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Are You Protecting Pebbles

Consider this:

  • Emeril Lagasse and I purchase the same ingredients at our local grocery store and people flock like wolves to his table, but not mine.
  • John Steinbeck and I have the exact same 26-letter alphabet from which to construct stories and there are entire shelves of his books in the library, but not mine.
  • Both football teams walk on the field with an equal amount of time to play; one wins.
  • Pianos have 88 keys. Whose would you rather listen to? Norah Jones' or mine?
So what?

The basic ingredients to nearly everything are a collection of common commodities. You can distill anything down to sand & gravel, ones & zeros, time & space. Knowledge itself is ubiquitous. We are living in a post-information age when everyone has access to everything.

Philip Evans and Thomas S. Wurster in Blown to Bits: How the New Economics of Information Transforms Strategy (1999-Harvard Business Press) call this the "deconstruction of [traditional] information" channels. They make the point that having information is not nearly as critical as knowing what to do with it.

I'm one of those people who thrive on knowing new stuff. And I don't mind sneezing what I've learned to anyone who'll listen because the knowledge itself isn't worth much more than a pocketful of pebbles. When I pass along knowledge, I haven't given up anything because the real value - the worthwhile intellectual property - exists in my ability to fashion IDEAS from the knowledge I've obtained.

Knowledge, facts, data, ingredients - are ALL over-rated as something to horde.

Holding on to what you KNOW only gains you an advantage among those who lack the ability to execute new ideas based on the pebbles in their pocket.

Besides, these days the ingredients are there for the taking, so why waste energy locking them up? If you don't share what you know, someone else will - and they'll reap the benefit of building relationships while you're building bunkers to protect something that isn't worth much in the first place.


Step one: Make a list of "ingredients" your organization uses to do what you do. Start with physical things, move to intangibles such as data, talent and time, and finish the list with meta-physical elements such as innovation, relationships and passion.

Step two: Make a similar list for your competitors and then cross out everything that shows up on both lists - or that COULD be on both lists with a little effort or a well-timed staffing change.

Step three: The items you crossed out are the "pebbles." These are things you can easily share without giving away what's really valuable - they are commodities because everyone already owns them.

Step four: Make plans to stop hoarding the ingredients and concentrate on developing the nuggets of real value that remain.

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