Is Someone Stealing Your Ideas? Let Them

Last Updated Mar 18, 2010 1:42 PM EDT

You will never create a solid career for yourself by worrying about who is stealing your ideas. People hate whiners, they hate bickering, and, most importantly, people who are confident that they have tons of ideas don't keep track of each one. And, to be honest, people do not get far by just having ideas. You need to have ideas and be likable. That's almost impossible to do if you worry about whose ideas were whose.

So cut it out. Worrying about who gets credit for which ideas will prevent you from having a fulfilling work life. Here are five reasons why:

1) You do not have a finite number of good ideas The best idea people - the ones who have tons of good ideas - share them. If you're an entrepreneur, for instance, you have an idea and call six friends to share it. They each tell you why your idea won't work, and you do the same thing the next week, until you land on an idea that does work. The mix of friends might ebb and flow, but for an entrepreneur, the ideas never stop coming and you never stop sharing them.

Or take the person at an ad agency who is great with coming up with ideas. Sure, it's that person's job to sit in a room with clients and brainstorm, tossing out idea after idea for hours at a time. But you want to follow that model. Because really it's everyone's job at every company to come up with ideas. What are you doing in life if you are not being creative? Every job is creative. Every person is creative - you just need to unleash that part of yourself.

The people who have lots of ideas don't treat their ides as if they are precious. If your ideas are so valuable that they need protecting - or you think they do - you'll come across as someone who is anything but creative. Then no one will hire you for your ideas. So if you want to be known for your ideas, act like someone who has a lot of them. Keep them coming and give them away all the time. In the end, it will benefit you. If people steal them, take it as a compliment. The people with the fewest ideas are the ones who hoard them.

2) There are no unique ideas. Get over yourself. I know you're brilliant, but trust me when I tell you that someone has had the same idea - whatever it is. Do yourself a favor and instead of worrying about being the idea person, become the person that can make the idea reality. Everyone has ideas. Few people can execute. Deliver the ideas, and do it in a fun way. That will bring meaning to your work life.

3) People like nice people, not smart people My favorite workplace research shows that people would rather work with people who are likeable than people who are competent. The research is from Tiziana Casciaro, and was published in the Harvard Business Review twice - maybe like a nuclear bomb, because people didn't believe it the first time.

In fact, people view the nice people as more competent, even if they are not. And the skilled people who are jerks start appearing incompetent to their co-workers. That's how powerful being nice at the office is. In other words, others will view you as you better at your job if you stop bitching about who gets credit for ideas.

In my experience, the person everyone likes is the person who helps others get their job done. That person genuinely cares if you are happy doing your work; she genuinely cares if you feel connected and engaged. One way to become that well-liked person - share your ideas.

4) Your job is to make your boss happy Complaining doesn't make your boss's life easier. And demanding that your boss give you all the credit does not help, either. If you make your boss's life a dream, your boss will help you. She will mentor you, train you, guide you through the organization and pay you well. If she does that, so what if she takes your ideas? And if she doesn't do that, then leave.

Bosses do not complain that they don't have enough idea people working for them. Bosses complain that there is too much work to do. This is because bosses always think they are the idea people, whether or not they are. So if your boss thinks your co-worker has all the ideas, it doesn't matter. Your boss will promote the person who gets things done. In fact, maybe this means you should give your co-worker all your ideas and frame yourself as the one who is actually helping your boss day to day.

5) If you want to get credit for your ideas, get a blog Resumes don't showcase ideas. Resumes are a history of what others have allowed you to do in their organization. If you want to be known for the ideas you are coming up with right now, then write a blog. It's incredibly easy to write a blog if you have a lot of ideas. The ideas don't have to reveal company secrets; they just need to reveal how you think - about a wide range of things in your field.

My company, Brazen Careerist, is a good starting point for creating an idea-based resume. And once you get started, you will see yourself differently; you'll feel more valuable.

So start putting your ideas out for public consumption. That's how you really get credit for good ideas. By saying them often and in front of lots of people. Think about that: It's hard to steal someone's ideas when those ideas are out in public. A warning, though: Don't write about people stealing your ideas - that's a bore. Just write the ideas. Talk about ideas on your blog, and others will associate those ideas with you.

Not all your ideas will be good, or on target. But it's more important simply to spout ideas regularly. So-called experts are not right more than the rest of us with opinions we don't share; they are just willing to put their ideas out there. Experts are people who start interesting conversations.

Where will all this get you? Someone will want to hire you or work with you not because of the list of tasks on your resume, but because you are that person with all those ideas. And once you're hired as the idea person, it doesn't matter if someone steals your ideas. Spreading ideas will be your job - and your work life will be richer for it.

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