IDEAS: Sharing, Borrowing and the Grey Areas in Between

Feb 4, 2014

Written by Kelly Doody

Thought sharing… a novel concept? No, not really. Definitely not in the realm of TED, anyway – a safe, collaborative place defined by its mantra of ‘Ideas Worth Sharing.’

But in today’s world of digital content overload across articles, blogs, white papers, e-books, virtual classrooms, social media, e-newsletters and online everything, the concept of sharing, spreading, repurposing and reproducing another person’s words or art has become a seriously heated debate, known in its harshest, most threatening forms as plagiarism and copyright infringement, both of which carry promises of legal punishment.

Enter Seth Godin, known to some as the godfather of marketing, and to many as a modern day communications savant. He’s no stranger to TED Talks, having delivered some major hits over the years to thousands of salivating TED fans, both live and online.

In his Feb. 3 blog post entitled Why I Want You to Steal My Ideas, written for TED’s new Questions Worth Asking editorial series, Mr. Godin delivers a highly refreshing albiet unexpected take on the sticky idea-sharing situation, explaining why it’s no sweat at all if you want to swipe his ideas, provided you promise to first make them better. As in, build upon them, learn from them, be inspired by them and crank them up a notch, before you spit them back out in their bigger, badder form, primed and ready for the next eager player to grab the ball and carry it even further.

Mr. Godin’s argument stems from his simple, brilliant philosophy that, “ideas don’t get smaller when they’re shared, they get bigger.” He firmly states, “an expensive, bureaucratic patent system does nothing at all to increase the likelihood that new ideas will be created and most important, that new productivity will arise. Patents weren’t developed to protect ideas (ideas can’t be patented) but the specific execution of useful innovations.”

He is, however, quick to point out that there is of course a difference between ‘stealing’ a person’s thoughts and/or passing them off as your own, and growing them, while also issuing credit where credit is due, which is a no-brainer.

“When you pretend that you are the originator, the original source, and you’re not, you’ve corrupted your work by claiming authorship, when you are merely contributing synthesis. This hurts your reputation as well as the person you stole from, because our society values authorship and origination.”

Either way, we say hallelujah, Seth Godin. We firmly agree that the moment you lock down your ideas, methods and progress and refuse outsiders access or collaboration, is the moment it becomes far less significant and valuable. Because if these ideas can’t be commented and expanded upon, what’s the point?

To further that thinking in today’s intellectual property-laden world, the only choice we truly have as idea producers, authors, creators and inventors is to just keep producing, innovating, sharing and growing. Otherwise, we may as well not bother showing up to the conversation at all. Mr. Godin likens it to a game of chess; an imperative, exciting, global oneupmanship, and we couldn’t agree more.

Now… who’s turn is it?

Read ‘Why I Want You to Steal My Ideas’ by Seth Godin in its entirety here:


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