Who owns the way you think?

Businesses and economies are living in interesting times. As more and more of what we exchange is not stuff but thoughts, we need not only to assign value to those thoughts, but to assign ownership. It looks like value is the easy part of the assignment.

It may seem evident to you that you own the way you think. We are, after all, talking about something that no one else in the world can produce. You are the only source for the particular blend of experience and expertise that you bring to your clients or employers. Since no one can tell you what to think, it seems to follow that no one can tell you how to think - and therefore that you are the only person with ownership of how you think.

There are two problems with this. The first is that your clients may be paying you for what you think, but your employer almost certaintly believes that it is paying you for how you think. As an employer, if you don't own the process by which you produce the goods/services you sell, you are in a shaky position at best. How can you ensure continuous supply if you don't own what you sell?

The second problem is that human beings have a fundamental tendency to believe we have more control than we do. It's entirely possible that how you think - and how you behave - are as much a function of your environment as they are of your personal competence. You might very well think differently (with a different process, and with different products) if you were working somewhere else. It is not impossible that your employer has as much influence on your thinking process and you do yourself - and therefore, perhaps, as genuine a right to ownership.

It's certainly worth thinking about.


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