Do You Share or Hide Ideas

Randy Lusk is the extremely bright owner of Lusk Quality Machine Products in Palmdale, California, near Los Angeles. We often exchange ideas on the phone about machine values, but Randy is so canny that he usually buys machines for less than I can find them.

A few days ago he posed a technical question about machining a long piece of stainless steel on the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) list serve.

He received 10 well thought out suggestions from other members of the group, but he also receive a kick in the butt from Slavko Grguric, an iconoclast in the PMPA who delights in presenting contrary positions. Slavko chastised Lusk for sponging hard won proprietary information from naïve members who could end up being Lusk’s competitors down the line. Slavko’s view was, to paraphrase; “be a big boy” and experiment yourself because I’m not going to give away my competitive advantage.

At first I was taken aback by Slavko’s abrasive candor, but after some consideration I think the collegial vs. competitive approach is a worthy topic of debate. Should one assiduously amass specialized knowledge through every available means and then lock it up in the hands of a few trusted company members, or trade knowledge freely to enhance the group acumen, thus opening up more pathways to attain more advancement in the future?

As a machinery dealer specializing in an esoteric smidgen of the market I am often asked about the values of 40-year-old screw machines with assorted attachments and attributes. Lending institutions, faced with a crapshoot projecting the future value of a machine tool after a lease expires, want to pick our brains.

I am asked every week for best guesses that are based on a career’s worth of gambles and observations. I do myself and my company a disservice if I fritter away the information in a casual, cavalier way.

On the other hand, information is organic and if you do not nourish it continually with nutrients provided from outside your own walls it becomes stale and useless. If you only suck stuff in and never spit it out you get to be a fat blob of stupidity.

The Quad/Graphics model is an interesting study. Quad/Graphics is one of the largest printers in America. You see their semitrailers all over. Under Henry Quadracci they built the company on innovation. Remarkably they shared their current technology with their competitors, welcoming them into their plants. Henry’s view was that showing today’s best methods forced your company to reach for something better. Your competitor could see what you were doing now, but he would not know how you got there and would not have the cumulative knowledge to get further.

Quad/Graphics was enormously successful under Henry using this model, but that does not make it valid for a job shop in L.A.

I asked Randy Lusk what he believed his own competitive advantage was and he said it was not his technical expertise, but his service and relationships with clients. He draws on the machining expertise of longtime employees and other people at the firm who can draw on their expertise derived elsewhere. He uses the technical talent of vendors and his peers in the PMPA. And knowing Randy, he is quite willing to offer his knowledge to these same folks.

There is no perfect formula in the “hide it or share it” yin and yang of business.

In my role as commentator it is easy to side with openness, but I must admit that when I am asked to give up the hard earned ingredients of my own “secret sauce,” my mouth is sealed like a clam.

Question: Should you share or hide ideas?

McDonald’s Big Mac, famous for its secret sauce.

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9 thoughts on “Do You Share or Hide Ideas

  1. Furdburfle

    I would say theres nothing wrong in giving general advice about good machining practices. At some point there still needs to be a feeling of brotherhood amongst machining professionals. It would be different if you were asking advice from a direct competitor about specific and proprietary products. It’s a little more difficult in the Job Shop arena because you are in competition with every other job shop of similar capability.

  2. Stricken1

    I could go both ways on this one. I agree that sharing specific processes on proprietary products would probably be a bad idea, but I fully believe general information should be shared freely. I would rather share basic info and be greater in an application stand point. Basically, If you tie your competitor’s shoe laces together you will probably win a race, but it does not mean you are faster.

  3. Jerry

    I would have to answer this with a no on giving info to just every Tom, Dick and Harry that happens to ask. Machining has evolved from difficult manual methods, to a much higher tech process. Now that most everyone has CNC equipment in their shop, the skill has been sucked out of the process. If you have good tool representatives, any machining question as to proper speeds and feeds (and the proper tool) can be answered by them. They also can be good sources for fixturing devices. I really believe that most every shop manager will agree with this!

  4. Dave Bradley

    We may be competitors, but we need to take care of each other or the college educated purchasing agents will put us all out of business, one at a time. Am I going to do his work FOR him???? No. But if he asks for a hand, I will roll up my sleeves. Am I going to do his thinking for him??? No, but I will be glad to be his sounding board. My proprietary stuff, is still my stuff.

  5. Ed Gnifkowski

    I have no trouble beating info out of my vendors: material, machine, tool, or whaterver.
    i don’t think I’d have the nerve to ask a competitor.

  6. Steve Schler

    We all learned our trade from someone. However, if I use my time and effort, then I should reap the reward. How much I give away is my decision. There is plenty of reveres engineering going on.

  7. Julie Hartmus

    It is a fine line. I will freely admit that there are techniques that we have refined that we will not divulge. At the same time, we have also been working with our competitors in the area to develop a cooperation of efforts and support. It is a venture I embarked on about 6 years ago, and it is finally gaining traction. We must keep our competitors in business in our area…that is how our subsuppliers for plating and heat treating can remain competitive and in business. We all depend on each other. We all must support each other yet not give away the farm.

  8. Scott

    Nice subject Lloyd. I believe we need to be collectively better – the advances in CNC equipment, programming, tooling and application knowledge means there is a lot of room for improvement for most. Of course there are exceptions regarding what you share and with who, but a mindset of keeping your information “secret” may keep you from joining a movement of aggressive, forward thinking people who advancing at a much more rapid pace than those who stay inward and protective.

  9. James Thompson

    I am on an engineering Q&A site. I cannot believe that so many Americans are so eager to give advice. I also cannot believe the stupid questions that are ask. It speaks to why the quality is often so poor. I have no problem with sharing info. to others in the same sinking USA boat, I cannot see helping the Chinese and others who steal our information at will


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