This article first appeared on Taf Makura’s personal blog, tafmakura.co.zw.
So somewhere in your head is the greatest idea in the world, well guess what, the fact that your idea is still stuck somewhere in the cavity of your brilliant brain and not changing the world probably means that it’s much harder to pull off than you or anyone else might imagine. Don’t worry, you don’t have to hide it like a yeast infection because even if you do share it , it’s much harder to ‘steal’ because of 5 very simple reasons.
#1 Few people probably care about your idea as much as you do.
Because we humans are self-centered – unlike say, monkeys which take time to groom each other- we tend to sometimes believe that the cosmos revolves only around us, I do sometimes. So often when we approach problems we have a tendency to do so exclusively from our point of view.
Very often when I have approached problems with the aim of solving them for a larger audience, I make the mistake of taking all my assumptions and attributing them to the rest of world. This way, if I’m excited about my idea then the rest of the world should instantly fall off their chairs in pure excitment at the mention of it. Usually this is not true. In fact a lot of times when you share your idea the person you are sharing it with it is probably more excited to tell you their own ideas. This is not to say that ideas will definitely not get stolen, they might. What I’m saying is if you generally don’t find other people’s ideas sensational or mind boggling then they probably don’t find your ideas worth stealing either. To see this in practice pick up the phone one day, call your competition and share with them how they can improve their business by implementing one of your ideas. Follow up and see if they implement it. Remember, a lot more people actually complain about their ideas not being taken seriously than they do about their ideas being stolen. The moral of this entire point is that the next time you feel like the world revolves around you, always think… What would the monkeys do?
#2 Your idea will most likely fail to take off.
7.5 out of every 10 startups will fail and you’re no exception, think of all the ideas that you have, yes even that “killer one”. Now, you might want to seat down for this one because statistically even that “killer one” will most likely crash and burn! But wait! before you run off to grab a rope somewhere and start tying the hangman’s noose there is hope. You see when you “hack” the statistics a bit the implications completely change. If 2.5 of every 10 startups do succeed it means if you start just 10 startups by the time you get to start up number 10 you will have succeed at least 2.5 times. What this means is that ideas are not worth much because statically they will fail. Unless of cause it’s idea number 10. Don’t you just love statistics?
So go ahead share your idea because even if it does get ‘stolen’ all the ‘thieves’ get is an idea that statistics hates and a lot of bad karma. Sometimes we don’t like to share ideas because for as long as they are just ideas in our head we know that they won’t fail. Very often ideas become obsolete before they are even tested. In my own case I’ve narrowed my own reluctance to share an idea down to a fear of failure. I don’t take failure too well and good luck if you try criticizing me. Such an attitude will not work because in reality the quicker you start failing the faster you statically improve your chances of success. Now, about that rope… here you can learn to tie the hangman’s noose.
#3 There’s probably more to your idea than can be stolen.
We humans are bad communicators, I’ve often said ‘banana’ when I meant to say ‘potato’ or ‘potato’ when I meant to say ‘4 gigabytes of RAM’. We have a tendency to inadvertently underestimate, overstress or completely omit important information when we share our thoughts. Even when we consume information we occasionally misunderstand or completely misinterpret basic concepts based on our own biases or lack of context. History is littered with multiple cases where such miscommunication has had disastrous consequences. So next time you lose sleep because you are having nightmares about your would-be idea-robbers, always be thankful that you are a bad communicator. Why? I believe that ideas are essentially abstract concepts of a much bigger vision that exists in our mind and our gut. It is almost impossible to communicate your personal vision that you feel so strongly about so well that your role in achieving it becomes completely absolved. In other words you are the best person to fulfill an idea that you have envisioned and are passionate about. You will need some help, though.
So guess what? Precisely because you are a bad communicator you have most likely failed to share your idea well enough for your audience to fully harness it and achieve as much in your absence. How about that? Failure IS good for something. No amount of money can buy vision, passion or gut instinct. A vision comprises of a lot more than just mere milestones, a vaguely understood idea or financial predictions, it is about the caliber and chemistry of people who drive that vision, that’s you by the way, so smile. Now shhhh! Dropbox founder Drew Houston has something to say on this matter “I invested in mediocre people chasing a great idea and the company failed – but Dropbox is emblematic to me as to why you should always invest in people over ideas.” So… remember! Unless your idea robbers kidnap you in the process, all they’ll have is just an idea, you have more than an idea, you have a vision. So get to work and start building the best team you can find. But If the idea robbers have kidnapped you, then think to yourself… “what would the monkeys do?”
#4 It’s probably not your idea anyway.
Now this is the hardest one to accept. So you’ve come up with the next best idea in hair maintenance for bald men. How many bald men spend way more time than they should pampering and grooming their bald spot. All the brushing, trimming and shining this is definitely a niche market right? So you develop a device that polishes your bald spot as you brush your hair, talk about seamless technology. The return on investment is definitely there c’mon all bald men are generally wealthy right? Everyone knows that.
