A secret is not what you think it is
Give it away to find it
Most people when they have a good idea try to be secretive about it. They behave as is they’ve found the map to a hidden treasure and others might beat them to it if they’re not careful.
This attitude is problematic for multiple reasons.
Firstly, the boundaries of a secret extend far beyond the thing itself. If you have a new formula, the effort and willingness required to bring it to life is part of the secret as well. The biggest reason why most people don’t achieve great things is not a lack of good ideas but their general unwillingness to work on something new.
If you really think about it, what secret does Elon Musk possess that others do not? You can read rocket physics and learn how a rocket is built. There’s no secret in that, but the sheer bloody-mindedness of Musk is what built all his companies.
The value of a secret is in how it’s implemented. A secret doesn’t look like a secret because its power lies in what it brings to life. In some way, a secret is like a catalyst: it supercharges a reaction but is meaningless on its own.Your secret is safe precisely for this reason: everyone else thinks it has to be this fully formed thing they can just exploit as is.
The biggest secret of all is that people think there are no secrets left. The marginal effort required to find something new is very high now because most of the obvious ideas have been picked clean. So even when someone comes up with a promising idea, they are too eager to dismiss it. It’s like that old joke about the economist who see a $20 bill lying on the ground and refuses to believe it.
What most of us miss is that a secret is not like a natural resource that has to be ‘discovered’. You can actually create your own secrets by taking a a mundane, boring or ignored idea and bringing it to life. Once you succeed people will say you discovered a secret.
Consider Airbnb. In the pantheon of ideas that seem super-obvious in retrospect, this company has to be right up there. Everyone thought it was the craziest idea ever and gave it zero chance of succeeding. But then it activated new behaviours in people and everyone was taken by surprise.
Only in retrospect could it be said that the founders had stumbled upon a secret. This secret became visible only when it had already been exploited. The secret wasn’t buried under the ground for someone to come find it. It came into existence only when it was discovered.
Which is why we must not shirk from sharing our secrets with others. Since most people don’t believe in secrets anymore, nobody is going to drop everything to beat you to the punch. However, if you can paint a compelling enough picture, they might join you for the ride.