The Myth of Stolen Ideas

17 Nov

‘The Social Network‘ has provided us with a wide platform (and plenty of ammunition) to argue the notion of whether ideas are ever truly stolen – or whether he/she that executes it, owns it. We stumbled onto an interesting anecdote to the debate on Pek Pongpaet’s blog – Pongpaet is the VP of Technology and Product at SpotOn Inc. Pongpaet admits that he’s learned to place little weight on ideas – not necessarily because he thinks little of others’ opinions in comparison to his own, but because nearly everyone has one. What makes an idea valuable is when there’s an execution plan attached to it. A vision and action plan for what to do in order to create or produce that idea is imperative to ‘owning’ it.

For this reason, Pongpaet (and others like Faris Yakob of ‘Talent Imitates, Genius Steals’ fame) encourage people with ideas to talk about that idea with everyone and anyone they’re inspired to share it with – and to worry less about the risk of their ’stealing’ it. Those conversations are what may help them arrive at an action plan for bringing that idea to market/life – by tossing thoughts around and ‘borrowing’ from the various perspectives and expertise of others. Mint.com’s founder Aaron Patzer illustrated this point;

I went around and talked to as many people as I could about this idea. A lot of people, when they come up with a business idea, they keep it inside. They don’t want anybody to ’steal’ their idea. I think that’s a horrible idea. I think you should tell everyone and anyone your idea, without fear that they’re going to steal it. It’s all in the execution. A good idea is really a dime a dozen.

We can see the greater potential benefit to this approach to ideation. Rarely does a good idea stay stagnant from its inception – it evolves to address the realities of how people will interact with it, try it and use it. That evolution is fueled not only by understanding the people its intended for, but by the collaborators’ expertise in various arenas. Ultimately, you need to expose an idea before it can elicit the reactions that will help you make it meaningful to any audience – and to figure out exactly how to build/create it.

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