If we look back at a few years ago, we were all pretty confident that we were entering into the economy of ideas: an age where mass production, a solid brand history and, well, machines, were going to become less and less relevant.
Ideas alone would become the one asset to drive business: because
1) talented people with brilliant ideas would find investors (may they be private equity, or countless-investors-with-little-money recruited on the web like some independent film productions did), and
2) new technology and media would allow for a virtual production, promotion and distribution system that would be as effective, but way cheaper, than the old one made of factories, stores, and all that lies in between.
Today’s bad news is: you can’t have a business model (let alone a whole economy) based on ideas, because ideas are out there for free.
And I’m not (only) talking about how copyright laws are proving to be ineffective in protecting intellectual properties, that are, in their own ways (films, music, software…), applications of ideas, as lately shown in the ripping of dvd-codes.
There’s much more to it: there’s plenty of more or less talented people willing to give away their best ideas, happily and consciously. They may do it for fame, recognition, contacts, desire to see their ideas made real (or our all-time favorite, to get laid*), but what matters is that no money is involved.
And with so many of them out there, you can bet that some will be talented and dedicated enough to be competitive at the highest levels.
And even in highly-specialized sectors where giving away your idea for free would be, well, insane, something interesting is going on: some companies (and once again P&G is one of them) are posting the toughest problems they’re struggling with on their website, encouraging any scientist/researcher/scholar to submit their own solutions. Whoever provides the solution that the company decides to invest on, gets a shitload of money. Everyone else, zero. This is like having a global R&D department with the most talented people in the world, in any field, but having to pay just for one of them.
Bottom-line is, ideas might not be the strategic asset for the future. Not only because they can be replicated. But because they can be given away for free, or because you can have a huge free pool to choose from.
(And yes, this is one of the issues that the industry that is currently paying for my mortgage will have to address)
In his talkmarks Simone disagrees with me saying that “in a world where everything is extremely easy to publish, your ideas are the most important asset you may have. The thing that changes is that not only your commercially-valuable ideas (like patentable ones) have a value. Your opinions on how a DVD-cracking-code should be threated could be the reason why somebody takes you or leaves you. ”
But see, those are not ideas. That’s an attitude. And yes, attitudes will matter. Even more than today.
Final Burp:Is it a coincidence that ideas were the last strategic asset that a company could manage internally, with no relation to the outside world?
*The author is aware of how little chances that particular aim stands, but that never stopped anyone.