Blogging and a Knowledge Scarcity Model Don’t Mix

I recently swapped around my office space, and found some old (paper) notebooks that I browsed through before shredding. One of them, from 2006, contained a page of notes that I jotted down about why consultants don’t blog:

  • Not enough time
  • Too few “outside” interests (aside from proprietary customer work), hence nothing interesting to blog about
  • Knowledge scarcity model

Taking these points one at a time, I consider the time that I put into blogging as part of my marketing budget (if I had such a thing), since most of my new business comes to me because someone reads my blog and thinks that I have something to add to their projects. I also consider it a valuable part of my business social networking, providing a way for me to connect with others to exchange opinions or just build those weak ties that come in handy when you least expect it. It’s also, in some cases, a public version of my note-taking – especially the conference posts – that I often refer back to when I know that I wrote about something, but can’t recall when or where. For all of these reasons, the time that I have spent blogging has paid for itself many times over in revenue, relationships and research.

On the second point, there’s always something that you can write about that has nothing to do with the proprietary work that you do for your customers, but would serve you in the ways that I mention above. Generic technology or management research or readings that you’ve done are always a good place to start; product reviews; links to and comments on interesting posts in your fields; even topics that aren’t directly related to your work but that you find interesting. If your customer has a great case study that they’d like to brag about, you can even include that. The important part is to write about what you’re passionate about, those little things that make you love your job.

The most common reason that I hear from consultants on why they don’t blog – and what clearly drives the mostly content-free blogs that we see from the big analyst firms – is that they’re afraid of people stealing their ideas, especially if they think that they can sell those ideas. To quote my friend Sacha:

If the thought of people stealing your ideas is what’s stopping you from thinking out loud on a blog, you’re not alone. It’s a valid fear. If you’re afraid of your ideas being stolen, your mindset is probably that of knowledge scarcity – that you should hoard knowledge because that’s what gives you power. That makes sense to a lot of people.

Another mindset is that of knowledge abundance. There are plenty of ideas to go around, and sharing knowledge gives you power. That makes sense to a lot of people, too.

She goes on to discuss the value of openly sharing ideas: practice in communicating those ideas, questions and challenges that help you refine those ideas, and the networking and reputation effects.

What I see happening with people who operate in a knowledge scarcity model is that they tend to blog about things on which they don’t place much value, since they don’t want to “give away” their really good stuff. However, this results in a negative feedback loop: your audience knows that you’re feeding them crap, and they tune out. In other words, if you think of knowledge as scarce, then your blog is not going to be very successful. It doesn’t mean that your business won’t be, but failure to share makes for an unpalatable blog.

I tend to operate in a knowledge abundance model: there are a lot of people out there with great ideas too, so let’s share them and make something even better. More importantly, however, my knowledge isn’t some limited bit of intellectual property that I invented in the past and have to horde only for my paying customers: I generate new knowledge every day, every time that I talk to someone or read something interesting or have a new experience. In other words, although I might be judged on the basis of what I’ve done in the past, the real value that I bring is the ability to create new knowledge going forward.

4 thoughts on “Blogging and a Knowledge Scarcity Model Don’t Mix”

  1. Interesting. Being an open source kind of guy, I prefer to share my knowledge for the benefit of my fellow practitioners. I share my lessons learned good or bad, my research, and my opinions and hope for feedback so I can learn from it. The fine line is sharing experiences without sharing secret sauce. My blogging almost came to a complete halt over the last several months because we were focusing on building a platform in a very competitive space. I have been very active blogging lately but it is mostly in response to conflicting views amongst my peers about private clouds, NoSQL vs RDBMS, and the like. I find it hard to blog about actual methods and techniques of the technologies I work with because my competitors are all over my blog. To sum it up, I love to share my knowledge but I have to protect my company’s IP at the same time.

  2. Mike, I think that blogging about your company’s IP would be like me blogging about my customers’ projects: don’t do it, it’s confidential information. That’s a no-brainer. As you point out, you have plenty of other interesting things to blog about that don’t require blogging about confidential corporate IP. My comments are specifically about consultants and analysts who think that every word that they speak should be monetized.

  3. Sandy,
    I totally agree with you. In fact, I’ve found I have to repeat my best insights dozens of times to get any traction, and the more times I say it the more power it accrues. When you refer to the empty blogging from the subscription-based analyst firms, that’s something different. You can’t sell your opinion if you give it away. But that’s not a question of anyone ‘stealing’ your ideas.

  4. Bruce, your comment is an echo of the quote from Howard Aiken that Sacha has in her post that I link to: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

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