Monday, November 22, 2004

Idea Journal

I recently read up on this interesting concept of saving ideas in a journal or other storage method. Presently, I have been writing my inspirational ideas on a note card and tossing it in a box for review at a later date. (The trouble is there never seems to be that future date to do the review!)

I'm interested in hearing how others store their ideas and if anyone has a systematic method to review them. Charles Cave had some interesting ideas on his blog.

I also am wondering if possibly this is the place to begin when trying to introduce innovation to a business where it is not systematically practiced.

Scenario Planning

An area of specific interest to me is scenario planning -- that is, the methodologies used for brainstorming and developing forecasts. It would be my hope that the Commons would engage in some "big thinking" scenario planning to guide us in our later thinking.

If this is also of interest to the group, I can post further information on the research I've done, as well as general scenario planning resources.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Twelve Step Programs

A friend of mine mentioned this morning that I might want to look at the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, an Alcoholics Anonymous book. His comment after listening to my discussion of what an innovation commons was that AA meetings are an innovation commons where the innovation is change in participants. If so this is a very successful example of a specifically focused innovation commons. He said to look at the Traditions to find keys to how it works, so here they are:

The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous
1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

They do seem to look like some of the principles we're developing. You can find a good review of the book at

The Failure of the Commons

"The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.

As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks, "What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?" This utility has one negative and one positive component:
  1. The positive component is a function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.
  2. The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effect of overgrazing is shared by all the herdsmen, while the negative utility for any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another.... But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit—in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all (Hardin, 1968).

The lessons of the Tragedy of the Commons have been learnt many times over the millennia, but apparently have been forgotten as often. According to Hardin (1968), such tragedies have been repeated over the course of the human history. This is because human beings had suffered from a natural tendency of psychological denial as individuals continued to try to gain the maximum individual benefits at the cost to the society, whose sufferings extended to the individuals concerned. One of the solutions for Hardin is through education whereby such awareness and knowledge about the Tragedy of the Commons gets refreshed by generation after generation so that such wrong doings are to be avoided (Hardin, 1968). In conclusion, Hardin stresses that freedom in the commons brings ruin to all and the only solution is "mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon."(Hardin, 1968; 1992).

Interestingly (from a research point of view), for Hardin, the notion of the Tragedy of the Commons can be generalised and applied in a wide range of spheres in our life. Where he has suggested that such a notion may be used to enlighten a class of human problems which can be called "no technical solution problems"(Hardin, 1968). One member of this class of problems is the pollution problem. As Hardin puts it:

'In a reverse way, the Tragedy of the Commons reappears in problems of pollution. Here it is not a question of taking something out of the commons, but of putting something in—sewage, or chemical, radioactive, and heat wastes into water; noxious and dangerous fumes into the air; and distracting and unpleasant advertising signs into the line of sight. The calculations of utility are much the same as before. The rational man finds that his share of the cost of the wastes he discharges into the commons is less than the cost of purifying his wastes before releasing them. Since this is true for everyone, we are locked into a system of "fouling our own nest," so long as we behave only as independent, rational, free-enterprisers.'

The Tragedy of the Commons as a food basket is averted by private property, or something formally like it. But the air and waters surrounding us cannot readily be fenced, and so the Tragedy of the Commons as a cesspool must be prevented by different means, by coercive laws or taxing devices that make it cheaper for the polluter to treat his pollutants than to discharge them untreated. We have not progressed as far with the solution of this problem as we have with the first. Indeed, our particular concept of private property, which deters us from exhausting the positive resources of the earth, favours pollution. The owner of a factory on the bank of a stream—whose property extends to the middle of the stream—often has difficulty seeing why it is not his natural right to muddy the waters flowing past his door. The law, always behind the times, requires elaborate stitching and fitting to adapt it to this newly perceived aspect of the commons (Hardin, 1968). "

A selection from Dr. Jin's thesis. Complete document found at

Thursday, November 18, 2004


"The patent system added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius."
Abraham Lincoln

The first written argument in England for a patent was provided by Jacobus Acountius, a citizen of Trent, in 1559 in a petition to Queen Elizabeth:

"Jacobus Acountius to the Queen. Nothing is more honest than that those who, by searching, have found out things useful to the public should have some fruits of their rights and labors as meanwhile they abandon all other modes of gain, are at much expense in experiments and often sustain much loss as has happened to me. I have discovered most useful things, new kinds of wheel machines, and of furnaces for dyers and brewers when known will be used without my consent except there be a penalty and I poor with expenses and labor, shall have no returns. Therefore, I beg a prohibition against using any wheel machines, either for grinding or bruising, or any furnaces like mine without my consent."

