A couple interesting things happened yesterday. I attended my company’s annual meeting and watched the season premiere of Lost. At my company’s annual meeting, we went over lots of exciting things, but there was some concern over our use of Google Apps for our email. Mainly, that they could glean our IP from reading our email and, should they choose to enter our market, gain an unfair advantage. Meanwhile on Lost, the writers actually gave us some insight into the time-travel elements of the show, describing several aspects of time travel that are not typically used in your average time-travel story. So, what have these two things to do with each other?
I’d been noodling with a short story centered around time travel, and the type of time travel I was going to explore is very similar to what was described on Lost. Close enough that my story would come off as a bit less original than it would have 3 months ago. Even if my idea isn’t that original (which ones really are?) it’s a bit frustrating to see your idea developed (and deployed) by someone else independently.
So, again, what have these to do with each other? They demonstrate the reality of (and difference between) coming up with an idea and actually doing something with it. Essentially, and idea, in and of itself, is not particularly valuable. It’s what you do with it that really counts. If Google were to steal my company’s IP by sniffing our email, I doubt it would have much effect on our ultimate success. Outside of stealing our code or data outright, our idea isn’t something that’s hard to come up with. We just happened to come up with it and execute on it first. Anyone getting into the game now is necessarily behind us. Could someone lap us? Certainly. Is their ability to do so in any way dependent on know our secret ideas? I seriously doubt it.
So, sitting on ideas is a waste of time. Trying to hide an idea either for security or for fear of “unleashing” it in an underdeveloped state is counter-productive. Someone else has your idea. Guaranteed. And it’s likely they are developing it. So, you should be developing it too, and hopefully releasing it to the world, rather than worry about who’s stealing it, or who came up with it first. The first to market reaps the rewards.