Your success at work is dependent on your accomplishments, not your ideas. So can everyone please stop being so petty about whose ideas are whose?

A very small number of you are strategists and inventors. For you, your ideas make or break your career. So don't bother reading the rest of this column. For the rest of you, face the music: You are not paid to come up with ideas. You are paid to execute them.

So let's say you're a marketing manager and you have a great idea to spam the whole world to get them to buy soap. Spamming is not an innovation, and selling soap has been done before, too. The person who is a genius will be the person who can make a spam campaign work. That would require direct mail expertise, figuring out which product is most likely to sell, setting up fulfillment capabilities.

Let's say the spam campaign is a success. Who's the genius? The person with the idea to spam or the person who actually increased soap sales? Let me tell you something, in this economy, few companies can afford an “ideas guy”. Companies are hiring people who generate revenue: executors.

Look, I'm not saying the world doesn't need ideas. Ideas are great. And in the perfect world, everyone gets credit for the ideas they have. But the world isn't perfect, and people steal ideas at work. And while we fight off large imperfections like fake (Enron) companies, race discrimination and massive layoffs, getting credit for an idea is pretty small peanuts.

Yet still, I hear people complain about a stolen idea as if it was their first-born child. And sometimes I think maybe it was. Maybe the people who worry about a stolen idea the most are the people who have the fewest ideas. Ask yourself if your problem is not really thievery but scarcity. If you don't have a lot of ideas to begin with then you shouldn't bother trying to be known for your ideas. It's not who you are.

Most people who complain about stolen ideas peg their boss as the culprit. If you're in this category ask yourself this question: Is your job in jeopardy because your boss thinks you have no good ideas? In that case you probably need to start documenting your ideas on paper. But I have news for you: your boss probably doesn't like you if she recognizes you so little as to steal your brilliance and accuse you of lacking ideas. In that case, you can grovel for credit, but you should probably try to find a job working for someone else.

And here's a tip for when you're looking for that next job: Don't bother listing your great ideas on your resume. No one cares. Employers want to see resumes with quantified accomplishments. Replace “thought of opening a new sales channel” to “opened a sales channel and increased revenue x%”.

Maybe your boss steals just a few ideas, but is generally a good boss. In that case, ignore her ethical transgression. You have a limited number of times you can tell your boss she is bothering you. Use those times for instances when you will make more money. If your bonus is tied to having an original idea, then by all means, point out the idea that your boss stole so that you can collect your money. But if the only thing that a stolen idea harms is your ego, then get over it.

Besides, the best way to get a promotion is to make your boss love you. And you can make your boss love you by making her feel smart. If your boss feels smart it doesn't mean that she thinks you are not smart. Don't be so insecure. It should be enough that you know that you have good ideas.

25 replies
  1. Tom Ace
    Tom Ace says:

    This is terrible advice. Trust is the cornerstone to great teams. Without trust across a team, you are screwed. Professionally confront anyone who steals your ideas and document the meeting — if they do it again go to your supervisor.

  2. Max
    Max says:

    This is why I think it’s important to get articles and books published so that you have something concrete on your resume.

  3. Max
    Max says:

    To elaborate, property rights are key because the collaborative nature of the workplace leads to free riding. Your resume line "opened a sales channel and increased revenue x%," cannot be confirmed by future employers unless perhaps the local business paper writes a glowing profile of your leadership of this endeavor. Increasing revenue will not do you any good unless you have an equity stake in the company or get a raise or bonus based on it.

  4. Trade Credit
    Trade Credit says:

    Well true, success at work is dependent on your accomplishments, not your ideas. I accept that fact. but just because of that you cannot rule out ideas. They are the foundation to build on and then accomplish something. So ideas do play a vital role. and yes, it needs to be credited too. No one would like someone getting credit for what you did. Similarly no one would like someone getting credit for what you thought.

  5. Stacy @ Local Florists
    Stacy @ Local Florists says:

    I agree with Trade Credit, I wouldn’t like if someone got credit for my ideas. Besides, to get the most out of a person who has a lot of ideas is to give him/her due credit for any ideas he/she has already given.

  6. Pam @ Low Book Sales
    Pam @ Low Book Sales says:

    Yup, I believe if someone deserves to be credited he should be. that’s how you could work with other people and get most of their ideas out. Human beings really like appreciation. And crediting them is one way to show appreciation.

  7. Tariq
    Tariq says:

    Either you are a cheating manager, who himself does not have anything to offer, or you are kind of a scary guy, who never comes up with good ideas, and see other people who are victim. and u r scared because u probably dont have enough skills.

  8. improve my credit score
    improve my credit score says:

    I believe people need to be credited for their ideas. Ideas are the base stones for huge projects which in turn brings in income for companies. So these ideas need to be credited. So I don’t agree with your statement at all.

  9. Konferens Stockholm
    Konferens Stockholm says:

    I’ve been a big fan of your blog Penelope but this post I don’t like so much. people need to be credited. That’s how you can motivate them. Get more out of them. It’s human nature to perform and push your self for more when you are credited. So it needs to be done.

  10. best savings account
    best savings account says:

    Hmmm well I don’t think anyone would agree with what you’ve mentioned here. Ideas are hard thoughts by talented people. they definitely need to be credited. Ideas are the real base of most of successful projects

  11. Nadeesha @ ROCKFUSE Blog Resources
    Nadeesha @ ROCKFUSE Blog Resources says:

    hey there, well yes, You definitely need to credit the relevant people for their ideas. That is how it should happen. None of us wouldn’t like if we weren’t credited for over work. Its just what we are I guess. You’ve got a good blog going on. Keep it up.

