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.

According to many readers, not only is the pen mightier than the sword, but the electronic spreadsheet has more edges and power than either of them.

Dozens of you sent me versions of the “renegade spreadsheet” story in response to my April 29th column on the mainframe mentality. The renegade spreadsheet is an unaudited spreadsheet created by a careless end-user that leads to disaster because (a) a customer saw it and took its business elsewhere; (b) the president made a critical decision based on it and ruined the company; or (c) the information in the spreadsheet was uploaded back into the enterprise database, corrupting the data in a way that forever changed the course of history.

While I’m sure renegade spreadsheets (and other end-user-generated disasters) have considerably more substance than urban legends of huge crocodiles in the New York sewers, I’m confident we can come up with better solutions than the preventive steps many IS directors seem to be leaning toward these days.

Here’s the core issue: most of us understand how the notion of management has transformed when it comes to manager/employee relationships: making decisions and directing processes has given way to leading by example, setting goals, coaching on how to be more effective, and attending to team dynamics.

IS manages our organizations’ technology. We need to make the same conceptual shift from control to empowerment here. In a previous column I pointed out the difference between preventing failure and encouraging success. Apply the same philosophy to managing the technology you provide to your end-users.

Here’s a starting point for what we might call an “End-User Computing Manifesto”:

Purchased Applications

  • Where IS has established a standard, end-users must adhere to that standard. If you’ve settled on OS/2, for example, nobody has the right to be a prima donna and insist on Windows/95 instead, any more than they can insist on using a different voice mail system from the rest of the company.
  • Where IS has established no standard, end-users have the right to purchase and install whatever software they choose to help them be more effective. IS promises no support for this software, but may choose to help out as time and staff are available. IS will never say, “We don’t provide this kind of tool and we won’t let you buy it either.”
  • In case of disaster, IS will restore any system to a standard default configuration
  • End-users will never be given administrative access to any shared resource.

End-user Development

  • IS will never prevent end-users from developing their own applications.
  • Responsibility for the accuracy and integrity of applications developed (or purchased) without the involvement of IS is the responsibility of the department manager.
  • IS will provide training for department managers on how to manage small-scale application development and maintenance.
  • Either IS or internal audit (or both) will provide consulting and review services for end-user-developed applications as requested.

Other Stuff

  • End-users may never, ever, assign themselves an IP address, as this may kill the whole network. IS, in turn, will manage networks so end-users never experience the temptation, either by using DHCP (or something similar) or by using a self-administering protocol like Novell’s IPX.
  • End-users may only upload information into production databases through audited validation programs provided for that purpose.
  • IS will provide convenient facilities for remote network access. End-users may never, under any circumstances, install and use a remote-access software package on their desktop system, as this will provide an unsecured, easily hacked entry point to the network.

In my experience, policies like these, clearly communicated and consistently enforced, protect corporate resources without stifling end-user creativity. If any of you have additions to this list, send them in and I’ll include them (or at least the ones I like!) in a future column.