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The Death of Trade Secrets

(January 2009) posted on Fri Jan 09, 2009

To survive the changing business environment and contend with technological upheavals, printing businesses must assess and promote the value of what they do rather than simply focus on product and process.

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By Mark A. Coudray

This model worked for a few years while we skirted around the pivot point of knowledge scarcity and knowledge abundance. Everything changed once we crossed that pivot point and began to deal with the economics of abundance. Now the issue is to make money as soon as the technology is available. We can no longer afford to educate our employees, bankers, management, or customers. The technology and the next round of innovation won’t wait. We must work in a frictionless knowledge environment where new knowledge flows effortlessly without the obstruction of scarcity or protection for the old ways.

Wow! That sounds extremely unlikely when we’re slapped in the face with the reality of our workforce and the educationally and linguistically challenged production personnel we have today. In an effort to keep our costs down, we hire entry-level workers who are simply incapable of learning and understanding at this level or rate. To make matters even worse, we commoditize the technology when the manufacturers of the equipment and software dumb things down so anyone can push a button and get a great result. This leads to a situation where your new $2.5-million printer delivers the same results between any two suppliers. You can’t differentiate yourself on speed, quality, or service. That leaves only the sacrificial element—price—and now no one is making any money.

This sounds bleak, but there are alternative strategies. First and foremost, we need to put the concept of trade secrets down for good. In an abundance-driven economy, scarcity is friction. Friction slows adoption and is the worst thing we could possibly do. How do we eliminate knowledge friction and still remain competitive?

The answer to this is to let go of the concept of product and process. If you’re a screen printer of P-O-P graphics, that is product and process—as are the T-shirt screen printers. We are neither. We are producers of media. We create graphics-based communication. The substrates and application methods are only tools and components. Our real value lies in how effectively we can deliver the right combination of components to satisfy the market’s requirements.


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