This argument, although 445 years old, still provides insight into why we have patents. Examine the argument carefully. What Jacobus Acountius says is that he has invested time, money, and creativity into devising something new. He also implies that his machines are novel because he had to discover them, not obvious because he had to search, and useful.

Is it not right, he states that I should be given protection for my work, because of my investigation? The answer, still found in our patent system, is yes - if you agree to teach others what you have learned. This unique arrangement of exchanging a temporary monopoly on the use of an invention for revealing the concept has stood the test of time and is a valuable ingredient to our economic system.

In antiquity, the patent concept was very broad. It was granted by monarchy to establish rank, precedence, land conveyance, monopoly, and invention. The earliest known monopolies were granted to cooks in about 500 BC in Sybaris, Greece for unique dishes.

The patent concept, as we know it, evolved from this through Greece, Rome, Germany, France, and England. There was much abuse of patents as they were handed out to friends of the ruling monarch even if they did not do the work on the invention. Patent law precedents for the current system were most influenced by Queen Elizabeth in England.

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution of the United States, includes this statement:

"The Congress shall have Power...To Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

A "patent" protects an "invention." Every year there are more than 100,000 people who have ideas that they feel should be rewarded with a patent. That is where the patent system plays a vital role in today's economy. As Dr. Chester Carlson (the inventor of xerography) said:

"It takes patience to stay with an idea. In my case, I am sure I would not have done so if it were not for the hope of eventual reward."

To read the whole article, click here.

Patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets are all essential ingredients in our economy. The idea of an innovation commons flies against tradition and expectations. To expect someone or the organization that person represents to contribute intellectual property without being able to secure that as property through patents, trademarks and copyrights or to hold it as a trade secret, is difficult. The concept that my organization or I will benefit more from the synergy that results from an innovation commons, that my individual contribution seems almost un-American. For once something is in the commons, it can't be protected.

Clearly there are concerns related to an innovation commons where intellectual property issues exist. How do we overcome those concerns?

I see at least four different types of commons:

  • Open. In a sense science commons and the Internet are open innovation commons
    Organizational. All the participants are within an organization or team.
  • Membership. We are a membership commons. Anyone can join who will contribute.
  • Cooperative. In a cooperative commons, there are legal structures to control and protect intellectual property. (Like Mike Warren's Co-Innovation posting).


"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants" -- Isaac Newton in: Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675/1676*

Science has more or less successfully had an innovation commons for years. The development of the "scientific method" is credited to Roger Bacon. At times the commons has been limited to specific countries, or regions or alliances. And, at various times threats like trade imbalances, wars, the Cold War, military threats or terrorism have placed limitations upon who can participate and what types of sharing can occur. However, the trend seems to be to expand the science commons to the whole earth.

I've been thinking about this while working on the idea of an innovation commons. I have not researched this issue, I'm just drawing on past knowledge and experience, but there seems to be several principles that one can derive from science:
  • The very strong culture of referencing and footnoting contributions.
  • A strong culture against plagiarism
  • Mechanisms for contributions to exist for a very long time.
  • Mechanisms to index and file contributions
  • Libraries with low barriers to entry that provide access
  • Cultures and enablers that incent participation
  • Reputation systems
  • An inherent belief in the system not only by participants but by those who administer participants as well
  • Institutions that foster the creation of knowledge
  • Professional associations that facilitate the commons and help participants to develop
  • In some cases, government funding

* See for more information. This quote, which I've used before, is not nearly as impressive when you understand the context. But, out of context, it makes a good point.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Innovation Commons Network

Perhaps some definitions would help to put collaborative innovation in context. Here's my suggestion:



Co-innovation refers to extending the scale and scope of external partnerships and alliances to access and exploit new technologies, knowledge, and markets.

