Invasion of the Idea Snatchers

You have seen them. They sit next to you, undetected, in meetings and slowly siphon your concepts and ideas. They steal them quickly in full view of witnesses. They sometimes collect them and stash them away when no one is watching. Later they will repackage them and pass them off as their own.

The Idea Snatchers walk among us and may be members of your family or cadre of friends and acquaintances. They seem harmless, but they can drain your energy, engagement, passion and willingness to be creative. As in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers these pods will lie next to you and pick your brain and duplicate your ideas.

Ideas must live and we are the conduits to release them into a word waiting to interact with them. We must therefore set them free and allow them to flow into the world. But, we like to receive credit; otherwise we will shut down and shut off their supply. 

Ideas must steadily be generated. We have more than one great idea in us, so we must harness the ability of continuous generation. The process or reputation for duplication and replication of more ides is a necessity. Some ideas should not be shared until they are fully baked and implemented. Others are resilient enough to be modified and shaped into a form superior to the original. Many ideas have a shelf life and an expiration date. I also discovered if you sit on an idea and don’t release it, you will eventually see the idea expressed through the lives of others. An idea, like water, will seek its level and burst forth in due time.

Idea Snatchers may be very creative. They will question you to fully understand your idea and then use their gift of embellishment to enhance and disguise the origin of the idea. They are not concerned with plagiarism because the ideas stolen are usually spoken and not written, but they do not want to be exposed.

Idea Snatchers may be spontaneous or premeditated. They could be opportunistic like a shoplifter who steals as a crime of opportunity. You left the idea unprotected and they seize the moment. They may also be great at implementing ideas but poor at creating their own. They provide a service and skill in implementation, but perform grand larceny when they become greedy and steal other people’s property.

Many Idea Snatchers may take your ideas to another organization or change of venue. You may not be aware or ever find out about the theft. There is usually nothing you can do about this theft. This is your anonymous donation to the greater body of innovation.

During an interview, many interviewers ask for specific examples. Sometimes the candidate gives the ideas from others within the candidate’s former organization. After the person is hired, they eventually run out of other people’s ideas. They may resort to a new round of idea snatching to replenish their inventory.

Document your ideas

While watching the Discovery channel you will see programs about scientific experiments with animals in the wild. They may be tracking fish, birds or large animals. In order to keep track of the test participants they will tag the animal with a GPS device to flag them later. They will tag the subject in order to flag the subject so when they bag or capture the subject to complete the experiment. You must utilize similar techniques to tag, flag and bag your ideas. 

Make your boss or others aware of your ideas and contributions. Write your ideas in a memo or in your journal with the date and time of origination. Take your idea from concept to potential utilization. The level of thought put into it will identify you as the creator. Think through the ideas and the value it can provide to the enterprise or the area that can benefit most from it. 

List your ideas in your performance evaluations so there would not be any doubt of my involvement. Be sure you are claiming credit for your ideas only. Make sure your boss is aware of your ideas before you spring it on them in the evaluation. You do not want to be accused of being one of the Idea Snatchers.

In a brainstorming session it is hard to determine who generated an idea, because they bear the finger prints of many potential owners. A possible solution is to make your idea the center of the discussion, so that it stood out from the others. You can also set up the idea by saying you thought about the idea a long time ago and list the advantages and disadvantages in a full-blown presentation. It would also be helpful if you could document your idea with a follow-up memo or handouts. Preparing for the meeting will enable you to claim the idea as your own.

Be careful how and where you share your ideas. Many networking events are promising environments to collect the ideas of others. If you are like me you will willingly share ideas, concepts and suggestions believing in the Law of Reciprocity, what goes around comes around. You will be rewarded for your generosity in helping others. If that is your motivation, don’t be surprised when your ideas come back under the name of someone else. In the language of professional speaking I was told, the first time you are quoted you are given credit. The second time it was something the speaker read. The third time the speaker was just thinking about a topic and it popped into his head. The only time you get full credit is the first time.

Idea Snatchers can be discovered and punished for their act of plagiarism. But sometimes circumstances cause them to step forward and identify themselves and their crime.  I was promoted and received a curious telephone call from one of my new direct reports. He called to apologize for an idea he had snatched 10 years earlier. Apparently, another manager told him 10 years before that I did not trust him. The reason for my mistrust was his kleptomania around one of my ideas. I frequently discussed ideas I was working on. I told him about an idea which he disclosed to our Regional Manager. He received credit for it. He never told the manager it was my idea.

I assured my new report that I did not remember the event and had not been thinking about it for the last 10 years. However, I asked him one question, “If I was not returning as your new manager, would we be having this conversation?” There was silence on the other end of the telephone.

Ideas must be freed. You are the conduit, the vehicle to release it into the atmosphere. I agree with Victor Hugo who said, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” Consequently, if you generated an idea, you want to get credit for creating it and keeping it safely out of the hands of the Idea Snatchers.

 Copyright ©2011 Orlando Ceaser

One thought on “Invasion of the Idea Snatchers

  1. A breath of fresh air, nothing less, is how I value your article here, Sir. It has become both a curse and a blessing to have access to such vast audiences, be it virtual or physical, when it comes to sharing one’s ideas. However, idea snatchers are a phenomenon not many are seriously putting up with. In my experience, it can be incredibly harmful to the idea itself to be snatched by an opportunist (a term I use in a relative sense) who then fails to deliver it and ends up simply killing it. Another problem is how in some corporate environments idea snatchers are saluted and welcome because their tactics are confused with certain concepts of competitiveness. I believe, a culture of chivalry is and long due to be applicable whereby competition among teams or teammates is kept fair, because it has a direct effect on market performance overall and trend setup in particular. Thank you for your excellent analyses.


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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s