Doing Nothing when Someone Steals Your Idea

February 27, 2017

Doing Nothing when Someone Steals Your Idea

Emmett, a co-worker stole your idea. He denies it and your mutual boss, Len, doesn’t believe you when you complain. What’s left? Does that mean you should let Emmett get away scott-free? No way.

Yes, possibly.

The advantages of doing nothing

I know, the idea sticks in your craw. But consider the following:

  1. It’s your word against Emmett’s.
  2. Emmett has more credibility with Len than you do, however undeserved.
  3. You risk looking like a whiner to Len.
  4. Anything you do is unlikely to make a difference.

I can hear the grinding of teeth. This is so unfair. And it is. It seems as if people like Emmett can get profile dishonestly and there seems to be no way to stop him.

Actually, in the long run, the Emmetts of the world often get their come-uppance. For one thing, as has already happened in your work group, everyone except you is wise to Emmett and it’s unlikely they’ll float ideas in front of him. So, he has to rely on newbies like you. But you also are once burned, twice shy.

Eventually, Emmett is cut off from new ideas to steal. And in the longer term, Emmett will disappoint the bosses. From their point of view, he comes up with great ideas but can’t seem to work them into viable products. He isn’t innovative/smart enough to get around the inevitable challenges of turning an idea into a money-making product.

I know it’s cold comfort for you right at this moment, in this situation. There is, however, one time when continuing the protest is warranted.

When to keep trying to get credit

When your values/self-image are in danger of being damaged if you don’t continue to protest, then you might want to do it. Honesty may be your operating principle and to ignore this dishonesty would feel as if you are betraying yourself. As I have mentioned before, there are times at work when you have to take a stand in order to keep your self-respect. If that’s the case, you may need to keep going.

What to expect if you keep pushing

But don’t expect it to be a bed of roses. Continuing to push an issue (any issue) usually makes you unpopular with the boss and you may even be seen as self-serving (i.e. you’re trying to grab the limelight). Emmett may well bad-mouth you to protect his secret. If it goes on long enough, even co-workers who originally backed your protest, will tire of the tension and wish that it or you would go away.

So, I should do nothing?

If this is an issue where who you are as a person is being attacked, then I would say you need to keep going, being fully aware of the price you will probably pay. However, if the issue doesn’t rise to that level of importance, then I reluctantly suggest that you let it go, unfair as that is.

Instead, I think you should concentrate on how to get your ideas heard. However, just before we go to that, let’s talk about how to protect yourself from co-workers like Emmett. That’s the next post.

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