The Power of Sharing Knowledge

"Models are emerging from culture, software, life sciences, and the energy industry that show us potential ways to transform industries by making knowledge "re-useful," says John Wilbanks, the VP of Science at Creative Commons, adding: "Knowledge sharing is radically transformative but it's hard."

Wilbanks shared his One Great Idea for radical sharing at the GreenBiz Innovation Forum, especially why breaking down the walls of trade secrets and copyright protection is one of the biggest challenges to advancing disruptive innovation:

He gave the example of the ear horn, of all things. Incremental innovation in ear horns led to the development of truly massive ear horns that were used to listen for planes crossing the English Channel in the 1930s -- and that was all because the defense contractors of the day were opposed to disruptive technologies like radar.

The rise of the network has made the example of ear horns vs. radar less common -- but there are still significant obstacles to sharing knowledge, most of them ingrained by old habits.

"If we can take Creative Commons licenses and create Wikipedia, if we can take open-source software and create Linux, can we extend it to things that aren't even digital?" Wilbanks asked.

Among the well established examples -- the Eco-Patent Commons or the Nike-led GreenXchange, Wilbanks offered the examples of a company coming on to the market called littleBits, a company that lets you snap together electronic circuits like you would Legos -- and which is releasing its products next year under open-source licenses.

That last example offers a signpost on the path toward broader sustainability sharing, the idea of "standardized and shared connection of knowledge pushing out to the physical world," Wilbanks said.

It's an idea that is starting to be played out in projects like Nike's GreenXchange.

"If you have a patent that Nike used for clean rubber, can it be used for tires?" Wilbanks asked. "Can entrepreneurs build on those to make things better?"