Now all you have to do is make sure that nobody ‘steals’ your idea so you shield it like bad breath, its only a matter of time before the investors hear of this one, track you down and start throwing wards of money at you! You start thinking… “How come no one else has thought of this, not even the monkeys?” You’re wrong you see. Someone else thought of this more than five decades ago here. In 1950 a Mr. Ted Spence, an engineer in Los Angeles demonstrated the new “Hairline Brush” on his very own bald head. No investors turned up hurling money at him and subsequently the Brush & Shine failed to take off. When you realise that the world is full of Mr & Mrs Spencers, some bald and others not you will begin to appreciate that most new ideas are not actually new or amazing. In fact some of the most famous products we take for granted today where created simultaneously by different inventors that had no idea someone else somewhere had thought of the very same idea. “In 1926 in Scotland, John Logie Baird demonstrated a machine that transmits movie pictures using radio technology, calling it a “televisor.” At the same time, Philo Fansworth was toiling away in San Francisco on his concept for television. They weren’t the only ones working on a TV model, though. Vladmir Zworykin, a Russian immigrant to New York, was working on athode-ray tubes, with the backing of David Sarnoff, the tech-savvy marketer who started NBC“. So the next time you stare longingly at a bald man’s head with an epiphany for you next hair maintenance product just remember that there is a Mr Spencer out there who’s done it already.
#5 You’re probably worth stealing more than your idea.
Thanks to the internet ideas are everywhere, in fact there are more ideas today than there are people to care about them. Do you want to spread butter onto a slice of bread? Guess what? they’re hundreds of blogs and tutorials out there about the many ways to do it.Do you believe that the world’s human population is now too much and that the only way to save earth from us is for as many of us as possible to kill ourselves and start eating each other, well then guess what? We have that too. Meet Chris Korda and her Church of Euthanasia. What I’m trying to get at here is that the world is not short of ideas. Its important then that you and I get out of our minds the perception that as we are developing our next big idea the world is holding their breath hiding in a bush somewhere waiting to ambush us and pinch our idea. While idea theft is still common, good idea theft is not, for the simple reason that very few people have the brilliant minds needed to churn out good ideas. In today’s world it’s brilliant minds people are after. Why? Because thanks to technology, the world is now moving at the speed of the internet and ideas now have an astonishingly short life span.
Gone are the days when a person could stumble upon a great idea and live off of its value for the rest of their life. Today not even Steve Jobs’ iPhone model can last for more than a year without feeling outdated, irrelevant and in need of an overhaul. New problems are popping up everywhere, we are moving away from an economy of things towards an economy of solutions. The world is becoming more and more virtual as the internet replaces much of our need for physical products and things. First was electronic mail, then internet money, digital music, online software & games, books, movies and now we have 3D printing which allows you to download a ‘thing’ as software and ‘print’ it yourself. Already you are able to download guns via the internet and print them at home.
This is where innovation comes in and the monkeys leave! It is the development of new values that meet new requirements to solve new problems in new ways as quickly and efficiently as possible. Innovation is how the startup and corporation of today is meeting the challenges of the 21st century. The fuel that makes the Innovation machine turn are good ideas. When today’s problems face today’s best thinkers, brilliant (not necessarily new) ideas are born, solutions are created and some men and women in expensive suits and a penchant to blurt out fancy terminology smile all the way to the bank.
If you do happen to have a gifted brain that oozes brilliant ideas on command, then you are very quickly becoming a hot commodity worth a way lot more than any one of your ideas. Many companies and venture capitalists today are investing a lot of money in companies that don’t necessarily have the best ideas, but in those that have the best thinkers and teams, after all, the golden goose is more valuable than the golden egg. Any mind that can birth a really good idea is worth more than the idea itself in the long run. So if the world is really after your ideas, maybe its because the world is really in need of your ideas. If you just stop dodging and diving Jack Bauer-style for a moment you may actually realize that all the world wants to do is invest in you and your brilliant mind, not to steal your lousy idea. The thing is, there’s only one way for the world to know that you are worth investing in, and that’s if you share your ideas a little, help other’s achieve theirs and most importantly care about the world’s problems so that the world cares about you and your ideas, after all, you my friend are a goose, a golden freakin’ goose. I hope the monkeys won’t mind though…. I’m Just saying
UPDATE: In what can only be called irony, it turns out that just 9 days before I published this post which I had started writing much earlier a Stritar was publishing a shockingly similar post titled “5 reasons why I won’t steal your idea” at his blog here. Wow, what can I say? Sometimes it is embarrassing to be right when being right means your own blog post is actively trying to convince the world that you are an “idea thief”… The shame!