Open Source Thinking in Everyday Business
I was working on a laptop trying to troubleshoot issues with the power supply so I decided to take the laptop into a large chain office supplier and see if they would allow me to try out one of the power supplies in their stock. I did this with the intent that if it worked I would send my customer there to purchase the item. I had assumed that after explaining this they would have been helpful, but to my disappointment they were more than apprehensive. I was able to convince the associate to let me use the power supply for around five minutes before he started to unhook everything and put it in the box while I was still holding it. Thankfully it was long enough to get the laptop to turn on which was exactly what I wanted it to do. Despite the incident I kept to my word and referred my customer to them to buy their product, but in the future I will not support this store in any way. Some may be thinking “You weren't a paying customer!”, and they would be right except for the fact that my visit to the store did result in a rather overpriced purchase.
The behavior of this store's employees are a perfect example of what we expect from merchants and tradesmen today. The idea they have is that by closing their knowledge and resources the market for their abilities or wares is sustained by the ignorance of the masses, and they invent what is known as “Trade Secrets”. It is this idea that allows a mechanic to charge for unneeded repairs and mark up prices. It also dupes us into buying items that have no real purpose because we do not know any better. It leaves us at the mercy of the merchant even though business could operate just as well on convenience and cooperation. Just because you know how to diagnose car trouble doesn't mean you have the tools available to a mechanic and you are not likely to tackle a transmission installation on your own. Their professions will always be needed no matter how much the rest of the world understands about what they do.
On the other end of the spectrum are those that understand that sharing brings trust and builds a working relationship that is rarely broken. For example, my brother-in-law was working on his dryer and ran into a “snag” . He contacted a local repair specialist to get some advice and this specialist actually took the time to explain the problem and ways to fix it. This guy just shot his credibility through the roof and gained a customer's trust. Consumers will respect you when you show them you are there to help and value their intelligence. The appliance repair specialist didn't eliminate his purpose by sharing this information because he would still need a way to get parts. What he did was gain future customers because people talk and the impression he made was enough to convince me that he would be the best choice for any of my appliance repair needs.
The common practice is to hide your hand and bank on what others don't know. This has been the only way we know in this capitalist society. But there is an alternative to this perverted way of business and it's rooted in the ideas that formed the open source software movement. The founders of GNU have challenged the world to think differently, to share knowledge, and combine our resources to build an open world where everyone stands on equal footing. It would be a world combined to solve our problems, an entire world of minds focused on the same issues.