Thursday, March 3, 2011

Selling the "open" idea - part 1

Building an open enterprise is building an organization, is forming a group. Some individuals and some organizations that I think can bring some value into the venture don't necessarily value the "open". How do I convince them about the economical viability of the concept.

The world is changing. If you read this blog I assume we agree on this, I don't think I need to provide an explanation. But not everyone sees it. Openness, sharing, collaboration, empowerment are the new buzzwords. But not everyone understands their true meaning. I believe that the open enterprise can be justified on purely economic bases. For me, openness is not just a trend. It does NOT stem from a sterile ideology. It is a new way of engaging innovation, production and distribution, which takes advantage of the new possibilities introduced by the new technology. It is the most effective way to tap into the creativity, resources and production capacity of the entire planet. It is the only way I know to cope with the increased complexity of our interconnected world. It is the most effective way to reach large scale effects and to benefit from them. But not everyone get's it...

What do we mean by "open"? In this context of an open enterprise "open" means different things.
  1. Full discloser of knowledge. The technology behind the products is open, there is no secret, and it is not protected by patents (or by the mafia). Moreover, everything is built on open standards. 
  2. Transparent processes. The open enterprise if a glass wall factory with glass wall offices. Anyone from the outside can take a look inside to see what's happening and how things are done.
  3. Easy access to contribute/collaborate. The open enterprise is not only a glass wall factory, but its doors are also open. There are some processes in place which give access to the manufacturing floor, and gives permissions to take part it innovation, production and/or distribution, but these selection processes are only based on value. In fact, going back to the previous point, there is no clear cut between inside and outside.      
From my experience, the most feared "open" is the first one. Telling your partner that you don't care about intellectual property is really destabilizing. The idea that you can only extract value from knowledge by controlling it seams to be very deeply ingrained in people's minds. I found that starting by telling my partner that the patent system is doomed (The collapse of the patent system) helps a little, but it doesn't solve the entire problem. Agreeing on the idea that the prevalent system is collapsing doesn't fix the best replacement solution among many other possible ones. I still need to make my partner believe that being entirely open is economically viable. But an explanation only goes so far, it would be much better if I could point to an example. The problem is that they are hard to come by. Existing (semi)open enterprises are mostly experimental or under development.

The second "open", referring to making processes transparent, is also a new and strange concept. It just doesn't fit with the idea of competition. I believe that competition works, i.e. it gives good economical results within an ecosystem lacking efficient means of communication, collaboration and coordination. The new technology favors social entities, individuals and organizations that are keen on collaborating and able to build and evolve within collaborative groups. Once we introduce this technology into the system we bias it in favor of social entities. Collaboration becomes a more suitable strategy within a world enhanced with this kind of technology. Humans are capable of both, killing each others like animals and cooperating and loving each other. So there is no problem with the substrate, the world can shift from being predominantly competitive (the western world) to being predominantly collaborative. Once we agree on this we are just a step away from accepting transparency. If I don't have enemies why would I hide behind a wall of bricks? But there is more than that. Being open enables me to get access to large scale effects, by allowing the enterprise to grow fast. Because we are transparent, potential partners can come to us instead of us spending energy to find them. Transparency also allows us to forge more stable and more productive relations with our customers and with the local community.

I found that "open" in the sense of easy access is more easily accepted, especially in the case where resources are scarce. It becomes a value proposition for my partners. If we don't have any funding and we cannot pay employees or for some essential services, or tools, or whatever, it makes sense to expand our venture by partnership. If we cannot buy value in we can still get it by sharing ownership, by leveraging our potential as a group. There is nothing new or strange in this idea, so it passes well.

See part 2.

No comments:

Post a Comment