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How can I stop someone stealing ideas?


My guess is that this comes down to a lack of self-awareness. Where you, with your comment about not wanting to erode the foundations of your team or organisation, are concerned about how your actions affect others and how others view those actions, I suspect your colleague is unburdened by these kinds of worries.

They may be totally unaware that they’re stealing other people’s ideas and passing them off as their own. Or they may be acting with what they think is brilliant duplicity, oblivious to the fact that they’re committing theft in broad daylight and fooling absolutely nobody around them.

Credit:John Shakespeare

In either case, I think the best way of approaching the situation is to try your best to put the galling nature of the behaviour aside and think about rectification rather than retribution. By that I mean do your best to concentrate on getting credit for the person who had the idea originally rather than seeking punishment for the culprit.

One tactic might be to politely let the offending colleague know that “their” idea had, in fact, been raised previously. It could be a quiet chat or a quick email and there’s no need to be outright accusatory or even hint at the fact that they’ve done anything wrong. It simply needs to make them aware that someone else had the idea they presented as their own.

That’ll probably only work if your co-worker is acting more out of ignorance than malice.

If you’re dealing with a more… ahem… “mischievous” workmate, you might try going to the person who’s receiving these ideas – perhaps it’s a manager, supervisor or project manager – and having a private word. The trick is to pass on the information not as if you’re dobbing on a school bully, but instead sticking up for a peer who deserves recognition. This way you’re revealing the facts of the matter – “actually, that was X’s idea” – without any need for confrontation, and with little risk of being cast as an underminer.

There are two other, far less likely possibilities I should probably conclude with here.

The first is that what you’re witnessing is not appropriation of intellectual property but extraordinary coincidence. They say nothing’s new under the sun, and there may be some small chance that these ideas aren’t being pilfered, but are legitimately being proposed by both colleagues totally independently of one another. Of course, the more often it happens the less probable this is, but it may be worth considering.

The second is that your idea poacher is entirely aware of what he or she is doing and the angst it’s causing but simply doesn’t care. If that’s the case, you’re in deeper waters, I’m afraid.



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