The other day, a guy stopped by wanting some advice on his great idea. He drilled me with a series of typical questions. “How do I get a patent? How long will it take? How do I manufacture this thing? When should I form a company? How should I fund it?” Unfortunately, I could only give general answers because the only thing he told me about his product idea is that it would be “really great” and “everyone would want it.” Then he pointed to a small empty room and said, “Let’s go in there. I don’t want anyone to hear. Just between you and me, okay?” At which point he secretly informed me of a dull idea that I have heard many times before.
I wish I could say this was the first time I’ve experienced this, but it’s not. It happens all the time. Look, I understand the concern. I’ve even done it. At first blush, it seems rational. You have what feels like a great idea. You imagine the possibilities. You should surely keep such a genius idea top secret because if anyone else finds out, they would obviously recognize the greatness of the idea and steal it for themselves, right? Wrong. That top secret formula is a fast track to terrible ideas.
Here’s why classifying your great idea as top secret is a bad idea.
You need support and input
If your great idea is ever going to become something truly great, you need support. You need people who can give you advice. If it’s a business you want to grow, you need customers. You don’t get customers by hiding from them. You may need funding, infrastructure, and an experienced team. I suggest you don’t hide from those either. You can increase your chances of finding customers and support by getting your idea out there to be seen.
You don’t have to wait until you have your idea fully developed before showing anyone. When you share your idea and start acting on it, people gravitate towards you. Often that results in more customers and support. Perfect! That’s what you want. Sometimes it results in a realization that your idea really isn’t so great. Perfect! That’s what you want too because it’s better to find that out early than after you’ve dumped in tons of time and money.
Your idea has lots of rough edges
Despite the image you have in your head of a sparkling diamond, your idea is much more like a newly found rock. Your idea has a lot of rough edges. If you’re lucky, it might be a diamond inside, but it will take some work to get there. Have you ever seen a new diamond? It looks rough. It’s interesting, but not very beautiful. How does it become beautiful? It takes three things: cutting, polishing, and purchasing.
Cutting removes parts of the diamond. Shouldn’t that make it less valuable? Nope. It shapes the gem to expose natural crystal faces. Polishing grinds the exposed face with hard grit to remove even more of the surface until it’s smooth. Polishing takes a lot of action and movement. It creates a lot of friction and heat. Even a cut and polished diamond wouldn’t be valuable unless someone wanted to purchase it. The same is true with our ideas. The great ones are valuable to people outside our heads.
Most people want to help
Think about the last time someone shared an idea with you. What was your first reaction after hearing it? What did you say to the person? If you thought it was a great idea, you probably said something like, “That’s a great idea. You should totally do that.” And you meant it. You may have offered a helpful suggestion or introduced them to someone else who could help. That is the most common response I experience when people share ideas. They simply get more help and make more progress.
Ideas beget ideas
Hoarding an idea makes you less likely to have more good ideas. I’m never concerned about coming up with more ideas that are as good or better than other ideas. If you struggle to come up with good ideas, follow James Altucher’s suggestion to practice brainstorming 10 things a day to become “an idea machine.”
If I share ideas with you, your mind will start thinking about them and probably come up with some even better ones. So will mine. For example, here are some “great ideas” that you might have insights, opinions, suggestions, or variations on:
- Media production company using streaming technology (like Google Hangouts on Air). Why not build a Web 3.0 media company? Free streaming technology allows viewing on any Internet device. Any of us could be a producer at this moment if we wanted to.
- Virtual reality gaming system. Think Kinect plus Oculus Rift where you get to interact with other people in a 3D virtual world. Bring on Tron!
- On-demand manufacturing to reduce inventory. Imagine using technologies like 3d printing and CNC machines in stores to print or create a product on demand from raw materials.
- Training platform for temp employees to help them gain the company-specific skills they need to be effective immediately. Temp employment continues to grow as an industry.
- Dry cleaning franchise or conglomerate to create the McDonalds of dry cleaning: low prices, standard costs, consistent quality.
Maybe they aren’t really great ideas. I don’t really know yet. I know that some of these things exist in some form already. That’s common with ideas we have. It is also validation of the idea.
Stealing an idea is rare
Has it ever happened? Yes. Has there ever been a monster under the bed? Yes. At least that’s what I tell my kids so they stay in bed.
By the way, you are welcome to steal any of my “great ideas” I just shared. There’s more than enough room for multiple people, products, and companies in any of those areas. That’s usually the case with a great idea.
For the most part, people don’t want to steal your ideas. Either they want to help or they have their own “great ideas” that they think are better than yours. They just don’t want to say them out loud (unfortunately for them).
Most people have a to-do list that rivals War and Peace. They don’t stop to think about how great your idea is, nor are they willing to stop what they are doing to chase it.
That leaves it up to you to get the support you need, to shape your idea, and to make it something great. Who needs your idea anyway? You do. Hopefully other people do too. Go find out.
So what should you do?
Share. Talk. Talk to anyone who will listen. You should also develop a trusted network of people you can talk to about your ideas and other aspirations. Rarely does success come by going it alone.
The upside of sharing is so much greater than any potential downside. What’s the worst downside? Your idea is stolen and someone else executes on it perfectly. That’s unlikely. The risk you take when keeping it secret? No one ever finds out. That’s worse than having it stolen and someone else making it a reality. The potential upside of sharing is the possibility of making your idea into reality and achieving that vision you have.
Fear is paralyzing. Don’t be afraid to get out of bed because an unfounded fear. There are not monsters under the bed. I know that. You know that. My kids know that. Get over it. Have an abundance mentality with ideas. There are always more great ideas. Go make something happen.
Are you up for a challenge? Nix the top secret approach. Share a great idea in the comments and help someone else who has shared their own great idea.