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.