I just saw an interesting quote on Twitter today that stuck with me. It comes from Thomas Jefferson:
"An idea shared is still in your possession"
This reminded me of an interview I did a couple of years ago for Careerbuilder.com. They asked me and a panel of other experts what to do when a co-worker steals your idea. My answer made them practically choke on their lunch: congratulate them and encourage them to keep doing it!
Some people view ideas as a zero-sum game: the more they are shared, the less they benefit. If you are selling, say, the plans for building the Space Shuttle, this might even be correct. But for me, and for most people, it is the exact opposite. You *want* people to steal - in other words, spread - your ideas. And the more they do it, the merrier.
In my case, the more freely my ideas get spread around, the more profitable I am. In fact, since I tend to write books on just about everything I do, any chucklehead can go to Barnes and Noble, plunk down $20, and pick my brains clean. They can - and often do - create training programs around my content without my ever seeing another nickel. And I actually like it that way.
There are two reasons for this. First, who do you think hires me to speak, train, or license my content? Right. People who buy my books and watch my presentations. None of this good stuff would ever happen if they didn't (a) find me and (b) benefit from what they hear. So I always take my very best content and leave it all on the field. I even set up a YouTube channel with almost an hour of free content for people (right here).
But the second reason is perhaps even more important. Suppose I started the Gallagher Communication Skills Academy, with lots of promises about how successful you'll be, and offered bupkis until you were a paying customer. Or worse, held back my best stuff until you paid to join my "platinum circle." How many customers would I have? Years ago, lots of people sold this way. Nowadays, drowning in a world of free information on demand, it would be about as effective as drinking poison.
Same thing is true at your workplace. In a 35-year-plus career, I have never had a single idea "stolen" by my definition. I don't know about you, but I want my ideas discussed by as many others as possible, and people can take all the credit for them they want. So if someone goes to the boss first with something you've talked about, I really do think you should congratulate them! They are taking your ideas to higher places, and you want to encourage more of that. Spreading ideas far and wide - and cheering on those who do it - will almost always get you further than hoarding information.
Should you ever worry about people stealing your ideas? Sure, maybe, if they are the top-secret design to your next product or some such. But for the rest of us, I'd say let people steal away!