Can you guess what my name is? (courtesy of Film Quest)
Secrets. Mysteries. Codes. Puzzles. Riddles.
These are the stuff of books, movies, television programmes and radio shows. They tease us, allure us, and tempt us, drawing us deep into an enshrouded shrine of enchantment where magic potions and incantations are formulated.
Many Asian societies and cultures are veiled in secrecy. With our heavy emphasis on not losing face, familial scandals are kept hush hush. Traditional family businesses also make it a point not to reveal age-old recipes for success. These are fiercely guarded behind locked doors, kept far away from prying eyes.
In the social age, secrets are no longer treasured and revered. They're also disappearing faster than speeding bullets.
With the omniscient and omnipresent Google, rise of 24/7 cyber-sleuths, and rampant sharing by a generation of digital natives, transparency and openness becomes the order of the day.
If information isn't free, well it probably costs just a few cents now.
Trying to police the Internet for copyright infringements and piracy is like using a bucket to empty a lake. The irony is that the more you try to stop people from spreading something, the more encouraged they are to do so. This is why Wikileaks, The Pirate Bay and numerous other "naughty" websites proliferate, each disseminating data, information, and content freely and unabashedly.
What should one do then?
Should we invest in stronger locks and sterner penalties? Should we restrict circulation of all strategic plans to the privileged few in upper management?
Should we even *gasp* cut ourselves off from the Internet?
There are a few things here.
First, understand that there really isn't a "secret sauce" to personal, corporate or business success.
Winning in any game is not just a matter of conceiving a brilliant strategy or possessing an encyclopedic "all knowing" mind. Rather, it is the combination of smarts with hard work, luck, acumen, emotional resilience, the right networks and perseverance.
Knowledge alone isn't enough to guarantee success in business. If it is, all the university professors in the world should be gazillionaires running huge conglomerates.
Any business that can be so easily "overtaken" by copycats probably isn't worth doing in the first place. In fact, studies have shown that pioneers in many new technologies - the cutting-edge technology leaders and radical innovators - often aren't the eventual market leaders in their industries.
Everybody knows why The Ritz Carlton is such an award winning hotel. In fact, its key processes, service strategies and staff training systems are openly shared at the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Centre.
Ditto with the Disney Institute (for the Walt Disney Company) and Singapore's very own SQ Centre (for our national carrier Singapore Airlines).
Despite being open and transparent with their success strategies, these leading beacons in the hospitality, entertainment and airline industries aren't in danger of being overtaken by competitors. On the contrary, the open sharing of their business strategies actually made these companies more iconic, respected and legendary.
The proof of the pudding isn't in memorising the recipe or knowing in theory how its made. Rather, it lies in gathering the right ingredients, kneading the dough with the right amount of force, and baking it in the right oven, at the right temperature, for the right duration. And of course, tasting it at the end of the process.
In other words, having a copy of Chef Wolfgang Puck's recipe books doesn't mean that you can open a two-Michelin-star restaurant.
Naturally, there will still be privileged information that you need to keep under lock and key. These include customer data, detailed financial information, pricing strategies, and profit margins of key products. You may also want to keep the R&D findings and engineering designs of your next "disruptive innovation" cloaked in secrecy.
While that may be true, there is still a lot of useful information that you should share with your stakeholders. These could include your thoughts on how technology is shaping your operations, what customers are looking out for, or the history of your company.
Indeed, where possible, provide regular news and updates on your company. Share an amusing anecdote about your employees or your CEO. Show that you're human and trying, even though you may be a 10,000 man strong firm.
You could also encourage your communities to share their views and thoughts with you. Engage in an open discussion to let them know what can - and cannot - be done. Be transparent where it matters, which is as much as you can possibly be without giving away critical information.
By openly sharing the story of your business and what it does, you're able to draw employees, shareholders and partners closer to you. Show how your customers have benefited or better yet, encourage them to tell the tale. Doing so allows you to better engage your stakeholders while encouraging them to identify more closely with your vision, mission, beliefs, and values.
What are your views on secrecy and transparency? How can we balance between these competing needs?
Labels: business strategy, communication strategy, information, openness, secrecy, social media strategy, transparency