Maybe I’m not that much open, after all…

… at least this is what I thought reading Matthew’s idea (and some very interesting comments from Ben Hyde) about collaborative editing of a business plan. I had a lot of weird feelings, since I didn’t quite like the idea at first, and I started questioning myself: after all from “Open Source” people you expect no problem in being open on everything, right?

Well, not really. There is quite a leap between building a shared source platform/toolset tools and sharing a business idea: when building software, you don’t have to share the whole big picture. In our small Cocoon world we have people doing XML publishing, others doing integration, some EAI, mobile stuff and even embedded projects. We are able to work together and provide some excellent software exactly because we don’t need to be tied to a common and very specific goal: we build frameworks, and then everyone is free to specialize them. Not surprisingly, with the notable exception of a few infrastructural projects (Linux, Samba, Apache HTTPd) and a whole wealth of desktop stuff, the real value of Open Source today is really about libreries and frameworks. Software commons, remember?

Business stuff is different. Sure enough, my dream company is much more open to a network and “social” approach than the usual stuff we are used to see, and I reckon that I’m not alone. The problem of business, though, is that everyone has his own approach and it’s incredibly difficult to have people agree on even the silliest thing. Companies are not democracies, business people have a different mindset from Open Source developers and conversations about companies tend to either dilute into bikeshedding or stall because of different interests and unwillingness to disclose just everything.

Now, Matthew has a point in stating that this would work only for the “well established” kind of stuff, such as a good ‘ole services company: no one will actually disclose their killer app on a wiki (here comes a problem with ego: everyone believes his approach is unique and killer in some sense). However, this dilutes value quite a bit: I expect this would end up into some “Business Plan 101” kind of thing, with some nice boilerplate, a few interesting ideas but nothing mindblowing.

Not to mention that the read/write ration would probably be abysmal, with many readers (cloners? spoilers?) and few writers: unlike Open Source, there wouldn’t be many itches to scratch or bugs to squash taking advantage from a collaborative effort. And even writers won’t disclose everything, keeping the valuable stuff for their own business plans (I’m ruling out customers from the beginning, I just don’t expect they would participate at all). Finally, this experiment might work only once: I don’t expect Matthew’s approach to be reproducible.

Anyway, if Matthew is serious about building a business plan framework for a next generation company, I will definitely keep an eye on it and possibly contribute, at least to see what happens: this is exactly one of the cases where I just love to be proven wrong, and very fast to adapt if you manage to convince me. Or was it just a modest proposal? :)

Update: Ross and Steven are commenting my entry, and I’m afraid I haven’t made myself clear enough. Steven, my point isn’t quite about being afraid of people stealing ideas. That was just a side note, to further prove my point that opening up a business plan won’t bring any really useful feedback because either (a) you’re not saying anything new, so since there is no value to protect, there is no interest in participating or (b) you do have something really new and really cool, and in that case you wouldn’t be opening your plan anyway. Ross: you’re definitely right in stating that mutual cooperation can bring lots of advantages in people sharing a similar business idea with no competition overlap (we have been trying that and got some very nice results). Getting together to share hints and thoughts is beneficial indeed, but it’s nothing new: corporations, consortiums and other associative forms have been there forever. Wikifying the process can help quite a bit (open participation and all that), but it’s just a (much better and) different way of doing the same thing.

Comments

comments

3 thoughts on “Maybe I’m not that much open, after all…”

  1. Your comments are very true for a great deal of businesses. However, there are also many businesses that benefit from collaborative work. It is true that some of the details will be held within a closed environment, for example, suppliers, product designs etc. But there is nothing wrong with publishing the basic idea and looking for contributions.

    You say that more people will read than write. This is true, they will, but it is also true of Open Source software, more people use than code.

    Take a business that can replicate well but is difficult to scale. For example, a fast food resteraunt, a service company or a training company. How can you, as one person, service all the potential customers in your location? Yet, you will benefit from partnering with people in other regions doing the *same* business. In the case of fast food you get reduced raw materials costs, in the case of services you get a broarder experience base on which to improve your services, in the case of a training company you get enhanced materials since more people are developing them.

    Those people who are working on the same business will not only read they will write, just as in Open Source software development most people will use, but to really flourisht hey will contribute.

    Not all businesses can work this way, but many can. The trick is to identify the right ones and make it worthwhile to share.

    Ross

  2. I agree with your assertion that the sharing of learning in non-competing businesses has been going on for a very long time, but it has been happening in a “closed source” fashion. I wonder if such collaboration can benefit from an “open source” methodology?

  3. Ross, please define “open source” methodology. Are you talking about lower entry barriers? If that’s the case, it’s not difficult to join an association, provided you share the same objectives and some background.

    There is a difference, and you have a point here, since associations and consortia are black boxes until you join: you can’t really “evaluate” a consortium unless you’re participating, and observation is noticed. Open Source allows you to browse around before even considering to join, and yeah, I see how that can make a difference. It’s worth exploring indeed, but I still don’t quite feel that this open and shared professional knowledge virtual aggregator is the correct place to start a business idea… it could work much better for established business as a shared knowledge base, provided you can cope with bad signal/noise ratio, but I tend to exclude it could give birth to a full fledged business idea (see my JFDI post for the reasons).

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