  12. LMS
    LMS says:

    Hey there. Well Penelope, I certainly love your work and the advice you give. but I really would think if people were credited for their ideas they would perform more. Don’t you think so? Anyway, Awesome work with the blog. Keep it up. Cheers

  13. Sold out concert tickets
    Sold out concert tickets says:

    Interesting article indeed. I would like to think more about it and see. You’ve got your point too Penelope. but I think everyone won’t think as such. And because of that ideas need to be praised.

  14. mm
    mm says:

    I have been having a problem where I pretty much do all the heavy lifting for my boss — I do the idea-generating AND the executing — and he’s shamelessly appropriating all the credit without doing the normal managerial things -like coaching and rewarding – that might justify this even a little. I just know more than the guy – who was hired several years after I was to a level over me – and I am smarter and more engaged in the ways that count in our business. I will ALWAYS be better at his job than he is and I think if he has any reflective moments at all, he would agree.

    In searching on the topic, I am a little shocked by the extent to which various self-appointed experts advise me to suck it up. One said the important thing is influence, not credit. That’s a fascinating idea. Here I thought the important thing was to advance professionally and I also thought that to do that, important people in the organization need to know what I actually do.

    Another said that making my boss look smart carries its own reward in raises, positive performance appraisals etc, but that’s really not the case here so far. I think people who steal ideas the best are the ones who forget they stole them. As soon as they say them, they own them so no one else need be rewarded.

    I think Max above explains the origins of this kind of pervasive advice — which if these comments are any indication doesn’t seem to find much agreement — when he said:

    “Written like someone who is an expert at stealing other people’s ideas and taking credit.”

  15. Road
    Road says:

    Your success at work is dependent on your accomplishments, not your ideas. So can everyone please stop being so petty about whose ideas are whose?

    A very small number of you are strategists and inventors. For you, your ideas make or break your career. So don't bother reading the rest of this column. For the rest of you, face the music: You are not paid to come up with ideas. You are paid to execute them.

    So let's say you're a marketing manager and you have a great idea to spam the whole world to get them to buy soap. Spamming is not an innovation, and selling soap has been done before, too. The person who is a genius will be the person who can make a spam campaign work. That would require direct mail expertise, figuring out which product is most likely to sell, setting up fulfillment capabilities.

    Let's say the spam campaign is a success. Who's the genius? The person with the idea to spam or the person who actually increased soap sales? Let me tell you something, in this economy, few companies can afford an "ideas guy”. Companies are hiring people who generate revenue: executors.

    Look, I'm not saying the world doesn't need ideas. Ideas are great. And in the perfect world, everyone gets credit for the ideas they have. But the world isn't perfect, and people steal ideas at work. And while we fight off large imperfections like fake (Enron) companies, race discrimination and massive layoffs, getting credit for an idea is pretty small peanuts.

    Yet still, I hear people complain about a stolen idea as if it was their first-born child. And sometimes I think maybe it was. Maybe the people who worry about a stolen idea the most are the people who have the fewest ideas. Ask yourself if your problem is not really thievery but scarcity. If you don't have a lot of ideas to begin with then you shouldn't bother trying to be known for your ideas. It's not who you are.

    Most people who complain about stolen ideas peg their boss as the culprit. If you're in this category ask yourself this question: Is your job in jeopardy because your boss thinks you have no good ideas? In that case you probably need to start documenting your ideas on paper. But I have news for you: your boss probably doesn't like you if she recognizes you so little as to steal your brilliance and accuse you of lacking ideas. In that case, you can grovel for credit, but you should probably try to find a job working for someone else.

    And here's a tip for when you're looking for that next job: Don't bother listing your great ideas on your resume. No one cares. Employers want to see resumes with quantified accomplishments. Replace "thought of opening a new sales channel” to "opened a sales channel and increased revenue x%”.

    Maybe your boss steals just a few ideas, but is generally a good boss. In that case, ignore her ethical transgression. You have a limited number of times you can tell your boss she is bothering you. Use those times for instances when you will make more money. If your bonus is tied to having an original idea, then by all means, point out the idea that your boss stole so that you can collect your money. But if the only thing that a stolen idea harms is your ego, then get over it.

    Besides, the best way to get a promotion is to make your boss love you. And you can make your boss love you by making her feel smart. If your boss feels smart it doesn't mean that she thinks you are not smart. Don't be so insecure. It should be enough that you know that you have good ideas.

    COMPILED AND WRITTEN BY ROAD.

    Dear Penelope, what i did here was steal an article from your website and put my name on it.
    It does not make much sense if you would say it would not bother you, because if that wasnt the case, and acknowledgement for one’s creation wasnt important, then you would have put you name in Bold Letters on top of this site.
    Yours Sincerely
    Road

  16. http://parfymprisguiden.se
    http://parfymprisguiden.se says:

    I know several people who became vastly successful on ideas of other people. The point is that you need to have the will and the skills and the energy to make these ideas come true.

    An idea on its own will not accomplish much; it needs a strong hand to make it come true.

    However, I don’t want to defend stealing ideas, that’s not ethical. But a lot of people do it.

Comments are closed.