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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Walker

Book Club of One: Book Report 1

Open book on a stack of books that are on a table in front of a bookcase full of books


I started my reading with Burning the Ships: Transforming Your Company's Culture Through Intellectual Property Strategy. Marshall Phelps, also happened to be an alumnus of Muskingum University, where I was working at the time. It didn’t hurt to be able to say I’d read his book to my bosses.

Frankly, the book was immensely insightful. Not because I cared particularly about IBM or Microsoft’s intellectual property strategies, though they were interesting. Mr. Phelps made it clear that, at least in his work, strategic management and deployment of intellectual property was just the foundation for other value-generating strategies. (In hindsight, I wish his book had gone deeper into how the culture transformation is also deeply connected to intellectual capital cultivation.) The details are worth reading for yourself.

As it related to my questions at the time, Mr. Phelps' book helped me understand that one firm’s intellectual property assets are part of an ecosystem. That ecosystem can be competitive, collaborative, or open. Or, all three at the same time. And, in Mr. Phelps’ experience, leveraging intellectual property assets can enable shifts in the ecosystem that create different kinds of value to a firm: revenue, reputation, political, or more innovation.

There’s a similar dynamic in the nonprofit sector. Each nonprofit organization exists in several ecosystems at the same time, each of which may be some form or more or less competitive, collaborative, or open. A lot of factors, like regulation, other providers, available funding, and public policy come into play defining the ecosystem, not all of which are in the nonprofit’s control. I think most nonprofit managers will be familiar with ecosystem pressures like mergers, collaborating on service delivery, funding competition, and more demands on services and resources than capacity to fulfill.

More questions without answers: If a nonprofit wanted to shift the ecosystem, how could their intellectual property assets be leveraged? Was that leverage already happening but without clear language – that collaborating nonprofit organizations might be leveraging bringing others to the table or achieving collective impact with their intellectual property but not recognizing it? How burdensome would identifying intellectual property assets in nonprofits be for managers? What could the potential positive outcomes be if they did?

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