Odd little bits of financial news have a funny way of creeping through the cracks in between dreary market forecasts and predictions of economic apocalypse. If you haven’t heard, Warren Buffett bought $5 Billion worth of shares for Bank of America, and countered claims of being pressured to help out the ailing institution by giving his inspiration for the transaction; his bathwater. The Huffington Post explained his reasoning in their article about the story.
As this shows, a quick idea in the oddest of places can have dramatic implications for the market. At least when $5 Billion is involved. But Warren Buffett’s willingness to share his inspiration is not something that is seen often, especially in times of economic duress. In fact, quite a few employees, entrepreneurs and freelancers seem to clam up when it comes to ideas. After all, how do you know your colleague isn’t going to steal that idea? Heck, how many wannabe Warren Buffett-s in the making have taken long soaks in the bathtub since this article came out? But without collaboration, ideas have a tendency to fester and die. Having a good sounding board can only help to strengthen an idea and test it against criticism.
So how does somebody share an idea, without the fear of losing credit for it? Here are three ways to share with others, without having to immediately run to the boss to stake your claim on it.
1. Find a group you trust and establish some sort of working relationship with the people in it.
It is fairly likely that you work next to a particular group of people, or are part of a specific team. In order for things to function smoothly, you have to get along with the people that you are in close proximity with. You may have even gone out to lunch or just hung out together when work got a little slow. Because a relationship is in place, they are much less likely to stab you in the back and steal your idea. Thievery is all about ease; it is hard to steal from somebody who you are closer to because the fallout would typically be harder to deal with than whatever you gained from stealing. Plus, most people aren’t complete sociopaths and would probably feel bad about not crediting the person who originally had the idea if they were friends. So if you want a group to vet ideas with, your team at work, or even the person who shares your cubicle, are great places to start. They are probably trained in the same field as you are, and would be a great place to get initial criticism. But if you are in an industry that seems borderline-sociopathic, and you probably know if you are, you can always get a copyright for your idea for you take this step.
2. Work out the details a little bit so there is still something unique you can bring to the table.
But maybe you stole your cubicle mate’s sandwich out of the fridge and they are out for revenge. Or you would like some peace of mind after letting your idea out. In that case, try and hash out some details on your own before presenting the main idea to anyone. Figure out where you want to take your idea, or what you hope to accomplish with it once everything is said and done. There is no reason for sharing the intricate details, and it allows you to keep something for yourself if, unfortunately, someone tries to rush to your manager/editor/boss/investor with your idea before you have a chance to. The extra details also show you’ve thought about this particular idea for a longer period of time, and may help prove ownership if it comes down to that. Hopefully it won’t, but having a word document or a presentation with a plan laid out for how you want to implement an idea is something that you don’t have to share to vet your thoughts.
3. Don’t overestimate your colleagues.
While you may think this is going to be the biggest thing since sliced bread, chances are that your colleagues don’t. Part of starting a business, pitching an investment opportunity, or publishing an article is convincing others that your idea is worth something. The fact that inventors, writers and entrepreneurs typically have to work really hard at this indicates that most of the people they talk to don’t see the inherent genius in an idea that doesn’t come directly from their own minds. While this can make pitching an idea a very daunting process, it does guarantee some inherent protection from people stealing it. Plus, many of your colleagues may have their own ideas rattling around; there is no reason to spend the time and effort stealing yours when they feel much more strongly about their own.
In the end, you should try to not worry too much about possible theft. If you really think that someone is going to steal your idea, have them sign a non-disclosure agreement, file a patent or copyright it. Typically, though, this is not going to be that big of a problem. Vetting ideas can only make them stronger when you finally turn them into something concrete. Be open to suggestions, and willing to talk through criticism. In the end, you’re final product/article/plan of action will be much stronger because of it.