The value of a secret

I read a great book last fall called, “The Best Team Wins”

(NOT an affiliate link! You can download the first chapter for free, and I just thought you should know! Click the photo, click the photo!)

One idea that really resonated for me was this: in the modern age, people and relationships are the most valuable asset within a business.

Why?

Because everything else can be copied.

Knowledge, content, even entire business models – if they’re profitable and reproducible, they can and will be duplicated.

Just ask Uber and Lyft and Rideshare. Ask GrubHub and UberEats and Amazon (freaking Amazon)

It isn’t only possible – it’s practically inevitable.

Intellectual property is incredibly hard to protect, and nearly effortless to reproduce.

One thing we could do is start throwing up walls to keep people out. Ah yes – upholstery is familiar with this concept!!!

But it’s hard to block out the bad and still let in the good. Our fortress potentially becomes our prison.

Happily, we have another, more attractive, more effective, option.

Stop focusing so much on the value of your knowledge and start recognizing the value of your relationships.

Strong, healthy relationships – with your clients, your community, your audience, your support people, your vendors, your peers – THESE are impossible to steal or rapidly duplicate.

Knowledge is just knowledge. By itself, it’s actually not that valuable – at least in a monetary sense.

To unlock it, we need people, visibility, a network, trusted connections. We cannot BEGIN to develop the full potential of our information alone.

When we hoard knowledge, we not only miscalculate its value – we miss an opportunity to build relationships with it.

When I began teaching, it was very passive. Sharing knowledge with customers in my line of retail duty. Some people warned me that I was “training my competition” but that didn’t happen. My expertise and willingness to engage slowly began to build trust and establish relationships

I could not GIVE away the true value of my person – because it wasn’t “secrets” – it was hard work, and experience, and relentless networking. It was my enthusiasm and patience and sense of humor.

But in TRYING, in sharing my knowledge, I cultivated strong ties and genuine trust with a growing circle of people.

THESE things have value. THESE things are not easily stolen. Relationships give my knowledge infinitely more roads to travel.

It’s a funny, uncertain time right now. I could wonder, ‘should I have kept all those secrets for myself???’

But I’d only laugh.

I know the quality of my network. Am I anxious? Holy COW yes. This will get rough.

But no matter what happens, relationships will benefit me far more than secrets. THANK HEAVENS for my relationships.

So how do we CULTIVATE these high quality connections?

King Rule Numero Uno, you ready?

Come in a spirit of genuine giving.

Two quotes and a link for you:

If you want to build a network of people who recognize your value, don’t focus on what you can get. Figure out what you can give. . .

…givers have stronger relationships and reputations than takers, who burn bridges with their selfishness. Givers also fare better than matchers — people who trade favors quid pro quo, and come across as pretty transactional because they’re always keeping score. . .

But you can’t try to game this strategy by giving only for show. If you help me just to get something, it feels like you were just using me. You have to actually care

Adam Grant, WorkLife with Adam Grant,

Can you picture the people he’s describing? I can.

I’m NOT advocating here for running all over town giving people the shirt off your back for nothing. (There is a DEFINITE value to your time and energy – and you have to be careful not to drain these assets dry. )

But when you focus on giving value first – that’s a powerful place to start.

If you arrive on my doorstep, offering THIS for THAT, I might likely decline – I don’t know if I have a future THAT to give. And if I want to give it to you anyway. My THAT budget is pretty tapped out.

But a THIS freely given. . .

Uhhhh, thanks? That was nice! Maybe someday I’ll have a THAT to give back. . .

And yeah – it won’t always yield a payoff. It OFTEN won’t yield a payoff.

And you’re going to find a few Capital-T-Takers along the way that you need to shake off your pant leg.

But don’t let that stop you. Don’t cut yourself off from potential connections. Some of those connections are going to stick and pay dividends.

On good days, our network of connections provides better opportunities, multiplies our knowledge, extends our reach.

And on bad days, it’s the root system that keeps us from blowing over.

I want to add one more thought about knowledge versus relationships, specifically in upholstery.

Secrets aren’t the same thing as hard work, and they’re not the same thing as experience.

A unique and powerful truth about upholstery is that there is no fast, easy way to duplicate a successful business. It is a TOUGH gig.

If there was ANY WAY our skills and talents could quickly be ripped off for profit, we’d all have been replaced by now.

Because competitively, we haven’t exactly been out there swinging for the fence.

ENTIRE INDUSTRIES have been steamrolled and made obsolete in the digital age.

Look at video stores, and phone books.

(For that matter, look at hundreds of industries – independent bookstores, photographers, interior designers – who have had to redefine themselves to stay competitive . . . by focusing on the human connections they can bring to a product or service. You can’t buy THAT with a click.)

Ahhh but success in upholstery, it turns out, is not really about secrets after all (although they help little)

If you’re an established professional reading this. let me tell you a few things about yourself:

You’ve practiced your butt off. For years, maybe decades. You’ve taken knowledge and turned it into skill – a process that requires sweat equity and suffers no shortcuts. You can’t give experience away. And nobody can steal it. No matter how many facts they memorize.

You’ve cultivated relationships. A client base. An audience on social media, or next-door or your blog – who knows? But you’ve built TRUST – and hopefully you’re maintaining it. Was it easy? Did you learn a secret that turned your revenue stream on like a light switch?

If you’re exceptional, you may even have a well-structured business that represents a massive investment of time and attention – as well as capital.

Can I steal these things? If I discover your secret method for adding crown to a cushion, can I threaten your business? Can I steal your clients and employees, your reputation and branding and professional connections? Can I box these things up and climb out your window?

And if I can’t – how much good does that secret actually do me? Especially if I torched a relationship to get it?

CERTAINLY I can make you angry by the ethics of it – but can I truly do your business harm?

Upholstery is HARD. Like, REALLY REALLY hard. Let me say this with love:

If someone actually CAN threaten your business with a few secrets? You got a business problem, honey.

Knowledge is currency. You can use it to buy credibility and trust and confidence. You can open doors with it. You can invest it in good partnerships, build bridges to new opportunities.

Bur it’s almost worthless when you bury it in the backyard.

So get out there and spend, baby. Don’t let all those secrets burn a hole in your pocket.


If you don’t already subscribe to Worklife with Adam Grant, I can’t recommend it enough – Not a single episode disappoints.

If you’re researching the possibility of growing your team, I’d highly recommend the book mentioned – It’s full of smart, actionable tips for the modern boss. It highlights a lot of common pitfalls that I see in the hiring attempts of most upholstery shops – and our hiring process is certainly harder than most.

As for all you other fellow bibliophiles, The National Upholstery Association JUST launched an online bookclub! Join the fun on Facebook starting in April!
(This one is reserved for association members – but do visit the NUA website to see some of their new resources for everyone, including a page of links and resources relating to the impact of Covid-19)

3 thoughts on “The value of a secret

  1. I love your writing voice. I am a already a big fan of Adam Grant – highly support that recommendation. Upholstery department is a challenge for us – it is a different breed from the drapery department. Thank you for the support – I need this online community.

  2. I am so grateful for the relationships I have formed through my upholstery journey. It is a large part of why I keep doing what I do. It’s so important to nurture relationships in every part of our lives. It’s what life is all about!

  3. This applies to all sorts of human connections. For me it is a matter of choosing love over fear. Easier said than done though;-) live long and prosper!

Leave a Reply