The poster above may be a relic of World War II, but the notion of keeping secrets to preserve the advantage dates from much further back. The ancient “Art of War” by Sun Tzu includes the advice “[c]onceal your dispositions, and your condition will remain secret, which leads to victory.” More recently, the passage of the Patriot Act has shown the importance that global leaders place on protecting their own secrets and uncovering the secrets of their opponents.
However, as is so often the case, the rise of the interconnected society has begun to change the rules. Transparency has become a watchword of good government groups and investor relations, as those who stand to be impacted by an agency or corporation seek to know more about it. That’s only natural; the difference is the expansive web of connectivity that now hangs between each citizen, nation, organization, and product. A hundred years ago, the price of wheat in a Greek marketplace would likely have had no bearing on your business, and consequently the secrecy of Greek farmers would be irrelevant to you. Now, however, Russian investors in Cypriot markets with holdings in the Eurozone may experience making payments to North American creditors – all of which should make people around the world very interested in knowing more about how Cyprus’ situation will play out.
This increased interest in transparency is supplemented by an increased understanding of the value of crowdsourcing and open development. Android was developed as an open alternative to the Apple iOS ecosystem. This resulted in some serious quality control and fragmentation issues – but it has also resulted in one of the greatest success stories of the modern era. Open sharing of information has led to an Android suitable for every consumer, from low-end entry-level phones all the way up to flagships like the Galaxy S3, and everything in between. More importantly, the openness of the platform has driven app innovation to a degree that is unparalleled.
It’s a story that’s repeated across the board – increased openness heralds increased innovation and increased consumer confidence. So what does that have to do with your business? These are trends you can – indeed, must – take advantage of. Open yourself up to your consumers. Have a conversation with them about your goals, your projects, your ideas and initiatives. Solicit their feedback and suggestions. Take this conversation seriously. Not only is the engagement likely to turn up some good information, it also sets a positive tone that your audience won’t soon forget. That’s an advantage that no amount of secrecy can rival.