The Scout’s Dilemma: How to Share Finds Without Spoiling Them
Announcing a great find, e.g., an unknown, but great start-up company that’s hiring, or an unspoiled hamlet high in the Himalayas, has its rewards:
—enhanced status and validation as a scout, messenger or pioneer
—gratitude of others when the find can be shared without cost
—synergy when what is discovered requires help, participation and cooperation from others (for example, upon finding a huge elephant carcass or massive firewood logs that require many hands to resize and transport)
—self-satisfaction and respect in being a special messenger with a special message.
But there’s a downside on the wrong side of the scout’s “break-even point”—the point at which disclosing the find spoils it for the scout and/or everybody else.
Consider the case of pristine forests or sedate parks: Their charm and that charm’s vulnerability are perfectly summed up in a paradox: “Parks are great places to go to because almost nobody ever goes there.” Tell everybody about it and the serene charm is lost.
The same goes for hidden Himalayan hamlets and cool start-up companies with jobs to fill. The hamlet’s Shangrila charm quickly gets buried under layers of tourist trash, massage flyers and tour-bus exhaust, while your resume gets buried in the pile of resumes that your disclosure created.
In each instance, the dilemma is the same as that of a chimpanzee that has stumbled across a treasure trove of fruit trees deep in the jungle: Share that information with others and win kudos and climb a rung or two on the troop’s status ladder (with implications for access to other resources, e.g., mates or reciprocated revelations about future finds); but, you do so at the risk of having the trove grove immediately picked as clean as a Prada shoe-sale bin, rather than kept available at your personal and private disposal.
Pure and Quasi- Scouting Dilemmas
Strictly speaking, the scout’s tradeoffs are not a pure dilemma, because the costs associated with the two choices—tell vs. don’t tell—can be evaded and avoided by careful estimation of and respect for that break-even point at which net gains become net losses (e.g., in terms of the mix of continued, desired access to the discovered resource and enhanced status).
For example, this can be achieved by delaying disclosure of your find until your share of or access to the resource it offers is sufficient or guaranteed—exemplified by the case of delaying informing others of job openings until you’ve been hired or have placed all or enough of your available candidates with that company.
A pure dilemma is different: If you choose one of a set of alternatives, you will inescapably incur losses that you’d rather not; choose another, and you’ll incur other losses that you’d rather not. Either way, it’s a net lose-lose or lose something-lose something situation.
Alternatively, a pure dilemma can involve a win-win decision matrix in which you don’t want to give up one alternative’s specific benefits by choosing another. This can be called the “Häagen-Dazs dilemma”, faced while looking into the same-named ice cream showcase and being unable and unwilling to choose just one from among all those temptations.
When (Not) to Keep Your Mouth Shut
So, what smart tactical moves can you make to increase the likelihood or wisdom of your telling others about your cake and your still being able to eat it too, or, more generally, to increase the likelihood of coming out ahead after scouting a fantastic find?
—Broadly disclose your find when you will benefit from the resulting synergy and cooperation: The start-up company is looking for someone with your IT skills and also needs to hire an accountant, so tell everyone about the accounting job, to ensure that the company will have the staffing it needs to launch and stably employ you. If a company is looking to hire a team of acrobats, take the chance and tell other acrobats, because a team of one will not cut it.
—Tell others only after you’ve secured your share: This should be a no-brainer, but in the grip of excitement about the find, many will blab, especially if they are the “people-pleaser” types who want everybody to like and value them (including as messengers with great messages).
—Don’t disclose if your principal purpose is merely to convince yourself and others that you’ve made a great find and that you are cool: Self-reassurance and validation are sometimes as compelling as they are silly as reasons to blab about what you’ve found. If you are not 100% convinced of the value of your discovery, ask, don’t tell others about it—but do so in an abstract, veiled way, in the same way as you’d confirm that your bank password is really very strong.
—Don’t blab if all you want is envy: This is a corollary to the preceding, but distinct to the extent that the objective is actually negative, i.e., to create a negative feeling (specifically envy of and inferiority to you). If you are inclined to package your desire to be envied as a desire to be admired or to please, you will be deluding yourself and ultimately jeopardizing both the resource and your reputation (if others see through your envy-inducing ploy).
—If you believe in karma, share your find with anyone you believe needs or wants the resource more than you do: This is the Buddha path, or, more precisely, a set of Buddha paths. If you actually need and want the discovered resource more than others and nonetheless share it, you will become, if you aren’t already, a pure “buddy Buddha”.
On the other hand, if you want, but don’t need the resource more than others, you can disclose your find, and attain the lesser, yet desirable status of “budding Buddha”. However, you will then have to address the Zen paradox of wanting and desiring the desirable status of a budding Buddha who is supposedly on the path to renouncing wants and desires.
Finally, if you neither really want nor need the resource, then, by all means, tell everyone who, unlike you, does. From the perspective of your gains, this is the safest scenario of all: assured payoffs in the form of respect, admiration, gratitude and boosted status, all at zero cost.
As for what kind of a Buddha that would make you, it won’t.
But it will earn you a scout badge.