Steal This Idea, I’m Begging You!

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I’ve heard this too many times…

The last time was on the plane back to NYC this week. The time before that was Monday. And, before that, it was last Wednesday.

Here’s how it goes. Someone meets me, finds out I help entrepreneurs turn fuzzy ideas into businesses and careers then this is what unfolds…

Dude: So, I’ve got this incredible idea, nobody’s doing anything like it. It’ll blow everyone away, make a ton of money, change an industry (you get the point,).

Me: That sounds awesome, so what are you doing to bring it to life?

Dude: Well, nothing right now. Honestly, I’m freaked out, because as soon as I go public with it, it’s so revolutionary, everyone’s going to want to steal it, then what?

Me: You know, if the idea or the expression of the idea is truly as unique as you say, there are ways to protect them. It’s fairly easy and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.

Dude: Yeah, but people would still be knocking it off left and right and that would suck, because it’s my idea.

Me: Two things.

One, you’re right…

If it’s that good, people will try to knock it off the moment you gain any level of traction, notoriety or both. Maybe sooner. In fact, if they don’t, it just may speak to the fact that what you’ve got is either not nearly as cool as you think it is or you’re not able to communicate it’s coolness effectively.

Because if it was and you could, people would be staying up at night figuring out ways to make something just different enough to capitalize on your genius.

And, two…SO WHAT?!

If Madame Curie didn’t research x-rays because she was freaked out someone might steal the process, where would we be?

If Jonas Salk didn’t develop the polio vaccine out of fear it might be copied, where would we be?

If Alexander Fleming didn’t reveal his findings about penicillin, because he didn’t want other researchers to capitalize on it, where would we be?

If Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, didn’t create revolutionary technologies, because they were scared they might be copied, where would we be?

If Hemingway kept The Old Man And The Sea in drawer, da Vinci hid the Mona Lisa under his bed or Hugh MacLeod kept his epic How To Be Creative under his pillow, where would we be?

If Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Johann Sebastian Bach didn’t pen tunage, because they were scared their luscious riffs would be stolen, where would we be?

If Sylvester Graham never revealed his radical recipe for Graham crackers, an essential ingredient in the insanely over-processed, yet sinfully taunting Mallomar cookie, where would be?

And, if YOU never develop and release your secret dream product, service or creation, the one that just might be capable of liberating your spirit, your livelihood, your lifestyle and, hell, even changing the world…

Who’s really losing out?

YOU…and maybe the world!

Yes, it might be ripped off. And, you may end up fighting to make sure your creation stays yours or you keep credit. But, at the same time, you’ll be awash in the vibrance that comes with giving your creation life, releasing it into the world and finally knowing, for once, whether you were full of it…or destined for greatness.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s the real issue here.

So, if you really believe it’s as powerful as you say, protect it to the extent you can…then give it life.

So, what do you think?

What am I missing?

Have you ever been on either side of this discussion?

Let’s discuss…

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17 responses

17 responses to “Steal This Idea, I’m Begging You!”

  1. Rhea says:

    The same argument comes up all the time in the screenwriting world. I am an aspiring screenwriter and the fear most people have is that their idea will get stolen. That fear is in the back of my head but I don’t worry about it too much. I’ve copyrighted my scripts and I keep good records as to when and who I’ve sent the scripts. On the other hand (and there’s always another hand, isn’t there?), I have invention ideas, too, that I am afraid to let out.

  2. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Rhea – no doubt, I’ve had the same pangs, but, reality is, at any given time, there are likely hundreds if not thousands of people working on largely identical ideas. I’ve been scooped more times than I’d like to admit. At some point, we need to just bite the action bullet and bring whatever is in our heads to market.

    Hey, PS, u going to SXSW again this year? WOuld love to reconnect 🙂

  3. Steve Errey says:

    I’m always fascinated by the reasoning people will go through to avoid succeeding!

    The fear of failure is often talked about, but the fear of success is a different kind of beast. I think people expect that success comes with a loss of control or that they’ll lose the nice, cosy, safe equilibrium they have now (even if it’s making them miserable). I think they project forwards and look at all the things that could go wrong and how they could lose their success, and then reason that it’s better not to do anything because it’ll only go pear-shaped after all.


    I love your line ‘awash in the vibrance’ – that’s where I think it has to begin. With people being awash in their own vibrancy and having the confidence to trust themselves.

    Then they know full well they can get moving on what’s important to them.

  4. Duff says:

    I totally agree.

    Seth Godin said something to the effect of this (wish I could remember the exact quote), emphasizing giving away ideas to develop the ability to be creative (a key to business success), rather than latching on to just one idea.

  5. Great post. The problem is it likely won’t help the folks who need it the most. This excuse is an insecurity issue. The real problem with this excuse is not the fear of someone knocking off the hit product or idea. The real problem is fearing that it won’t really make it–the fear of failure.

    For those who fear failure, it is always better to talk about how they have an idea that would be great or complain that they had someone else’s successful idea first than to actually put themselves on the line, throw their idea out there and potentially find out nobody actually cares.

