Trade secrets. Proprietary techniques. The magical silver bullet that you discovered that is going to make your company succeed where others have failed. That one thing you have that you're so scared will get leaked because it gives away your competitive advantage. You've spent years working on it - all your hard work and R&D is rolled into this little ball of magic that you protect with all your heart.
Well, that little ball doesn't mean anything. No matter how talented you think you are, or how much progress you think you can make by yourself - I guarantee you could be 10x as effective if you let other people help you, and you in turn reached out to help other people. I get it...we all want our hard work to be recognized and it's annoying when someone comes in and swoops our idea and claims it as their own. But what are we really keeping safe and at what cost?
When our careers are young we all start out freely sharing information. We don't have a lot to "protect" so we don't have any walls or barriers. We don't see other people in our industry as competitors but rather as colleagues. We welcome other peoples advice with open arms, and give ours in return. These are times of tremendous growth. When your mind is open and the information is flowing you learn. A lot.
As you get better at what you do you get comfortable and cozy with your knowledge base. You develop your own style and methodologies (this is a good thing), and slowly the once wide open doors of your mind start to close (this is a bad thing). You don't feel the urge to try new things because you've "done the R&D already." You scoff at innovation and things other people do because these new things don't fit into your system. You build your own little castle and you don't let any new information in because well...it's warm in your castle and if you open a window to let a new idea in you might get cold for a minute, and that's uncomfortable.
What's just as bad is that you don't let any information out.
You may think you're protecting all your hard work but what you're really doing is falling behind; thinking you're in the lead only to realize that the people you've isolated yourself from aren't really behind you...they're about to lap you.
It works like this:
Most people will have only 1 or 2 truly great or innovative ideas every year or so. So lets say you want to keep that idea for yourself. Great. You're now the proud owner of one great idea.
Now lets take a look at your "competition." They also had one great idea but they decided they wanted to share it. If their professional network consists of 10 other people or businesses, each of whom had their own great idea that they are also willing to share - your "competition" is now the proud owner of 10 great ideas. If their network is 20 people/business = 20 great ideas; you get the picture. There's power in numbers.
So who comes out on top: You by your lonesome with your one great idea, or the collective network with a multitude of great ideas? Congratulations. Your industry has just evolved and you were left behind because you wanted to protect all your hard work and proprietary knowledge. At least now that what you're doing is obsolete, you still have your great idea to keep you warm at night.
The added benefit of sharing is that you also help push your industry forward. When you start sharing, the collective will come up with ideas and innovations that none of the individuals would have thought of alone. It's the power of the brainstorm, the collective energy, and the team. It's about contributing to something bigger than yourself. It's about being motivated to do things to improve your craft as a whole instead of just doing them selfishly. It feels good.
This topic is near and dear to my heart because I went through this dark zone myself for a while. It was a horrible time, and I wasn't even aware of how bad it was until I had my head pulled out of my ass by a few awesome friends. I'll never get caught in that trap again and knowing that feels great. Recapturing the things that made me fall in love with coffee, this industry, these people, YOU people, has been nothing short of amazing.
So there ya go. Spread the love people. Bill Nye nailed it when he said: “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't.” Let's use that attitude to open our minds, drive progress, and most importantly have fun.