The Poison Of Protectionism

Over time I have published a number of ideas that, one day, may come to life – with or without my personal involvement. These were my ideas that I have no protection over in terms of trademark or patents. You may wonder why I so openly published these ideas, especially in an environment where people

Over time I have published a number of ideas that, one day, may come to life – with or without my personal involvement. These were my ideas that I have no protection over in terms of trademark or patents. You may wonder why I so openly published these ideas, especially in an environment where people are so protective over their concepts. As it happens, I worked out that for these ideas to take flight, they would require external help. So I could either:

1. Speak to people I know, in addition to some they recommend, then get a confidentiality agreement signed and create a working group.

2. Keep the ideas to myself and try to execute them myself as the sole owner.

3. Share the ideas openly with others and see whether anyone other than me would like to make them come to life.

The risk of option 1 is that the people I find on my own may not ultimately be the best people for the ideas. Plus, I don’t see a great deal of value in a confidentiality agreement when it is very hard, if not impossible, to prove that someone did or didn’t have an idea first. The approach also assumes that the idea is totally unique, which quite honestly is rarely the case.

The risk of option 2 is that it’s improbable only you can make everything happen. Omnipotence is an equally vicious poison. However hard you try there still isn’t a way of stretching 24 hours into 25 and even if you multi-task your head off, focus is diluted from the moment you start the second most important thing, let alone the third.

The risk of option 3 is that others ‘steal’ the idea and run with it. This is why so many people don’t share with others and produces the worst cases of The Poison Of Protectionism.

However, I’d like to propose a different logic as an antidote to this poison. This is what I call ‘The 4 Attitudinal Principles of Invention’:

1. It is very rare that an idea you come up with is totally unique. The chances are that someone, somewhere, is already working on it and they may have a greater resource than you, let alone some trademark or patent applications in process. This doesn’t mean your idea is less worthy or has less potential, but it does mean you are in good company and maybe the market is already setting its own scene in preparation for your version of the idea to take life.

2. Not everyone is inspired by the same thing. People who happen to hear you speaking about an idea are exceedingly unlikely to stop whatever they were doing and start a whole new project/company/whatever on the basis of hearing you speak. It’s not that your idea isn’t incredible – I’m sure it is – but people are into different things. Most inventions are too nuanced to be replicable.

3. It’s not actually down to the quality of the idea; it’s the execution of it. Sure you need a brilliant concept but when it comes down to it, success isn’t based on an idea itself. Profit isn’t based on the idea itself. Fame isn’t based on the idea itself. The way you execute it determines all those factors – whichever one you prefer as your metric of success. If you look at this in the context of the 1st principle (it is very rare that an idea you come up with is totally unique), you could have numerous people with the same idea but the ultimate winner will still be the one who executes best.

4. Talent creates and genius borrows. As it happens, originality can be a pain. It’s harder to prove a business case. It’s harder to convince people to invest. It’s harder to show people you aren’t crazy and ultimately, it’s harder to know how the hell to execute as nobody has done so before. As it turns out, many of the ideas around today that have turned into established businesses are based on older ideas, but done better. Google wasn’t the first search engine, iTunes wasn’t the first music player and Facebook wasn’t the first social network. Oh and by the way, I would place money on none of them being the last of their kind, despite being market leaders at the time of writing.

Despite these 4 Attitudinal Principles of Invention, there is an extreme level of protectionism in most industries, especially from people who haven’t been in business for a lengthy period. Often, people who are starting up on their own, take a view that the business world is some blood-sucking, evil, idea-grabbing monster which preys upon the young and innocent. Well, from experience, the business world can be like that, but it also exists in the realities of the four principles I outlined above. The truth is that the business world doesn’t normally listen to newcomers, especially those with potentially disruptive ideas. If they did, the reality is they mostly wouldn’t care a great deal.

My advice to those suffering from The Poison Of Protectionism is this:

1. Find something that exists and better it, radically. I’d wager there isn’t anything that cannot be bettered. Plus, this way you can always tell people what you are working on because what you are bettering already exists. One caveat is that it is often counter-productive to follow competition. It is far better to create your own playing field, even if you take the ball (and maybe some of the players) from the old one.

2. If you have something you think is totally original and world changing, decide what your ultimate goal is. If your goal is for the world to benefit from the idea being a reality, don’t fear others ‘stealing it’. Share it openly and if someone does ‘steal it’ let’s hope they either make it real, or even see the genius you are and invite you to join in. If your goal is to become super-rich and famous for being such a stunning entrepreneur, then either form a secret team or do it yourself in secret. Personally I believe you could get the same result from sharing openly but that requires a certain level of faith and a specific clarity in what your ultimate goal is.

3. Learn ‘The 4 Attitudinal Principles of Invention’. These will sanity check your thoughts along the way and who knows, maybe it will make the difference between something being great and a non-launched pipe-dream that you never got round to?

Good luck.

Taken as an excerpt from ’Business Poison’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/

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