    We must all learn that failure is not…well…failure. Failure is simply an inevitable step on the path to success. Life is always more meaningful if we give it our all but no one else cares than if we talk ourselves out of everything that might make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. At least while pursuing ideas and dreams we have a purpose other than whining about how bad it is that someone might steal the idea we aren’t sharing anyway.

  6. Rhea says:

    SXSW was such a blast, wasn’t it! And meeting you on that bus was a big part of the fun. I think I’m going to cry “Cheap!” and not go this year. It was kinda costly last year.

  7. Gilbert says:

    Fear comes from a certain perspective. If you “own” an idea, it can be stolen from you. If you’re simply a means for the idea to express itself, you lose nothing if it is spread by being copied.

    In my first job, a co-worker took credit for one of my ideas. A much wiser co-worker and friend advised me, “Let him have the idea. He’ll never have one of his own and you’ll never run out of them.” Tough medicine, but that’s what I ended up doing. Once I made the decision to let go, my mood brightened, everybody seemed friendlier, and I’m sure that he ended up inheriting all of the uncertainty and fear that I’d been carrying around.

    The *worst* thing you can do is hold onto your ideas like a miser. You’ll make yourself miserable, nobody will benefit, and the idea will become a torment to you.

    The *best* thing you can do is understand the vast distance between having a great idea and following through to a finished product. A mediocre idea implemented will beat a revolutionary idea unimplemented every day of the week.

    So, don’t worry about someone stealing your idea. If you’re willing to work harder than they are to bring it to life, you’re the one who will reap the rewards. In the words of Damon Runyan, “The race isn’t always to the quick, or the fight to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”

    Take care and remember–the fastest way to become successful is by helping others become successful.

  8. It’s really a matter of scarcity vs. abundance.

    I’ve thought of ideas that have come to fruition, that everyone’s had. And the fact that I wanted to figure out how to protect ’em in lieu of Doing Em…well, they didn’t get made by me.

    Abundance. That’s the concept. If you believe that you’re a font of ideas, that each idea is precious but *not* scarce…you’ll have the generosity needed to collaborate, to make stuff that’s cool and to have a genuinely great time.

  9. We either come from a place of abundance, or a paranoid little place called LACK. Even a great idea isn’t enough to break the chains of a truly limited perspective. Thankfully, a few well-chosen life skills can save the day. Isn’t it nice that there is more than enough of the good stuff for everyone?

    By the way Jonathan, your blog sure looks nice and tidy now.

  10. Sir John Pollabauer says:

    I believe the kinds of thoughts and words we use, both consciously and unconsciously, will more often than not, control the kind of life we live. The use of the word “steal” falls in the category of a negative thought pattern and its continued and repeated use will, over time, create and maintain that person’s consciousness of lack and limitation, and his/her life will move in that direction.

    By the way Jonathon, I enjoy reading your blogs which I find insightful and full of sage advice. I will pick up and read over the holiday season your new book “Career Renegade”. I wish you and yours a happy holiday season!

  11. Maya says:

    Perfect timing!

    I recently started to share the progress of my start-up. I revealed my idea at . It has only been good really. I had pangs about it, but revealing my idea has let to awesome and interesting input from so many people – it has been an amazing value-add.

    I am pretty convinced that nobody is inspired by my idea the way I am – ideas are dime a dozen – but not the execution/inspiration.

    I was a little nervous too – but I will now do this every time in the future. People can help only if they know what you are doing. Nothing will ever get done if we want to hold on to our ideas!

  12. Lisa Gates says:

    Jonathan, this all telescopes out to the pinch of limiting beliefs, doesn’t it? Damned if I do, damned if I don’t…?

    At the end of the day, all there is is choice. Where you are is “here” and where you’re going is “there.” In the middle is a series of choices.

    Damn the torpedoes! (Just in case you didn’t get enough worn out sayings).

  13. […] so what, I think we just need to let the ideas flow and hope that someone, somewhere will build the thing — if it’s worth it. It could be one (or all) of […]

  14. I have to sort of agree with the post. Maybe I am a more paranoid person then some of you…but I hate coming up with a good idea and having someone steal it. I know that plagiarism is the highest for of flattery – but I don’t need all of that.

    Nice site Maya – Good luck with it!

  15. Norm says:

    Honestly, people make up all kind of excuses to avoid the fact of ever actually following through with their ideas and dreams.

    Just take the risk and whether you fail or succeed at least you know otherwise everything is in limbo.

    Dont fear failure, fear regrets and never been able to fulfilling your dreams


  16. Chase says:

    I’ll give a different perspective.

    I have more “great ideas” that I have time, energy, or money to bring to fruition. Any one that I commit to means giving up on a dozen others. Unfortunately for me, it’s often the case that none of them stands out as extraordinarily good in any way: not something that I feel more passionate about, not something I think will be more successful in the marketplace, not something I think will make the world that much better than any of the other ideas. Usually I just go on talking about them, working on them, until finally something clicks, but sometimes that never comes and I just finally have to pick one and do it. Sadly, that usually is an odd kind of funeral, as what results has never been that great. But personally it’s the only way I can get over it and move on. Still, I can see why some people never get to that point. It’s one thing to give your life over to your dream calling; it’s another to give it over to the idea you’re sort of excited about they way you were excited about getting a Christmas toy when you were a kid.