Concepts such as ‘supply chain management’, ‘partnerships’, and ‘networking’ are established best practice in many industry sectors. These techniques show how companies can manage their operations by collaborating within the supply chain, but they are also important to the way in which companies innovate; concepts such as ‘early supplier involvement in product development’ and ‘innovation networks’ are becoming increasingly important.


Not all companies possess a full range of capabilities necessary for commercialising their innovations, and research indicates that firms with an intensive network of linkages to external sources of expertise are more successful than those without it. The capability of organisations to co-innovate with other organisations can be critical in sustaining their competitive position.
In many industries, firms are looking for ways to cut concept-to-customer development time, improve quality, and reduce the cost of new products. The benefits of accessing external expertise are particularly important to small firms with limited internal resources.

• In the game of competing technologies, co-innovation facilitates the formation of compatibility among technologies, which results in faster market acceptance.

• Co-innovation is one of the best means of targeting new markets – especially where trade barriers are high.

• Co-innovation with suppliers results in greater cross-fertilisation, reduced costs and improved efficiency.

• Collaborating with customers for innovation helps in the generation of product ideas, gathering information about user requirements, feedback on new product concepts, and assistance with the development and testing of prototypes.


Co-innovation inside the value chain allows companies to supplement their internal design and development activities by accessing the technical and managerial skills of customers and suppliers. Horizontal linkages, with competitors and other firms may result in cost and risk sharing, as well as accessing new markets, but this is less common in practice. Co-innovation promotes shorter product lead times due to effective collaboration among developers, customers, manufacturers and suppliers. In addition, higher customer satisfaction levels are achieved due to active customer and design chain involvement in the product development process.


• Customer/supplier co-innovation requires a detailed formal evaluation and selection of potential partners prior to consideration for involvement. Only trusted partners with a proven track record should be approached.

• Project outcome objectives should be shared and explicitly understood by all parties involved.

• Suppliers can be asked to contribute to the design and development of new products and processes.

• Customers involved in the design and development processes can help to establish the optimum price/performance combination, and therefore, the optimum specification.

• University research can be a source of significant innovation-generating knowledge.

• Government can play a network management role in brokering greater collaboration between firms.

• Technology and knowledge intensive industries have a greater need for intra- and inter-regional cooperation than industries operating on a low technological scale.


Subcontracting out processes that add considerable value to the firm’s profitability, or those that are key to the development to the company’s core competence, may reduce the innovative capability of the buyer firm.

Firms are faced with the dilemma that on the one hand they wish to learn from their partners, however, on the other hand they want to retain their own core proprietary assets and thus prevent leakage of critical know-how.

Many firms are reluctant to enter horizontal collaborative agreements because of concerns over the ownership of project outcomes.

Entrepreneurs do not invest time and money in the development of networks unless they can expect clear profits for their business.

Further information available at

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Commons Definition

I always find it useful to look at the roots of words when starting a discussion. The first pace I usually look is in Joseph Shipley's The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots. The entire entry is quoted below. The net of it is, as I understand it, is that a commons is something that is used together, always changes but remains one. A plurality that is also unitary. The first word listed is the fundamental Indo-European root word. The II means that there were two words spelled mei that had slightly different meanings.

mei II, expanded as meig, mein, melt: change, move away; exchange, arrange for services (hence applied to public office). Gk, amoeba (a negative): changes but remains one. am(o)ebean: alternately answering, as amoebean verses. The Saturday Review (London), 25 May 1861, spoke of an "amoebean exchange of witticism between the Bench and the Bar." In March, "Spring and Winter sing an amoebean song." amoebiform: like the Old Man of the Sea, protean. (The prophetic sea god who could change his shape at will, Proteus, is from Gk protos: first; see per 1. Proteus is also a genus of bacteria.) L, meatus; and via commeatus, Fr, conge, congee.

