Harvesting Intangible Assets

Andrew Sherman gets it. The opening vignette in his book Harvesting Intangible Assets: Uncover Hidden Revenue in Your Company’s Intellectual Property shows that:

My father’s father, Morris Sherman, was a farmer in upstate New York in the 1930s and 1940s. When health complication arose in the 1950s that prevented him from working the land, he took inventory of his intellectual assets, which included deep knowledge of the regional farming community and strong and respected relationships with other farmers. He then shifted his business model to leverage those assets and refocused his attention on the family’s farm equipment dealership, which grew each year for many moons until it was sold at a healthy profit.
The Tao of Morris Sherman is simply–understand the tangible and intangible assets that you have and make the most of them.

He uses that story as the set up for the rest of the book where farming is a metaphor for how business should think about their intangible assets. But this is not a book on intangibles. This is a book about business strategy where intangibles and innovation are key factors. Not a lot more Tao; a lot of practical advice. So don’t expect to come away with a more in depth understanding of complexities of intangible assets. You will come away with a much better practical sense of how intangible fit into business strategy and how to develop that strategy.
The farming metaphor did generated a powerful new insight for me. Just like any crop, Sherman points out that intangible assets need to be harvested at the right time. Timing is important. An idea can be not ready (unripe) or too late (rotten). This is something that we often overlook in our studies of entrepreneurship especially. Along with that is the need to nurture your intangibles until the time is right. For some intangibles, you can just sit back and watch. Others need constant cultivation. In other words, intangible assets are dynamic, not static — and need to be treated as such.
Now the farming metaphor does break down at the end of the book. The last chapter feels like a bunch of items thrown together that Sherman felt needed to be at least mentioned. But generally it cares the discussion in an entertaining and useful fashion.
The one criticism I have is how easily the book falls into a discussion of intellectual property, rather than the broad range of intangible assets. But I think that is a failing of the state-of-the-art in our thinking rather than of the author. IP is the most tangible of intangibles. Thus it this the one that is the easiest to get a handle on. BTW – one book I’ve found so far that does a good job of grappling with the broad range of intangibles in business development is Mary Adams and Michael Oleksak’s Intangible Capital: Putting Knowledge to Work in the 21st Century Organization (see earlier posting).
That said, I would put Sherman’s Harvesting Intangible Assets on my bookshelf right next to the Adams and Oleksak book. Sherman has made an strong contribution towards helping business develop strategies utilizing their intangibles. The book should be widely read.

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