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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with David DeVries, November 23 and December 2, 1998. Interview S-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Struggling with issues of length of tenure and intellectual property

DeVries describes his struggle with a difficult question: when researchers leave CCL, who owns their ideas? DeVries and others wrestled with this idea and with the fact that departing researchers might become competitors. He came to believe that encouraging short, productive tenures at CCL was the best way to avoid this potential conflict, but putting limits on researchers' contributions presents CCL with a paradox.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with David DeVries, November 23 and December 2, 1998. Interview S-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
Yes. I mean and certainly the Center owns that which is created by its researchers. But what I was curious about specifically was if you have a bright researcher who can then create while he or she is working for the Center a wonderful product and then could conceivably take it and change a module in it and become an independent with that product.
DAVID DE VRIES:
That's a wonderful question because there's a lot of mythology that goes around that topic at the Center for Creative Leadership. I remember sitting in these early board meetings in the 70's and the board defining a very interesting model about how the individual should relate to the Center. They had this notion you bring in some very bright people from the profession relatively early in their career. You bring them in for three to five years. They generate some creative work at the Center and then they go on. They leave the Center and go on into other settings. And that was the way it should work. What happened in the 70's and 80's was a very different relationship between the individual creator and the Center which is the creators got stuck at the Center, not because they had no options but because they chose to. Then when eventually they started to leave in the late 80's, the leaving became problematic and risky. And the leaving involved all kinds of questions around who owns what and who's competing with the Center and what right do they have to compete with the Center, etc. And it's really unfortunate and I would say that people such as myself and my colleagues were very much a part of this problem because we ended up spending so much time at the Center, getting so linked to the Center, having the Center think that it owned our minds almost and the products of our minds that when we finally did leave, it was very sticky. I believe the original model that the Center's board of governors had was one in which there was much more tolerance of people leaving the Center and taking with them enough that they could go off on their own and make a living. But coupled with that has been a very interesting attitude on the part of the Center which I find disturbing. As the Center gets stronger and stronger in terms of its impact on the field, in terms of its economic viability, it positions itself as more and more vulnerable. I find that paradoxical.
ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
Now how do you define vulnerability?
DAVID DE VRIES:
Well, vulnerability in the sense that if Dave DeVries leaves the Center and uses some of the models, some of the concepts, some of the methodology that he helped develop at the Center on his own that David becomes such a powerful competitive force that the Center will be threatened, and that's a bunch of hokum, quite frankly. But I have found that there's enough support for that at the Center that it does influence decision-making. I find that really discouraging, because one of the things that the Center For Creative Leadership can do now is leverage its great reputation and strength. But if it looks at its role in the field now and in the future from that position of vulnerability and weakness, it's going to act like a 300-pound weakling. But I just find it paradoxical.
ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
I understand it and the way you characterize it does highlight it. I hadn't thought of that as an end result. But certainly if you begin to be driven by how the lawyers will resolve the issue, it does become sort of a 300 pound paranoid in some respects.
DAVID DE VRIES:
Right. It really is. Plus, there are times that specific questions of ownership of actual instrumentation are legitimate issues and have to be dealt with using the best legal minds there are within the guidelines set by our country's laws and by our professional understandings. The American Psychological Association has a well-defined set of ethical guidelines. But that's not really the issue. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
I think we're past the leader, so this is side 2 with an interview of David DeVries. You were talking just a moment ago about intellectual property.
DAVID DE VRIES:
Right. And so just let me finish by saying that I think the Center needs to embrace people who have left the Center, that the Center could benefit from that. And that for every client that I might take away from the Center, I will give them two, particularly if the Center and I as an ex-employee keep a constructive relationship. And that's true for all the people that have come through the Center and gone off on their own or to another institution, whatever. And that notion of people coming and going is central to the long-term viability of the Center. And again, I would say that if anything, I stayed too long at the Center for not only my own sake but for the Center's sake. And I would suggest that my generation of the Center, that that was true for a lot of us.
ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
That 15 years was too long?
DAVID DE VRIES:
IT was too long in terms of what we could really contribute to the Center. I think the first five to ten years we made some big contributions and then it tapered off. I think the original model of the Center is ultimately the more viable one. Bring in young, bright, ambitious, energetic researchers, trainers and have them contribute to the Center's efforts, learn from the Center, build contacts around the world and then move on. You get this constant influx of new ideas at the Center. The custom of the "lifer" at the Center is just absolutely inappropriate.
ELIZABETH MILLWOOD:
Yes, it's somewhat antithetical to what the Center is about.
DAVID DE VRIES:
Exactly.