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There are fundamentally two types of secrets in the world.

Exoteric secrets are surface level secrets. They’re the kinds of secrets that are easily transmitted, easily learned, easily shared, and thus easily stolen or imitated. Examples of exoteric secrets are things like the Colonel’s 11 herbs and spices or the formula for Coca-Cola. If the secret, the recipe, got out, there’s no practical way for these companies to ever put the genie back in the bottle.

Esoteric secrets are deep secrets. These are the kinds of secrets that require extensive training, knowledge, and experience to even be able to comprehend, much less make use of. Esoteric secrets include things like the process for building a nuclear weapon, which are so common you can find them online. The challenge for the non-nuclear physicists among us isn’t learning “the recipe” as much as it is having the means and the ability to make use of that knowledge. Another example is a black belt martial arts technique. You can show it to someone who’s not a black belt, but only the time, experience, and wisdom of a black belt will let someone execute it successfully.

If you, your product or service, or your company relies solely on an exoteric secret of any kind as your profit engine, you’re basically one step away from extinction at all times. If the secret gets out, it’s game over. There are countless companies out there that were either put out of business by a megalithic corporation or bought outright to leverage the exoteric secret that the company had.

The trick for long term survivability in a knowledge economy is building the esoteric secret. You can flaunt it in front of people all day and a sliver of a slice of a fraction of a percentage of your audience – including your competitors – will ever even grasp the secret, much less make use of it. This makes your company, your product, your service indispensable. There’s no way to imitate it successfully and no way to easily steal it.

What’s esoteric about the way you do business?

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