Don’t be an idea thief

Never steal others work. Ever. Period.

Show respect, credit it, attribute it and build on top of it if you want to, but never pass it off as your own if it isn’t.

I’m not talking lazy research where you fail to properly credit published work although this is bad enough, I am talking about idea theft. If you are going to propose someone else’s idea, then credit it. Simple as that. It doesn’t matter if it is written down, formally recorded and logged or legally protected. If it belongs to someone else, then give them the credit for this.

Unfortunately, in business the idea thieves are rampant, so beware. Often the worst culprits are senior managers and executives. They should know better, but too often they think that the intellectual ideas of those who work for them are theirs to plunder.


Idea theft is still theft. When you do this you demonstrate that you have the same integrity as a thief stealing from a corner shop. You didn’t need to take it – but you did – and you deserve the loss of respect and dignity for doing so.

There is no difference.

Crediting those who created the idea not only helps those people get the respect they deserve, it means that they are more likely to work with you and want to collaborate on joint initiatives, giving you both increased opportunities. For a manager there is no greater measure of success than being able to lead a team of very smart people who respect you. If you steal their ideas this is impossible.

Isaac Newton is widely credited with the quote that best sums this up, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  He understood that the work he did was adding to a body of existing knowledge.

The academic world quite rightly requires accurate and diligent referencing, reflecting the reality that most ideas are building on the work of others. The corporate world is far less demanding, but never underestimate the risks and dangers of failing to attribute intellectual property.

You may not think I remember that idea that I emailed to you a few months ago that you have now blatantly taken the credit for. Not only do I remember, but the server logs don’t lie.

It is hard to defend against a timestamped email.

Your call.

This article is copyright Gary Burt … reference it, build on it, but please credit me. The WordPress logs don’t lie.



2 thoughts on “Don’t be an idea thief

  1. Michael Vermeersch

    I like the value you express. I hope and as far as I know, I aim to live by it. But (and here comes the but)… when is an idea your idea? Just this week, I have seen a whole team being congratulated on winning a cloud deal of $75M. Now the first time anyone wrote that customer a paper on cloud was two-three years ago. I looked back to that paper and it was painting a roadmap to optimize his infrastructure services and doing that by embracing the cloud. It counted 65 times the word cloud. I wrote that paper. I wrote the paper at a time that the relationship with the customer was less good and all hands were to be on deck to save the relationship. So I looked on where they were, where their problems were and how to solve them and told them what they would encounter along the way and what the ultimate price would be and that would have be more efficiency more agility etc. via the cloud. I was gearing them up for this. Was it my idea that sparked this? It would be nice to think so. Was I (or the person I worked with) included in that win? Nope. Was my or our idea stolen? I don’t know. Do I feel a little bit sad? Sure. Do I feel they had any reason to include me? Nope. Do I feel proud? Yes. I was right. I predicted something that came to be. I might even have been one of the “giants” on whose shoulders that team has stood. I was also proud that the team and some of the people that I worked for (although they did not contribute to the paper, I wrote the paper to help them) got awarded. Is this the wrong example? I don’t know. I would like to know. Because then I can find the answer to “when is an idea your idea” and perhaps I could honour it more or better.
    Or perhaps I mix reward with idea. Perhaps it was and remains my idea and this is not what the award was about. The award was about the team who was in place when the contract got signed. Nobody stole it, nobody claims it was their idea. The award was for bringing the money in. Anybody can spawn an idea, making an idea reality… Maybe that is the awardable phenomenon. In that case I stand corrected and I know that I will spawn many ideas and some might just be thoughts that someone gave me and some, a few I will help realise and for fewer still I will get some recognition. But I will still be proud and happy regardless… because I cared. I cared about the problem and I gave it some attention and I came up with an answer (Not the best, not all the answers) but an answer nevertheless. The realisation of me caring, at times an idea, at times a project, at times a deliverable, at times a change, at times an impact for the better. And one day someone will come along with another and better idea. And even for that one I will be happy, because I created a situation to help nurture that idea.
    What do you think? 😉

  2. Roy Sharples

    It’s the ultimate sin! I care deeply about where the origin and traceability of an idea comes from. It’s formed within one’s own mind, fuelled from the heart & soul, and crafted/made by hand. Co-creation and collaboration is one thing. But creative theft without permission and credit is the equivalent of burglary.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s