About five years ago we needed insight on how to further improve our business. I had exhausted most of the resources I knew and was hitting a wall. An opportunity presented itself that was hard to pass up: I was invited to speak at an industry event about a specific niche, the very niche that was our core competency.
This was risky. How much should I expose? To what extent should I go? Where was the fine line between sharing too much (and thereby creating more competitors in the marketplace) and not sharing enough?
Long story short: I took the risk. I took the risk because I needed it. My first class was (I thought) a disaster. There were approximately 100 people in the room and I realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. The topic was too big. The audience too broad. I was able to help only a few.
Luckily, these few approached me after the class. They asked if we could grab a cup of coffee. They were floundering and needed just this topic. My response surprised them. "I'm floundering too, let's grab that coffee, now." We spent the best hour of the show trading ideas on how we could get better at what we did best. (I don't think we touched the coffee).
I learned an invaluable lesson: if you are willing to risk sharing too much, you will receive more, the rewards far outweigh the risks. I taught classes on more topics. I started writing and doing webinars. Virtually each time I took a risk, I met someone new. A sharp individual (sometimes a few) I needed. Social media made connecting and collaborating even easier. I began building my rolodex of personal advisers. I helped them and they in turn helped me. I now have numerous professionals in our business, as well as in other industries, I can pick up the phone and call (and I do).
I wish I had the space and time to list all the changes we've made because of this collaboration. Individually, they may not seem momentous; collectively, they are remarkable. I wish I could spend more time on how each contribution made me sharper. How even the bad ideas, the terrible classes that failed, the articles that fizzled, the trolls that wrote negative reviews (with no name, of course) have shaped me. It hasn't been easy. Easy is remaining below the radar (out-of-view, out-of-reach and out-of-touch). But easy wouldn't have enlarged my vision or challenged me. Teaching gave me a broader perspective on our industry. It enabled me to interact with a group of professionals I never would have had the opportunity to meet. This is more than crowd-sourcing, it's pro-sourcing. Hand picking a personal board of advisors, from a broad perspective of professionals, and giving and getting the very best - aggregate professional consulting that matters.
And it's the #1 benefit of adopting open source.
P.S. I recently recorded a webinar for the Advertising Specialty Institute, "Developing a Social Networking Strategy that Delivers Results"; though slightly skewed to our industry, the principles work for any business. I hope it is helpful to you.