What if Someone Steals Your Idea?

This happens often in business.  And in politics.  It is also facilitated now in the media where phrases like “some people say” and a general disregard for the source of an idea is making it nearly impossible to judge its worth.  ”Some people” can say anything.  It’s not only lazy by any respectable journalistic standard to use this kind of phrase, it enables the lifting of ideas without having to give credit.  In short, we live in an era where connecting an idea to its source is a responsibility far too often bypassed.

If you let the stealing of your ideas pass, you invite people to do it whenever they please. There may be times when retrieving stolen ideas is not worth the effort.  But when big stakes are involved or letting it pass makes you look weak, it’s important to know what to say.  If, for example, you bring up an idea in a meeting and ten minutes later another person introduces it as if you never said a word, here are a few possible responses:

“Hey, Tom.  That was my idea.  What you added was good, but I’m taking it back to elaborate further.”

“When I proposed that plan, I had something different in mind.  So let me just say ….”

“I’m taking that idea back.  You guys are butchering it.”

“I’m delighted that you’re so enthused about that idea.  When I mentioned it ten minutes ago, I wasn’t of your view.  This is great.”

“Why does that idea seem so familiar?”

These responses are not making a scene or credit grabbing.  But if you can’t bring yourself to directly deal with the lifting of your idea you might say, “Credit grabbing aside, when I introduced that idea I was going in a somewhat different direction with it.  I’ll explain.”  Or, “Not to dismiss your obvious contribution, but that idea is exactly what I was talking about ten minutes ago.  So, obviously I’m sold.”

Play with these responses.  Consider which ones like them work best for you and in the culture of your office.  Don’t do this too often.  But do so when it counts.  It’s better to get someone’s back up a bit than to send the message that any good idea you have is up for grabs.

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