to put money into their pockets.

Amazon, Twitter and YouTube had done similar things.  They are very open about how you can utilize their services at no charge to you.  No matter where you go now, it is hard to browse the internet for long without being exposed to these leaders in open internet innovation.

The key here is that these companies have determined how to be as open as possible in order to help their products and services spread throughout the internet quickly and easily.  It has a viral effect and has helped these companies grow fast and leave their competition in the dust.  At the same time, they have hidden the inner workings that the general public does not need to see and usually doesn't even care about.  This provides protection of intellectual property while promoting rapid growth.

Some companies (which we will not mention here) have chosen another path.  They provide APIs to allow you to sell their products and services but tell you you cannot use them until they "evaluate your web site."  This puts a big burden on them (they have to constantly review web sites) and discourages others from aiding them in the growth of their business.  Perhaps they are attempting to preserve the quality of how their services are used. I think it is because they don't want to give their competition ideas.

But these companies that refuse to be open and assist others with sharing their services are really only hurting themselves.  If they are trying to hide what they do from the competition, I have news for them - their competition will get that information no matter what they do.  And in the mean time, the general public will tire of dealing with them and move on to the competitor that makes it easy to use.

The music and movie industry is struggling with this now.  The battle over piracy is fierce and probably one of the best known issues in protecting a business's assets and ability to profit from their efforts.  Yet we see an increasing shift toward openness.  Most music can be found now on YouTube.  Companies can request these be blocked or removed but it stays up more often than it is taken down.  In conversations with friends and family, I always tell people to buy what they like.  Essentially you should "vote with your wallet."  If you pay for the shows and music you love, the companies that bring it to you will continue to bring more.  On top of that, I frequently hear people say, "I wouldn't have bought that CD if I hadn't been able to listen to it first."

So if you own or run a business and have to make decisions on what to share and what to keep secret, what do you do?

The answer is simple, it is applying it that takes some thinking: Share what will grow your business when put into the open, protect what will not.

Additionally, you need to constantly innovate.  If you have a great idea for a product, it isn't enough to create that product.  You have to constantly improve it.  This is how the top open innovators have managed to take the world by storm and remain on the top even though their competitors can see what they have done.  They keep improving their products and services.  By the time the competition has caught up to them, your business can move to the next level.  If you keep innovating, your competition will always be behind your curve and people will still choose your products and services over theirs.

It takes work to innovate.  But that is what being a leader in your industry is about.

It isn't about hording what you have.

It is about creating something new and sharing it with the world.