Ownership of Ideas

Has this ever happened to you? You share an idea with your boss. After a nod of acknowledgement, the idea is tabled or, presumably, forgotten. Then, months or years later, the idea reemerges. This time the idea is presented by the boss as “something I came up with this weekend” or “an idea the guys at our Dallas office passed along.”

You say to the boss, “Wait, I came up with that same idea last summer!” The boss says, “Really? I don’t remember.”

This is how things work some times. You may have been ahead of the curve. The boss may feel more comfortable with input from his bosses than from his employees. Something he read or heard may have made the idea more appealing now than your presentation did a while back.

If it’s a good idea that will generate a positive result for the organization, be happy that it is being adopted, even if you do not receive proper credit. At the least, use this to boost your own self-esteem, which is important to production and growth in your job.

If you work as an independent contractor, you have to be careful about sharing ideas. When making a proposal to prospect, the ideas you offer should be vague and general. Your ideas should focus more on objectives and goals than on strategies and tactics.

If you offer a free “big idea” or two, you run the risk of having your idea used without credit or financial reward. The prospect can always say, “Oh yeah, we came up with that same idea last year.” (I still believe that one of David Letterman’s trademark 80’s bits was the result of materials I submitted to his head writer in 1983 while I was working in radio in Philadelphia. Could I have ever proved this? No.)

If you are an idea generator, keep ‘em coming! Is there a different way to achieve a particular positive outcome? New thoughts on solving problems are always welcome. Just be careful about where and to whom you pass along your best ideas.

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