L mutare, mutatum: change. mutation. commute, commutations and permutations. permeate. irremeable. transmute; mutable, immutable. mutual. mew, mews, mo(u)lt. The verb mew was used of birds moulting: changing feathers. Then the plural form mews (now treated as a singular) was used of the buildings where the royal hunting hawks were kept; then of the royal and noble stables on such grounds. Many short lanes and London streets today are thus called mews.

Also, common: used together. The Common: ground owned by the community, usually a central square of grass, in early days used for grazing. The Commons: British Lower House of Parliament, representatives of the "common people." communicate, excommunicate. communism, coined in 1840 by Goodwyn Barmby, who in 1841 founded the London Communist Propaganda Society. Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto in 1847; in 1849 he came to London to study in the Museum Library, publishing the first volume of Das Kapital in 1867.

Hence, too, community and commune. municipal, municipality: first, a Roman town with its own regulations (munia capere: to hold [its own] services). munificent. remuneration. immune; immunity, immunology. Also migrate, emigrate, immigration; transmigration. remuda, on the western ranch. Gc gamaidans: badly changed; wounded. mad, maim, mayhem; mean. bemean, virtually supplanted by demean; see men II.

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings, nor lose the common touch . . .
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth, and everything that's in it,
And-which is more-you'll be a man, my son.
-Kipling, If

"Adieu to common feeling, common prudence and common sense!" - Rev. Sydney Smith (d. 1845)

"Common sense is most uncommon sense."


I have a family story which illustrates how important honesty is to the idea of an Innovation Commons. My husband (when he was working) made an important innovation in the plant he was heading. His boss took a visitor through the plant and showed the visitor my husband's un-patented invention. The visitor promptly went home and patented Harold's idea. So Harold had to pay to use his own "brain child". You might use this as the first assignment for the Innovation Commons ... how to keep this kind of thing from happening or from ruining the value of the basic idea. Annie

Monday, November 15, 2004

Smart Mobs

This is a must read book! It’s well written, exciting and scary. The technologies that the book is about have many potentially positive and negative outcomes. If you believe that society will still be dominated in the future by "zero sum" philosophies, at the individual, corporate and governmental level, then the outcome looks very scary. If you believe that society is ready to adopt "non-zero sum" games then the outlook is exciting and enormous changes will result that are positive. Non-zero sum games are behaviors that include "the unique human power and pleasure that comes from doing something that enriches everyone, a game where nobody has to lose for everyone to win." Zero sum games are best typified by our sports. There is a winner and there is a loser. When the rules are bent or broken, then tragic results can occur, i.e. Enron, which is zero-sum corporate behavior personified. Or, a present nemesis, spam. Spam is where one person wins and everyone else looses.

Smart Mobs

Creating an Innovation Commons

To make the next step in our organizations and societies, we need to develop cooperation within ever widening systems. And, if we are ever to develop "innovation commons", we must master cooperation and trust. An "innovation commons", calling on the old idea of a common pasture for a town where all the residents could graze their animals, is a place where ideas can exist, like the early molecules in the primeval sea, free to combine and reproduce to create even more complex ideas. A place where the stability of the complex ideas can be tested and their survival gauged. "Innovation commons" will be required to foster the trans-disciplinary innovation necessary for the merging of information, biological and nanometric technologies on our horizon. "Innovation commons" are needed now to handle the sociopolitical, economic and demographic problems we face amidst growing partisanship and yes, even hatreds. And, we must assure that we don’t fall prey to the "failure of the commons" where an individual or entity exploits the commons to the detriment of all others, and eventually themselves.

Creating an Innovation Commons

Friday, November 12, 2004

Innovation Commons Network

Why do some collaborative efforts succeed and others fail? What's required to create successful efforts time and time again? What role does software play? If these questions interest you then you may want to participate in a collaborative effort to develop some of the principles of a successful "innovation commons".

This group of people is developing a set of principles for a successful "innovation commons". Below is an introduction to an article I wrote on some of the principles, but I know that this is not complete and a group of people are engaged in online conversations on the topic. If this interests you, please click on this link or send me an e-mail ( and I will send you a copy of the article and include you in the discussion.

Paul Schumann