Idea Communism

Rapid leaps in knowledge come from the free sharing of information.

Idea communism has nothing to do with the political system. It’s a term originating from the American sociologist Robert K. Merton. Idea communism describes the benefits of freely and openly sharing your information with other teams. This includes teams you compete with.

Wikipedia describes idea communism as:

the common ownership of scientific discoveries, according to which scientists give up intellectual property in exchange for recognition and esteem.

Robert K. Merton – Sociology of science – Wikipedia

This is in contrast to hoarding “secret techniques” for fear of opponents obtaining your knowledge or discovering weaknesses in your game. Ultimately secrecy doesn’t work, because:

  • keeping your techniques secret generally means they haven’t been fully battle-tested, and
  • in today’s connected world, your secret techniques will be out as soon as you use them in competition.

In contrast, it’s far better to share your knowledge so you can discover and eliminate weaknesses early, rather than trying to conceal and obscure them. As we’ve seen with traditional martial arts, it’s easy to fall into a trap where “secret” techniques ultimately wind up being ineffective in real sparring.

Idea communism is prevalent in other fields, such as software engineering. Software can be released freely or as open source, which allows any other developer to modify the original program.

But what about “idea capitalism?”

Over the long term, idea communism results in the best outcome for both individuals and the world at large. However, in the short term there may be benefits to delaying the release of your knowledge.

The most obvious example is when preparing for competition. If your techniques prove effective, they’ll be out in the wild after a single use in competition. However, if the stakes are high enough, such as a major tournament, that single use may be extremely important. In these cases you may choose to keep your knowledge to yourself.

That said, once the proverbial cat is out of the bag it’s in your best interests to become an ambassador for this knowledge and share it freely and openly.

Further study