There is something to be said about holding your cards close to your vest. As an entrepreneur or C-Level executive there is no question you must show discretion when speaking to others and how much you confide. I also completely understand how many business people regard information as power and a competitive edge.
In my senior executive training sessions with clients, we’re often asked which social network platform is the most important? Which one should people focus on? Facebook with close to 1 billion members worldwide often comes up in discussion. It's a great potential platform to communicate with others.
Over my career I've been fortunate to meet different senior executive leaders and visionaries who were and are successful (at least in my humble opinion) due to an innate ability to communicate effectively with others. They also rarely let a good opportunity go by where they could get valuable input or help from others. In fact, they ferociously sought out those kinds of opportunities.
What does that mean? I’ve found those most successful don’t automatically have walls up but sometimes tactically lower the drawbridge. As a result they tend to be more successful than those who do not.
I was in a meeting a few months ago with a budding start-up entrepreneur and a successful business executive. This executive was once an entrepreneur and was willing to give the gift of their time to listen and counsel to the start-up entrepreneur.
What happened? The start-up entrepreneur spoke in very generic terms and said the business executive would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before they would get into any details. Needless to say the discussion wasn’t as constructive as it could have been. This was a shame as the entrepreneur was a nice person but missed out on a golden opportunity.
After the executive left we chatted a bit more and the entrepreneur confided they were very nervous about the meeting. They also said that some of their personal advisors said to be secretive and never disclose anything about their business unless an NDA was signed. You couldn’t blame the entrepreneur as some lawyers and business advisors are programmed to think that way. But things in life (or business) are not always just black and white.
Another great point that my friend and entrepreneur in his own right, Ryan Taylor, raised was that one needs to think about the hypothetical cost of defending an NDA versus the potential opportunity loss that could occur when you insist on one. Like it or not, his perspective is certainly one to consider.
I’m not suggesting that individuals should open up the vaults completely and parade their entire client roster, programming code and/or audited financial statements to all near and far. What I am suggesting is that visionaries and business leaders might want to have a kernel of trust because I want them to succeed with the wisdom of the crowd.
For example, if a referral is made to another person by someone you implicitly trust then take that into consideration. Or do some quick diligence before a meeting. Reach out to other people in your network and ask them about who you are meeting. Google and LinkedIn are both just a few tools to use in that regard and they are both free.
Now some naysayers will counter that entrepreneurs and business visionaries must be paranoid. Look at Steve Jobs and how Apple operates! Having worked at that "fruit company" I experienced that first hand but that shouldn't be the de facto standard operating procedure. In fact, some might suggest that is in fact an exception to the rule.
Indeed there is often an underlying fear that someone else will 'steal' your idea. That is possible but someone else would also have to have the drive, vision, funding and resources to copy an idea. Secondly, and more importantly, someone else would have to be able to 'execute' more effectively also. That is often much easier said than done.
In today's world of social networks – I’m constantly amazed to see how little degrees of separation exist between people. You really have no idea about who is connected to whom. I'm of the belief that most people like new companies and new ideas. They want to help others. And it isn't always entrepreneurs who help other entrepreneurs either.
I've seen many senior executives, business people and others in large corporations or operate in a large-scale enterprise that fundamentally want to help entrepreneurs. Why? Partly because they respect the moxie entrepreneurs have in making a go on their own. And partly because they live vicariously through the entrepreneurs they help (as one Fortune 50 senior executive client recently confided to me) and start to focus more on their legacy versus their currency.
There is nothing wrong with a little discretion. But too much secrecy or paranoia can prevent entrepreneurs and start-ups from benefitting from the wonderful wisdom, connections and potential resources of others who are willing to help. So maybe lowering the drawbridge form time to time is something that shouldn't be immediately dismissed.