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?