The other day I was chatting with a doctor who has the world’s greatest solution for something or other that will likely never see the light of day. I would give you more details, but he was afraid that I might steal them. And, with no rational way to easily keep me muffled ‘til the end of time, I’m none the wiser. That in of itself is not such a loss, as I really have no time, interest or intention of stealing his idea.
But, this approach does elicit an overall loss. By silencing his voice, he is silencing his action. What about the doctors whose job would be made easier by using his tool? What about the patients whose medical procedure will have less risk of error because of his innovation? What about those employees who might get hired because they are needed to turn his idea into reality? While it is not advisable to broadcast an early idea in blinky lights from Times Square, there is a cost to sharing nothing. These are the true losers in this situation.
Now, what if he didn’t view the world as a gang of bandits ready to take advantage of him? Our conversation that didn’t take place might have answered (or spurred) some questions that will help him to think about his idea in more tangible terms. The chat he didn’t have with his colleague might have helped him to work out a kink in the design drafted on paper. The engineer he didn’t meet at the medtech conference might have initiated the transition of his idea from paper to prototype. The VC whose hand he didn’t shake might have paved the way to his early funding.
Silence is not benign; it is the handcuff of innovation.