“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” Howard H Aiken
When we launched our Big Africa project in Zimbabwe back in 2009, we utilized offline events to inspire, network, and connect business owners. Each conference we did had a portion where we turned the auditorium into an idea collision theatre. Armed with pens, paper, and tape to stick the idea papers to the wall, we encouraged the conference participants to anonymously put their ideas on the wall.
Then, we invited everyone to walk around the room and read the ideas. No idea was too small. No idea was too fragile or delicate. Post your ideas and then you would get anonymous feedback.
Invariably at each event, we had a few people who were terrified to put their ideas on the wall. What if someone steals my idea?
In David Burkus’ book The Myths of Creativity, he discusses a study showing that most of the important ideas were generated around a conference table sharing scientific studies and findings, not during brainstorming. Collaboration with others and having to defend ones ideas to the group produced creativity and breakthrough ideas.
This is counter to society telling us that the eureka moment must come from an instant moment of genius. Research and study now shows that those ideas may seem to come to us in the shower, or while exercising, or in a moment of tranquility. But it's because our subconscious mind has been incubating those ideas and some cross-collaborative experience or thought triggered the seemingly eureka moment.
Creativity comes through the struggle of collaboration and offering your idea up to a group that can help refine and shape that idea through open discussion.
Back to the dream wall at our conferences, those entrepreneurs that put their dreams on the wall got incredible feedback. They often got phone numbers of new customers and contacts. They were given inspirational statements and marketing advice. It was a very positive and accelerating experience for them.
The entrepreneurs that had the mindset what if someone steals my idea got nothing out of the exercise. No new customers, no collaboration, no new partners. Nothing.
Howard Aiken’s quote rings true in my own experience, the best ideas are the ones that I have to shove down someone’s throat to get them to accept. Yet it’s in that defending and shoving process that your idea is validated and proven.
Eric Ries mentions in The Lean Startup that he challenges entrepreneurs who have this mindset to try and sell their best ideas to corporations. Go ahead, call them on the phone, email them your idea, send over your video, plan, demo. Middle management at these corporations are so swamped with trying to keep themselves afloat that they don’t have time to steal or better implement your idea than you can.
True entrepreneur communities support one another and inspire the collective whole to empowerment. If we all succeed, we will all be better off. It’s contrary to the way many people think, but if you really want your idea to be stronger and turn into a sustainable company, start sharing the idea. You may be surprised at the level of feedback you receive.
(photos via dennis wilkinson & raquel santana)