Can you keep a secret?

Abraham Lincoln is said to once have quipped: “It's not me who can't keep a secret. It's the people I tell that can't.”

But secret-keeping in business is no joke. According to Symantec, theft and misappropriation of trade secrets, customer lists and other intellectual assets is estimated to cost U.S. businesses $250 billion annually.

Steve Jobs was known for swearing employees to secrecy about the latest gadget being developed by Apple. These days, the next version of the iPhone is not only understood before it’s released, competitors get a head start in copying its new features and functions. And after-market programmers feverishly develop add-on applications that will debut at the same moment the iPhone 6 launches.

Has the art of keeping secrets gone the way of online privacy? I personally don’t think so — what’s changed is how you keep a secret. Here are five ideas that can help companies keep a cloak of secrecy over its latest developments.

  1. Tighten your inner circle. Remember, loose lips sink ships. If you are entrusting employees or other confidants with sensitive company information, be certain you know how they will use it. The simple rule of thumb may be to simply tell fewer people.
  2. Consider secrecy agreements. If you have concerns about employees who may flee during an upcoming product development or marketing campaign phase, execute non-competes. Although not a fail-safe, it provides something to lean on if push comes to shove.
  3. Watch competitors. Perhaps there are too many television shows about moles within organizations, but keeping an eye on what your competitors are doing is vital. If it starts to look like they are introducing a new product that is strikingly familiar, there may be cause for alarm.
  4. Understand the laws. Trade secrets can be protected by certain federal and state laws. It’s essential to take the necessary — and defensible — steps to protecting your business concepts.
  5. Develop Plan B. As you begin your planning exercises around the latest, greatest innovation, consider your fallback plan if someone lets the cat out of the bag. First, consider the damage that may be done. Then, have a Plan B that can quickly provide course-correction.

Do you have a horror story to share? Or perhaps you want to add to my list of safeguards. In either case, let me know what you think … don’t keep it a secret.


Hamacher Resource Group vice president Dave Wendland, a 20-plus-year retail industry veteran, is a popular presenter and discussion facilitator available to speak at corporate and association events on a variety of retail-related topics. HRG is a research, marketing and category management firm specializing in consumer health care at retail. Product manufacturers, healthcare distributors, retailers, technology partners and others rely on HRG for strategic and creative solutions to help build their business. Learn more at www.hamacher.com.

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