My stock broker, who handles my vast (okay, half-vast) investment portfolio, recently changed companies. In response, his employer threatened to sue him if he asked any clients to move with him.

Their tactics were futile. While their communications with my broker were extensive, they neglected to contact me with the identity of my new broker, or even to let me know they valued my business. So I took my business elsewhere.

Several software companies have also tried to use the courts to protect their markets. Apple, Ashton-Tate, Lotus Development, to name a few of the higher-profile cases, have sued competitors for using their intellectual property. All of them lost.

“Hey, wait a minute,” you’re probably saying. “Lotus won some of those lawsuits!”

I wasn’t talking about how the lawsuits came out. I’m talking about the marketplace. Here’s a fact: every company that’s spent its corporate resources defending intellectual property has given up the future of its franchise in the bargain.

This came to me as I sorted through the e-mails and InfoWorld Electric Forum postings responding to my column describing Bill Gates as a revolutionary. (I suggested that he, alone in the industry except for the largely ineffectual Apple Computer, is focused on empowering the end-user – often at the expense of manageability of the desktop.)

The relatively scarce agreement came from end-users who feel stifled by central IS and want to use their computers as they choose. Disagreement came in several forms, most stemming from a misunderstanding over what it means to be a revolutionary.

Some readers objected to Gates-as-revolutionary because of his reprehensible tactics in the marketplace. Here’s a news flash: very few successful revolutionaries have emphasized ethical behavior. Successful revolutionaries tend to be ends-justify-means kinds of people.

I didn’t say Gates is a Good Guy. I don’t hang out in his circles, so I can’t comment. I don’t personally like some of Microsoft’s market tactics either. That’s my privilege, and theirs. I just said Gates sports some characteristics of a revolutionary, that’s all. (To those comparing Bill Gates to Stalin and Hitler: the former dominates a few software markets. The latter murdered millions. Big difference.)

And give Chairman Bill credit: unlike many of Microsoft’s competitors, it wins in the marketplace, not in the courts. The courts are for status-quo people trying to keep other companies down-and-out. The market is the PC revolution’s battlefield, where companies compete for the hearts and minds of customers.

Other readers objected to my calling Gates a revolutionary because he hasn’t come up with any new ideas of his own, instead repackaging the innovations of others.

True enough. Bill Gates has spent his career recognizing good ideas, turning them into products, and successfully marketing them. Successful political revolutionaries have similar histories. Washington led the army; John Locke theorized about democracy before him. Lenin, Mao Tse-Dong and Castro led successful revolutions; Karl Marx theorized about communism before they used his theories to justify their revolutions.

Revolutionaries aren’t inventors. They’re not theoreticians. They’re not pioneers. Those are other people. They’re important people. They just aren’t revolutionaries.

Microsoft has, at times, innovated. More often, it’s used whatever good ideas it can find, integrating them and packaging them to its advantage. That’s not cheating. That’s smart.

Let’s relate this to your own management style. Do you insist on using only those good ideas you’ve developed on your own?

Suggestion: List the dozen most important initiatives you’ve personally promoted in your management career. Mark each one as (a) an idea you thought of yourself; (b) a recommendation from someone who reports to you; or (c) an idea you encountered from outside your organization and appropriated for your own use.

If at least a third of the items didn’t come from outside, you need to rethink your approach. Your job is to find and sponsor good ideas, not to generate them all.

I miss Sam Kinison.

Kinison was the comic, killed a few years ago by some drunks in a pickup truck, who fell into fits of screaming with the voice of a dull hacksaw attacking an I-beam.

Sam’s spirit occasionally invades my flesh, like the time I heard a consultant compare management to raising children. Sam came to me then, and I felt like Dr. Strangelove fighting his own hand. I wanted to jump up and scream like Sam, “NO IT’S NOT! IT’S NOTHING LIKE RAISING KIDS! I HAVE A SIXTY-YEAR-OLD MOTHER OF FIVE WORKING FOR ME! SHE’S AN ADULT! A GROWN-UP! AHHHH AHHHH AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

This all came back to me as I read the megabytes of responses to my column on the 70% solution — the arithmetic that says you’d better create 70% more value than your salary or your employer loses money on you.

I did get two flames (one reader misunderstood the point, agreeing with me after we exchanged messages), but most readers endorsed the point enthusiastically. In fact, I received the ultimate compliment from one, who tacked up my column in his cubicle right next to Dilbert.

And these weren’t only managers wanting a whip to flog the hapless analysts who work for them. As many hapless, and for that matter hapful (there must be such a word, don’t you think?) analysts, and programmers, and other people who have to produce Real Stuff (RS, to use the technical term) for a living, were at least as supportive.

Employees want to succeed. They want to produce real value for their employers. Along the way, they want to enjoy their jobs, but that’s no trouble at all: let them produce real value and they’ll enjoy themselves, because most people naturally want to do exactly that.

Don’t believe me? Next time you have some strange assignment or other, call five people in your organization you’ve never met before, tell them what you’re working on, and say, “I was told you may have some good insights on how to approach this problem. Can you spare an hour to help me get my thoughts together?”

I guarantee you, at least six of the five will offer more help than you have any right to expect. And when you’re done, they’ll thank you. People want to create value for other people — that’s where self-esteem comes from.

The whole idea of empowerment stems from this basic realization about human nature. Very few employees go to work just to get a paycheck. Yes, that’s a part of why they show up, but it’s not the whole taco.

Every survey ever done on this subject reveals the same result: employees rank money between 7th and 10th in what they find most important in their work environment. (There are some qualifications on this statistic … the employees have to be making enough to have some disposable income, for example.)

Want more proof? Listen to what people gripe about. IT’S NEVER THEIR SALARY!

Employees complain about office politics. They complain about too many meetings. They complain about the food in the cafeteria. They complain about the number of meetings they have to attend. They complain about ridiculous procedures and regulations. And of course, they complain about having to go to too many meetings.

Every … every complaint you’re likely to overhear has to do with distractions from producing value.

Want happy, motivated, high-morale, high-performing employees? View every distraction they have as leg irons and hand-cuffs. Get rid of all that stuff.

Most of all, treat employees as adults, not because it makes them more effective, but because that’s what they are. They may work for you. If you’re doing your job, they look to you for leadership. They don’t need you as a parent.

So watch out — if you treat your staff like children, Sam’s going to come back and visit your office.

* * *

I still miss Sam Kinison. And I still like this column, all these years later. My only regret, when re-reading it, is that I missed pointing out that when you treat adults as children they’re likely to start living down to your expectations.

– Bob, 3/7/2016