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How To Stop People Stealing Your Ideas

A Life/Work Lesson


Stolen from head
image via Getty Images

I get a lot of letters and emails asking me "how do I keep my ideas safe?" and "how can I make sure that my ideas remain my ideas?" Or, to go one better, "what do I do if someone steals my ideas?" And to many, these are tricky questions.

For instance, we now live in a world that allows the sharing of ideas instantly across many platforms. We also have to embrace modern technology and have online portfolios - portfolios that can be accessed by anyone, at anytime, anywhere in the world.

Students are particularly vulnerable to this "larceny of ideas." They have books chock full of ideas that have never been printed or published. They have ownership of them, intellectually, but they don't have a way to keep their ideas safe and sound. If they keep them in a physical portfolio, they'll do themselves a massive injustice. Those ideas need to be seen by many, many potential employers, and the quickest and easiest way to disseminate that information is through an online portfolio.

If you've won awards, you at least have some real proof that you got there first, so to speak. But even then, award-winning work has been pilfered and re-animated. It's also won awards, despite coming from a less than honorable origin.

So what do you do?

How do you keep you ideas safe? The Answer is Two Words…


I'll let that sink in for a moment, although I suspect a lot of you already knew it deep down.

Advertising ideas are not patented. They aren't precious, and they are certainly not safe from prying eyes and ears. They get ripped off. Stolen. Half-inched. Thieved. Copied. Carved up and repackaged. And this has been going on for decades.

When physical portfolios were going around advertising agencies, the best ideas were photocopied and kept in a file. I never did this, but I saw people do it. And I have heard stories of filing cabinets filled with student ideas.

These days, creatives will often scour student portfolios looking for new ideas and directions. They will look at award websites and see what can be copied and reconstituted. It's not illegal. It's perhaps a bit unethical. But it's certainly not something that is going to go away any time soon.

Yet this bring us back full circle to one of the first questions at the beginning of this article.

"What do I do if someone steals my ideas?"

There's a simple answer to this one, and you may not like it. But you will have to accept it, and know that if you do, you'll be better off. The answer is…


That's it.

It seems obvious because it is. Think about it this way. If people keep ripping off your ideas, they will eventually come to the source. After all, why go to the time and trouble of trying to recreate lightning in a bottle, when you can hire the person who knows how to do it.

If you are always pushing out better and better ideas, you, as the creator, will be in demand. And the best part is that if you're talented, you call the shots and you steer the ship. In fact, you could be as cocky as to tell people to steal your ideas. Why not? "Go ahead, have them. I've got bigger, better ones in my head, and they'll be going to a rival agency…unless you'd like to play ball?"

Ideas cannot be locked up. They can't be kept safe and sound. But they can be your key to getting great work for years to come. So keep having those great ideas. They're your ticket to a fantastic career.

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