This is a question that has run through the minds of many many programmers in their coding career at some point or another, including myself. Should you share your magnificent ideas with other people, or even worse out in the public domain where it could be stolen by some "sugar thief" if you will.
There is no real wrong answer, but one of those paths might lead you to success and the other might derail your otherwise perfect plan. And off the bat, full disclosure, I'll say that I lead more towards the latter. And I will explain why further down below. It has nothing to do with sugar thieves, I assure you.
sharing is caring
So today I'll be going both the pros and cons with sharing ideas to others. Why it can help, why it can hurt, and why maybe there's a nice balance somewhere in there where we can do both. And maybe by the end, I'll end up sharing an idea or two.
keep reading for possible idea sharing
Don't do it
Never share your ideas with anyone, as someone could steal it, and then you're screwed for life. There is some truth to that, I guess. It's technically "possible" that someone could take your descriptive paragraph and reverse engineer it in their heads and 6 months to a year later, they have a working version and a marketing plan and finances, and then they could technically have used your idea to win at life.
And truthfully, there's nothing wrong with that. But we tend to be a jealousy based society nowadays, and if anyone has something nicer then us, we immediately see that as a negative thing. They didn't earn it, I'm amazing, where are my golden coins kind of thing.
That's the #1 concern with most people anyhow. That our ideas are somehow primed for success. I mean, I think I tend to have really cool ideas sometimes, but most of those I have no clue how to build nor do I have the financial means to do so. So if someone comes out and builds it, at least it exists now and I can use it. Which is why I don't concern myself too much with this particular problem.
You ever look at a mouse and think that maybe it's just too big? Most of it is plastic and the battery usually takes up about 20% of the entire thing. But aside from a circuit board, an LED light, and a light receptor, there's not much else in there. What if, we could make it much much smaller for those lonely trips to the coffee shop! @_@ Just saying.
But more realistically, there is a threat that could arise from oversharing your ideas. And that threat is how having your idea be public can effect the project itself. A Schrodinger's Cat, if you will. Very existential, I know. But a big part of coming up with something "amazing", is that it's amazing to you. For whatever reason. And as soon as it is exposed to the world, it's going to be analyzed, broken down and turned into someone else's version of your idea.
when does your idea, become not your idea anymore...
This is the point where you realize your idea was a stupid one and you move on and forget about it. But maybe it wasn't a stupid idea. Maybe this new "new" idea is a stupid one. Maybe your original concept is still amazing. This is my main point against sharing my creative genius. Not because I'm afraid of thieves, but because it might not become my idea anymore.
Share and share alike
I've heard many successful talk about how sharing your ideas won't effect it in any way and in fact they freely go around months before launch talking about said ideas. But there's a big difference between those people and most of us. They're very wealthy. I'll tell you this, if I was worth a cool 10 million and I had this idea for a new communication app of some sort, I'd gladly tell you, as I already had a team of 20 working on my idea.
But since I'm not, I tend to protect the ideas that may one day get me to that point.
There's also an argument that if you share an idea and someone beats you to it, then maybe you didn't deserve the idea as they actually went ahead and built the thing. I totally agree with that statement, for a few reasons. For one, it's not like you sat there and broke down your idea step by step with a full marketing plan in tow. Making a successful product takes an insane amount of time and effort. And sometimes it just needs the right person for the job. That person may be you, but maybe it's not.
The idea isn't what has value attached to it, it's the amount of work that goes into building it, maintaining it and spreading it around. So if you're really dedicated on your idea, then maybe sharing it with people can generate just the right amount of feedback to continue moving it forward.
How I share my ideas now
I'm human, sort of. And as such, I enjoy the adulation that comes from sharing an amazing idea with someone else and watching them *gasp in awe. Except that's probably never happened ever. In fact, the moments before sharing are the amazing part. Then it's very quickly followed by ideas of failure and visions of a wasted past.
And now, I have a much better process that works for me and that minimizes cross-contamination on my idea. You ready for it? I build a very basic version first, before I share the idea with anyone. And the first thing that people do is question the concept and ask if it's ever going to work. And my response is to have them try it out for themselves.
This pretty removes any and all negative thoughts towards my amazing concept from the start. The person loses a sort of power if you will. It's no longer a shared concept that they can inject their 2 cents into. It's still my idea, and it's concrete. And here comes the adulation, which will encourage my idea and myself to move it forward. It's essentially how I've been able to launch several sites throughout the past few years. The trick is to never tell the person that you have a working version first.
There's never a right answer
That's the problem with many of life's choices. You can't just test out the waters and then go back in a Delorean. You might either be right, or you might be wrong. You might keep your ideas pure and win, or you might tell your co-workers and then go to change it a million times and fail. But that's how we learn things in life, and you don't really ever fail as long as you're moving forward on something. So share, or don't share, but continue to have ideas and continue to build things.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.
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