I remember a comment a while back from someone who was pretty adamant that sharing everything would pretty much immediately ruin their business, and I have no reason to doubt that, in that case, this is a reasoned judgement. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in companies sharing everything, opening their doors, and in general collaborating with their customers, in the open.
But a lot of your customers aren’t used to this, and unless you’re directly marketing to consumers, nearly all of them will be locked in to the trade secrets, patents and trademarks model– and from experience, I can tell you that at least some of them will treat open source almost like hazardous waste.
Winning with Sharing in these cases is a heck of a lot more challenging than if you’re working in a field where what you sell goes directly to individuals, because where individuals are eager to form brand loyalty to the more open provider, institutions in this climate are broadly sharing-averse. But while a radical leap into deep sharing may very well be as dangerous as starting a new company altogether, there are things that aren’t, such as:
- Offering clients a discount if at some specified time down the road, their (anonymized) commissioned engineering work enters your open tech wiki
- Pushing back on a few Non-Disclosure Agreement terms
- Share on the back end: general technical information, process blogging, specs of dead products
- Publish white papers or even academic ones (full disclosure, I’m in academia!)
Of course none of this will fix the problem that these days bringing a product to market can require a war chest of patents, or that in a lot of sectors open source is a four-letter word, but the steps above are in the right direction, and to me at least they look like good business choices too.