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Colleagues May Steal Your Idea--And That's OK

Ritika Trikha

Has a colleague ever pitched your idea as his own? It's only natural to get angry.

If the idea is important enough--or, if you're dealing with a chronic idea thief--you can take action to get the recognition you deserve.

Speak up, elaborate and make the idea even better to demonstrate your ownership. Or, talk to the idea thief and ask what the deal is. If you're not comfortable with that, talk to your boss privately (be careful, though, you don't want to come off as a whiner or tattletale).

But above all, don't get too hung up on the incident. According to Steve Langerud, director of professional opportunities at DePauw University, letting people take credit for your work is one of the best ways to succeed and advance in your career. (Full disclosure: Langerud is a glass-half-full type of person.)

Check out the silver lining to getting your idea stolen:

1. It will end up backfiring on the idea thief. The idea thief thinks he's pretty clever. But, really, he just raised the expectations people have for him. And his inability to generate his own great ideas will leave people underwhelmed in the long run. He won't be able to replicate your success. "When it comes to credit for work product, past behavior predicts future behavior," Langerud says. "Good production just keeps coming. Statistically, one good work product is truly not significant."

So, feel free to take Langerud's work product. "Sure, I'll tell you how I did it. I know you can't replicate it," he says. "And it doesn't take a genius to figure out it wasn't their idea in the first place."

Realize that in the long run, the idea thief's spotlight will surely dim.

2. He owes you one. We are all human. Naturally, "guilt drives people to tell the truth about the source of the work product," Langerud says. "At the end of the day, seeing a colleague every day whose work you stole will drive [you] crazy."

Even if you don't actually say it, the thief of your intellectual property knows he's indebted to you for your idea. Plus, in some cases, "the impact of your work will be amplified by the person who stole your work because they want to make up for stealing it," Langerud says.

3. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Be proud that you have such great ideas that people deem worthy to steal. And, unlike him, you don't need to depend on others to come up with creative solutions. Use this incident as fuel for self-confidence. You clearly have great ideas--keep up the good work.

4. Don't stop sharing techniques, and you will be extremely valuable. You might be tempted to shy away from sharing your valuable techniques or ideas, but, as Langerud points out, you'll advance a lot further if you keep sharing and collaborating.

Here's what's important: There should be a clear understanding about who gets the credit. Langerud suggests you be generous in a team by consistently saying, "'you can have all the credit' and mean it" and "practice asking people to promise they won't share where the idea was produced."

This clarification gives you the upper hand--no surprises. In other words, you're clearly doing a selfless good deed with no expectations in return.

More often than not, you'll find that you will get more credit when you don't ask for or expect it, Langerud says. "Your value as a selfless team member sky rockets when you take one for the team," he says.

As the saying goes, kill 'em with kindness!

Ritika Trikha is a writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, and salary information.

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