Protecting Yourself against Idea-Stealers

March 6, 2017

Protecting Yourself against Idea-Stealers

You assumed, incorrectly in this case, that Emmett was a good colleague who would help you hone and develop your idea. Frankly, I think that’s a good assumption to make generally (more of this later). Just not in this particular case.

What can you do?

You have already twigged to one strategy—don’t discuss ideas with people like that.

But Emmett may ask for your suggestions for an idea he ostensibly has come up with. Do not give him any as he likely has an empty bucket he’s hoping you’ll fill. Instead, say something like, “Gosh, Emmett, I’m blanking. But if I think of anything, I’ll let you know.” And put it out of your mind and continue with your life.

Don’t even do it if he offers to share the credit with you. He won’t and you’ll be back in the same old position.

If you come up with an idea, and for some reason, must discuss it with Emmett (e.g. because he has some special expertise), do it in the presence of someone else. You might float it during a coffee-break or other casual moment to camouflage the whole witness thing.

If you’re really on the ball..

If you have lightning fast responses, you might have been able to highlight the theft. When Len credits Emmett with the idea, you could have said:

You: Gee, Emmett, that’s the idea I talked to you about a couple of days ago.
Emmett: No, it isn’t.
You: Do not get into an argument (Smile and shrug)
Emmett: It’s not.
You: repeat (Smile and shrug)

At this point, Len should intervene to investigate further. If he does, you can explain what happened but lightly, airily. For some reason, intensity weakens your case. If Len doesn’t intervene, you know he doesn’t care and you should shut up.

Frankly, I think it supremely unlikely that you can get your jaw off the table in time to say anything like this. Usually, you’re so stunned by the bald-faced steal that you can’t get it together to challenge right in the moment. Which is what Emmett counts on.

The only time that you might be able to use this is if Emmett steals another of your ideas. But then shame on you for giving it to him, knowing what he’s like.

Don’t let Emmett sour you

An easy response to this whole phenomenon might be to vow to never share ideas. Or only when they are fully developed. Don’t go down that path.  There can be great synergy in teams building on each other’s ideas. You don’t want to lose that because of one bad experience.

In fact, I’d make the assumption that your team members will share credit until you have proof positive to the contrary. Then you can deal with that one unscrupulous colleague and not tar all your colleagues, present and future, with that brush. You don’t want to end up a suspicious and untrusting worker.

Takes all the fun out of working.

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