Every day I see entrepreneurs trying to find that right balance between keeping their intellectual property and business models confidential while sharing and promoting themselves to the investors, partners, and customers whose interest they so very much need to pique.
My bias generally falls strongly on the side of transparency - both because it is a virtue unto itself - and because it takes a lot of effort in our “everything end up on the Internet for all to see” age to truly maintain confidentiality.
However, I have a more fundamental reason why I generally advise entrepreneurs and investors not to worry all that much about confidentiality.
Supply and demand.
Quite simply, there very few entrepreneurs out there with the “right stuff” to actually build profitable businesses.
And those that have it are on balance, either too busy, too rich, and/or my favorite just too ethical and decent that 999 times out of 1,000 as opposed to the problem being someone of substance stealing a business idea, that the far more likely reality is a vast and unrelenting sea of apathy toward it.
Now, this does not mean that there is no place for confidentiality in modern business.
But the reason why it is important is usually more subtle than the fear of idea theft.
You see, for the vast majority of companies without eight figure+ R & D budgets, the reason why confidentiality is important has to do with the under-appreciated context of mystique.
Oxford defines mystique as "a fascinating aura of mystery, awe, and power surrounding someone or something."
I would combine this definition with one of my favorite lessons from my long ago MBA marketing class - namely that in a modern marketplace there is zero difference between "actual" and "perceived" value.
So, in these contexts, the value of non-disclosure derives not so much from the threat of a nefarious competitor stealing an idea as it does from how the aura of confidentiality bestows on an idea that “fascinating aura” that draws people and resources to it.
And from this aura flow many wonderful things: brand equity, pricing power, and marketing effectiveness being chief among them.
Now for those who say that this is quite the cynical view of things, I would encourage them for the next seven days to not take in any entertainment media - no movies nor television nor Internet - nor to appreciate the lovely design of an iPhone, and certainly to not gaze fondly on an elegantly dressed and coiffed woman or man.
In other words, to suffer for just one week like the terribly poor, extraordinarily unfortunate and very mystique - deprived people of North Korea must unconscionably suffer through every day of their lives.
And then come back and tell me that mystique doesn’t matter.
So let’s appreciate mystique - that beautiful elixir of the modern marketplace – for its own sake as the incredible gift and blessing it is.
And as marketers, as salespeople, as product designers, as entrepreneurs let’s gracefully use confidentiality and discretion to help create it.