Experience and know-how transfer

Several years ago I prepared our first metadata-driven ETL tool for delivery.
My boss asked: “What if our competitors steal the idea from us?
I answered: “Then we will beat them with version 2.0.
And what if they will be faster,” he hesitated.
If they are as much better, then they deserve to win,” I finished.

There are two reasons plagiarists should be much better than the author to succeed:

  1. Because of the longer development process, you have usually a newer version prepared at the time of rollout of the previous one, so not the latest features are implemented.
  2. As an author you know much about all dead-ends of your solution, everything you considered viable and it was not. That makes often a major part of know-how related to a complex solution.

At the time the dialog above happened I thought the first reason is the most important factor. Now I think the second one prevails and that is what is this article about.

I imagine all the know-how related to certain solutions as an iceberg.

Iceberg know-how effect

The author knows the entire iceberg, both visible and underwater parts. Most other people see the result only, the implemented features. There are two groups of people suffering from a lack of knowledge of the invisible part:

  • Plagiarists – wanted, good for you.
  • Followers – unwanted, you have to think about better know-how transfer.

The lack of knowledge of the dead-end part has the same effect in both cases. Both wanted and unwanted followers can with some effort copy, support, and service the solution. Both wanted and unwanted followers meet disadvantages in the area of the evolution of the copied solution.

As an author, you know both parts of an iceberg. You know what paths failed however they were alluring. If they were obvious nonsense, you would not try them. But:

  • We rarely share unsuccessful attempts with competitors (good idea).
  • We rarely waste our time documenting them in detail (unfortunately).

When the author evolves his own solution, we can imagine his effort following way:

Iceberg know-how effect

The author avoids all the previous dead-ends because he knows them, He meets new dead-ends on the way, but they are in a similar, healthy ratio within the whole new solution.

Other for both wanted and unwanted (plagiarists) followers:

Iceberg know-how effect

Dead-ends the author has met are usually alluring paths, they just for various reasons do not lead to the destinations. When they were alluring for the author, there is a high probability they will be alluring for the plagiarist as well. So major further effort will be aimed the way.

How to cope with that?

Lets plagiarists investigate these areas. After some time they can achieve the same expertise as the author. For a cost.

Try to support followers with better documentation about the underwater part of the iceberg. Even dead-ends deserve to be documented.