[OPINION] No One Is Stealing Your Idea

Nick: It’s a million dollar idea!
Stuart: It’s a billion dollar idea.
Nick: Even better!
— The Internship

Have you ever had a game-changing idea for an app, business or software which you’ve never shared publicly?

I would suspect we all have at some point in our lives. What is fascinating, however, is that we almost never tell other people about it — perhaps at the risk of looking silly, naive or incompetent. Yet, I imagine the majority of folks don’t share their wonderful ideas to others because they are actually afraid someone else will take the idea for themselves while we remain idle to ponder them. In other words, we don’t want others to capitalize on our procrastination.

We all have some grandiose idea sitting in the back of our minds, collecting dust, never seeming to find the right time to actualize into a real thing. At the same time, we don’t want to broadcast our idea, since we fear the worst — what happens if we share our idea for something spectacular like the next Facebook, then a Mark Zuckerberg-reincarnate steals it and becomes a billionaire?

Relax. It’s most likely not going to happen. No one is stealing your idea, and it’s time to put this common fear to bed.

Here’s why:

1. Your Idea Isn’t Unique

There is nothing new under the sun. It’s hard to believe, but your “one-of-a-kind” and “world changing” idea is anything but.

Many people have already thought of the same thing, years and even decades before you ever did. In fact, there’s probably hundreds of people thinking about it right now. For the most part, they just don’t do anything about it (as you haven’t).

This is why no one can protect an idea from being copied or stolen. Ideas are too abstract, universal and intangible to ever successfully claim ownership of them. It’s why there are no “idea lawyers” out there. Only when something is created and materialized into the world, can it be protected and defended from infringement. Until that has happened, the possibility of all ideas (including yours) will continue to run free in the minds of like-minded people, all around the world, all the time.

It belongs to anyone else as much as it belongs to you.

2. Your Idea May Already Exist

Are you sure your idea doesn’t already exist in some form or fashion?

Nobody has perfect research skills to determine whether some thing has or has not been made already. Just because you assume so, doesn’t make it true. Furthermore, how have you determined it hasn’t been done before, and failed miserably? There is just as much a chance that your idea has been tried multiple times in the past, but could never be fully realized, or faced an obstacle that was not anticipated. It’s entirely possible this scenario has already played out.

Sometimes we are a little hesitant to do a full investigation because we want this idea to be our ticket to freedom. But this step in the idea process is as crucial as any other, since we don’t want to repeat the same mistakes as those who came before us.

Deep research into previous iterations or attempts of what we are trying to create may end up saving you years of effort, and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

3. Your Idea < Your Execution

When we sit on our ideas for a long time, more often than not, at some point we witness it live in the open marketplace, with all the markers of success. In frustration, we say to ourselves, “That was MY idea! I should have made it happen when I had the chance“. Our reasoning is simple: if we created and launched it before they did, we would be the ones making millions and not them.

But it’s just not true.

The people who created the same product you once imagined, did so with distinct features, materials and specifications. They developed it with different processes, and promoted it to an entirely different audience. They had a different budget, and operated with an entirely different team.

There are too many variable factors at play, with the idea only being ONE of them, that made the company a success. You cannot conclude that you would have been equally (or more) successful if you launched the idea in their place. There is no certainty of that — in fact, chances are that your style would have lead to failure, since there are more failures than successes in the market, and their approach lead to success. Most other scenarios would not have had a similar outcome.

If the Winklevoss twins had created Facebook as they had originally intended, it may well have crashed and burned in the first year under the HarvardConnection banner, and MySpace would still be the juggernaut of the social media kingdom. We don’t really know what would have happened, but it’s almost certain that Facebook would not be the giant that it is today if the twins had their way with it. The idea alone is simply not enough.

There are no “million dollar ideas”. There are only “million dollar executions”.

4. Your Idea Isn’t Worth The Effort

People are too busy with their own ideas to worry about yours.

There are few people in the world who, upon hearing of an idea, drop what they are currently doing and begin to pursue your idea instead. They would have to be equally convinced of the opportunity, be free from other distractions, have the time and money to build or outsource it, and the perseverance to endure through any struggles they face along the way. I don’t know anyone like that, and I doubt you would either.

Entrepreneurs are a rare breed, let alone entrepreneurs who steal ideas. Typically, they have a myriad of ideas of their own (all of which are unicorn-status potential, FYI) and wouldn’t have the wherewithal to chase yours. They just aren’t wired in that way, nor are most people.

Most importantly, your idea hasn’t been proven to work. The concept is still risky, and the odds of failure are still relatively high. Add that layer of complexity onto an already exclusive shortlist of potentials, and you’ll begin to see why there is almost nobody left to even entertain the thought of stealing it.

5. Your Idea Serves You

Most ideas arise out of our own desire to solve a problem we face on a frequent basis. If an idea is to solve a certain problem that another person cannot relate to, why would they ever choose to invest in it in a meaningful way?

Your problems are unique to you, as is your perspective toward how you would solve them. For example, if you work in a warehouse for a specific company that ships a specific product, there would be few people who could experience its day-to-day challenges, along with its potential solutions. Only you would know what to develop and how to test it. Only you would know what to look for in a prototype and what materials would be most advantageous for that specific scenario. Whether it be certain software or a physical tool, not many would have any practical reason to pursue such an idea without in-depth knowledge of the problem.

In addition to your insider information and skillset, is the motivation to develop such ideas. Who would really be excited and determined about making software or tools that they won’t even use themselves? This is why it’s best to focus on ideas that, at the very worst, will be a benefit to you, even if nothing else comes of it. If somebody wants to steal that type of idea, frankly, they are doing you a favor.

Final Thought

Being scared that someone is going to steal your amazing idea is futile. More importantly, it’s embarrassing to you as a person. It is an indication that you are insecure and not confident of your ability to generate many more fantastic ideas. You are of the attitude that this one marvelous idea is the only one you have, and none greater will come after. You have limited yourself as a person, and carry with you a mindset of scarcity and lack, as opposed to a mindset of abundance and overflow.

You will always have another great idea, if you are truly an entrepreneur who seeks to help people and solve problems. There are too many opportunities for one person to pursue in his lifetime. Plus, sharing yours will only improve the likelihood of developing a worthy one, as you are likely to receive critical user feedback from peers and constituents alike.

We don’t realize how many ideas we really have, until we stop and think about them, which helps us understand how lofty and ambitious we would have to be to go after all of them. This is also why I openly share my SEO ideas that anyone can run with. I know I will always have another idea, because we all do. They are like buses or trains; there’s always another one coming.

With that in mind, what’s stopping you from sharing that idea you’ve been thinking about with anyone who wants to hear about it?

About the author

Sebastian Hovv

Sebastian is the author of "The Little White Book of SEO" and curates a weekly marketing newsletter just for fun.