While it's important to protect product designs and other intellectual property to avoid having your ideas stolen by copycats, some experts think you may be doing your company a disservice by innovating in secrecy.
Instead, you're likely to unleash more creativity through "horizontal innovation," a process that involves "the systematic transfer of knowledge and technology from one sector to another," ZDNet reports. Simply stated, your big idea could be more valuable if applied to an entirely different business or industry.
"As a society, we don't tend to work together to fully exploit the potential of new technologies," Naomi Climer, president of the Institute of Engineering and Technology, a charity focused on gleaning societal benefits from engineering concepts, told ZDNet. IET has more than 160,000 members in 127 countries.
A former broadcast engineer at Sony, Climer says it was only after significant efforts to increase communication between the company's departments that her team discovered some of the innovative technology it had developed had useful applications in sectors like cinema, health care, and security.
For example, the tool lubricant WD-40 (named for the phrase "water displacement" and the 40 iterations it took to perfect the product) was originally designed to keep water from corroding nuclear missiles. Similarly, text message technology was created for cell phone carriers to inform customers about voicemails or problems with service. When consumers began using the technology to send messages to each other, many carriers didn't even have software set up to charge for the service.
For a startup, this doesn't have to mean you reveal all of your secrets; but it might mean showing early product prototypes to a much broader set of people in different industries, and letting their feedback guide your development process.
Encouraging more idea sharing is something that needs to come from leaders of companies, IET's head of sectors Gordon Attenborough told ZDNet.
"This is a C-suite conversation, but it's a big conversation that needs to be pushed right down through the levels of experience in different companies and sectors," he said. "Horizontal innovation is a low-cost way to create business solutions that can have a very big impact."