My fellow panelists and I recently recorded episode 203 of The Freelancers’ Show podcast. The topic was whether or not consultants should share their expertise freely and if so, whether they should take action to prevent other people from stealing their ideas.
In the post-show chat, we got down to the crux of it - namely, that people can’t actually “steal” your ideas; they can only plagiarize them. Here’s an excerpt:
Philip Morgan: I realized this after the show: You don’t have to worry about someone trying to rip off your stuff until you’ve reached a position so high up the value chain that it doesn’t matter if they rip it off. If someone thinks your thoughts, words, or intellectual property is valuable enough to steal, it means the effect of that theft will be negligible on your business.
Jonathan Stark: There’s also the question of what does it mean to “steal” an idea. If someone steals my idea, I still have it. I haven’t lost the value of it. I guess if that person then used my idea to service every last one of the potential clients in my target market then I would have demonstrably lost some money. But that’s virtually impossible, of course. What we’re actually talking about here is plagiarism, not theft.
Philip Morgan: Yeah, you’re exactly right. The cases where plagarism/IP theft damages people like us are probably edge cases of edge cases.
Reuven Lerner: I’d be pretty upset if someone were to take my book or blog content -- the stuff that I’ve worked hard to formulate, and which doesn’t need me. Not because it would hurt my business, but because it would just hurt personally. But otherwise, I agree that there’s little people can "steal" from me. My lecture style? My consulting insights? My jokes? (My wife would argue that those aren’t worth anything, anyway...) My accountant said that my teaching methodology is something I can/should try to get IP on, but I really find that hard to believe. If I can patent lecturing + exercises, something is really broken and wrong out there.
Philip Morgan: I’m working on stealing your jokes. Watch out! ;-) Regarding your comment that “it would just hurt personally” - It does sting when that happens, no doubt about it. Like an insect bite, the sting fades quickly with little to no real damage.
Moral of the story? Share share share, and do not not waste a nanosecond worrying about people “stealing” your ideas.
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