Shared beats Borrowed Brilliance

Have you ever worked with a group of carpenters? Then asked to borrow a tool? In my experience it depends on the person, and the tool you ask for, but many are hesitant. Because as your experience grows, so do the selection, quality and personal connection to each tool. They want to know how you intend to use it, how long it’s going to be gone and when they’re going to get it back. More often the response might be, “Well, what are you trying to do?” or “Let me take a look and give you a hand.” Both because they want to help, and because tools are a personal kind of thing.

But what if you work in the creative, conceptual economy? And sharing ideas doesn’t mean surrendering something that can’t be recovered? Once you understand that sharing powerful ideas means creating value, and that hoarding only serves to allow good ideas to die with you, it becomes at once easy and fulfilling to give freely of the ideas you have. Often those enriching opportunities to give remain remote because we’re just too wrapped up in what we’re doing, and because often people just don’t know what to ask for. But recognition of good ideas to adopt is significantly easier than knowing what to ask. We just ‘know it when we see it.’

The other day we learned a fabulous solution when talking to a senior IT leader at a Fortune 500 financial services company. His group of engineers had a steady +/- efficiency rate of about 46%, and the needle hadn’t moved substantially in a few years. Yet he knew that from a competitive standpoint he had some of the best and brightest coders in his group. Here’s what he did: He first went around to some of the more inventive programmers in his group and asked if he could gather up and group some of their unique and valuable hacks and macros they had created in their work. He then grouped them by application and posted them internally on a wiki where other coders could go in, browse and borrow interesting and useful hacks and shortcuts to solve coding problems.

Pretty soon people in the group were adding and swapping their signature solutions and hacks in a shared environment – both benefiting from the collective wisdom of the other programmers and creating a fun environment to brand their work publicly. Efficiencies shot up to over 65% – both through the sharing and iterating on signature solutions, as well as the camaraderie and co-petitive environment created.

In the conceptual economy ideas are still tools, but we are able to share these ideas and still maintain the integrity and personality of thought, and benefit from an idea tool that comes back sharpened by another. And even if it doesn’t come back, we still get the joy and knowledge of having shared and knowing your unique ideation will live on through the work and voice of others.