Is there any benefit to keeping a good idea to yourself anymore? One of the tropes of our internet age is the story of the first person in a particular market or industry vector who discovers that keeping the secrets isn’t going to work anymore, because of the internet and so instead they decide to start sharing the story of what they do. They gain influence by being transparent and by believing that the pie is big enough and that a rising tide floats all boats.
I think we can all understand why these people (the Chase Jarvises of the world) benefited from becoming transparent. He was a first mover. He got to the audience first. Like any first the mere impact of arriving somewhere first gives a lot of dividends. You get recognition. You get the naive and enthusiastic fresh audience. You can decide to an unprecedented degree what direction you want to launch your particular brand within this new space. I don’t have any difficulty understanding why it was a slam-dunk/ block-buster strategic move for Chase Jarvis to start telling the story of Commercial Photography on the internet with the new medium of internet videos– breaking with any part of the industry that wanted to keep the guild secrets, secret.
I can even go a step further and recognize the claim that the internet forces a new level of transparency from everyone. Because there is so much incentive to share what you know for recognition and an opportunity to be part of online expertise community, if anyone else knows your trade secret, or uses your technique, you shouldn’t expect it to remain secret. Someone, somewhere is discovering right now, how to make the sharing of that information part of their ticket to the YouTube creators community.
And I think we all benefit regularly from this competition in the information market. People are actually working hard to provide the world with the best expertise in their field and often they are giving away a bunch of that expertise as their marketing effort into the vast information ocean that is the internet. It is difficult to measure how much we are benefiting from this explosion in free expertise that is usually just a quick voice search away. It’s a form of wealth that is too complex to be able to quickly metric, but it’s one of the best things about being alive in today’s world. Expert information and detailed reviews exist for every product and process you could possibly be interested in, and tomorrow there will be more and better ones. It really boggles the mind.
Now with all of that in mind I want to ask again is there any benefit from a good idea to yourself? Especially, let’s say, if you just keep it for a short period of time until you’ve had a chance to execute on your idea? And I’m not sure of the answer. My personality inclination is to share freely and be transparent, but sometimes when I get the edge of sharing an idea I hold back just a little bit, thinking to myself “what if someone else steals my idea.” The business gurus will tell you that ideas are common and the true differentiator comes from executing on your idea. Bring your idea to life and into the world. Your idea will rarely be stolen in mere idea form– it’s true value isn’t actually clear to anyone until it’s growing and working because you’re doing it. But is that always true? Should we still hedge our bets and keep part of the good idea back? Are our good ideas actually in danger of theft if we share them too freely?
To to sum this rambling brain-storming blog post up, I’m thinking out loud about the trend toward transparency and recognizing and being thankful for most of what that means and brings. But I still have a question about whether there are places where keeping an idea to yourself, at least for a period of time, doesn’t still have a place. Or perhaps it would be better to refine the question quite a bit into something like: when and where do you draw the line between transparency that inspires trust and allows you to join a bigger conversation and the privacy and secrecy that allows you to keep your own ideas your own, even if just for a while to give you a head start advantage, or to keep a quiet space around your idea while you refine and grow it in it’s early stages? Or even sharper as a question, what things mark the difference between what you should share and what you should keep to yourself, even if just for a short period of time?