Copying and Stealing Ideas


Good artists copy, great artists steal – Pablo Picasso

The other day I had a dilemma. I was looking for Caribbean-based consultants to work with that had something unique to offer. I knew of several firms and individuals, but I wanted to be able to bring some complementary and different skills to the client I was working with.

However, I discovered that there is a significant reticence among people in my profession in the region to share ideas, or opportunities, or clients. I think the same is true for other professionals, including lawyers, doctors, engineers and architects.

The stories I’ve heard go something like this: “I wrote an article in the newspaper on topic X and the next thing I heard was that my consulting colleague was out there selling the exact same thing, using my ideas and calling it theirs.”

Bitterness and hard feelings follow shortly after… along with a promise to themselves to “never let it happen again.” With that promise, follows a contraction. The consultant stops the free flow of ideas that commences from that bottomless, mysterious place that ideas come from, through the consultant’s mind and into the world expressed in either spoken words, written pages or projects.

The result is that the consultant is unable to become known as an expert, and deeply honed expertise is what clients are willing to pay a premium for.

I can’t say that this point of view has come to me easily – it’s taken some lessons in trust on my part to get here. Until recently, I also saw ideas as something to be defended, hidden or kept to oneself in some way to ensure that the maximum revenue could be made from them.

But that is a little like trying to grip beach sand in one’s palm. Sand that is scooped up in one’s hand stays safely in the hand when the grip is loose. Once the grip is tightened, the sand begins to leak out through the fingers, and as the grip is tightened into a fist, more and more sand escapes.

From my very recent experience this year in which I’ve written and published far more than ever before, I’ve learned that the more ideas I put out into the public, the more ideas I’m able to generate.

Now, who would have thought that?

I certainly did not think that way, and instead would “sit on” small innovations for months and even years, trying to “get them right” and afraid that someone would steal them. Now it seems that the opposite is true. Getting the ideas out of my head and into the public domain (such as this blog) has freed up my mind to come up with more ideas than I have time to put into words.

Recently, a friend of mine (Andre Bello) wrote a book that clearly established his expertise in the area of negotiations with some innovative ideas, presented in the form of a medieval fable (see the blog entry entitled “A cool book on negotiating with sword and spirit.”) The book established him in my mind as the “go-to guy” in the field, not just in the region, but also internationally.

That led me to think about the best consultants in the world. The fact is, they are masterful in not just coming up with ideas, but also in generating the courage required to continue to put them out there. I recently wrote a blog entry about Peter Block, a consultant who has taken gigantic strides in defining a unique area of interest. What’s interesting is that there is almost no connection between his first book and his most recent tome – the earliest book had to do with consulting skills, while the latest has to do with philosophical management. He’s shown a willingness to abandon his public and probably profitable area of expertise, in order to develop (and take a risk on) an entirely new area of interest.

I am rapidly becoming a proponent of people stealing my ideas.

In short, here is my invitation.

Go ahead. Use them. Take and give as much credit as you feel. Let me know what you do with them, or keep it to yourself. Repeat ideas word for word, or use only their essence. Make a ton of money, or make no money whatsoever. Come back for more. Or don’t.

As I mentioned on my website, A Course in Miracles makes the point over and over that ideas are strengthened when they are shared. Consultants are at their best when they are sharing ideas with wide audiences, and I, like most of my colleagues, want to be at my very best. I prefer to have my ideas (if they are any good) strengthened through actual use, than to just have them take up valuable real estate in my mind.

So, if you’re a consultant, and are inspired, send me what you’ve got, and I promise that I will steal it. Then, if you have not done it already, steal what I’ve got. Only then can we really talk about working together!

An interesting link : How to (Legally and Ethically) Steal Ideas