Culture of Secrecy

How can companies still think what they do is top secret. Note I’m not talking about intelligence, research or military organizations here. I mean general competitive businesses in a competitive marketplace.

How many of the projects we’ve been sworn to keep secret really needed or benefited from that? How many top secret projects failed to launch? Again I’m not talking about early gestation with limited resources, there’s a time and place for keeping something under wraps until it’s time – however even then most people keep it too secret for too long.

Enthusiasm is the hardest attribute to sustain in any endeavor.

I’ve found many companies with a Culture of Secrecy are really staffed by people avoiding scrutiny or responsibility. If they don’t say what they are going to achieve, they can’t be held accountable when they miss.

Everybody misses from time to time. Me included. Looking at what went wrong often more valuable than succeeding by a fluke.

Fear is the other great cause of the secrecy cult. Every manager worthy of the title has had an employee leave to work for a competitor. Weak managers of weak businesses respond by limiting the flow of ideas and information to the team that drives the business. They hope a defection cannot harm them again, without reviewing  if that harm was more than a bruised ego. This is overprotective thinking. When you fell over as a baby while learning to walk, you tried again until you mastered it. If a business is only as good as its secrets it has no better competitive advantage in the marketplace. Are there low barriers to entry for competitors?

Find your competitive advantange. That may be worth keeping close to the chest, but I doubt it. Your success flows from knowing what you do better than anyone else – what others cannot take from you.

Think of great global brands and great businesses like Coca-Cola, American Express, IBM, Toyota, McDonald’s. While some part of their operations are necessarily private they don’t have a culture of secrecy. Where do you want your company to be in 20 years?

For another perspective check out what Robin wrote a while ago at Snarkmarket on iPhone, Secrecy and Excellence

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *