June 27, 2007

When Somebody Steals Your Work

Many years ago, it was my job to create a catalog marketing strategy that would significantly increase the profitability of my division.

I worked hard at developing something new, innovative, and different. Mysteriously, I came up with something that 'worked'!

I shared the plan with a member of our executive team. This person showed moderate disinterest in the plan.

Nearly eight weeks later, I was on vacation when I received a phone call from one of my analysts. My analyst informed me that the executive came to my team, told my team they needed to re-work the entire catalog contact strategy and sales forecast, and gave them a plan to implement before the end of the week.

It was my plan.

The executive either planned to do this, or circumstances forced the executive to do this, or it was an honest mistake.

Regardless, my work was stolen by this person. This person got the credit for a strategy that was several million dollars a year more profitable than what was being done at the time.

There are many times when you 'want' your work to be stolen by others. When you are in Database Marketing, it is your job to 'influence' others, you don't lead the merchandising or creative team. So, you float ideas and concepts out there that other executives run with. This happens all the time. The best Database Marketers are utterly gifted at this style of management.

But there are times when your work is blatantly and brazenly stolen. When that happens, how should you react?

Are there instances in your career when somebody stole your work, and received credit for it? How did you handle the situation? How did the situation resolve itself?


  1. Anonymous1:01 PM

    Quite interesting. In the web analytics world too, we got the same kind of influencing "duty", since we want to change the way web sites are managed. We too want our ideas to be "stolen", as you say, but credit is definitely something important, or else, how are we going to get the recognition our field needs.

    In any case, blatant unfair appropriation deserves a kick in the butt...

  2. There seem to be three separate things that happen.

    (1) You want somebody to steal your idea, so you float the idea out there, and somebody steals it. You're not looking for credit, you just want your business to do better.

    (2) You want somebody to steal your idea, and you want to get some credit. This is probably how most people feel.

    (3) You want the idea to be yours, but somebody steals it and takes credit for the idea. These are the frustrating ones, as you point out!

  3. When I used to work for "real" companies (I'm self-employed), I'd only present my ideas to groups of two people or more. And if I had an idea that I knew was going to be popular, I'd begin to socialize it in emails and in small meetings with various member of my department several weeks in advance.

    This was for two reasons:

    1.) To pee in the corners of that intellectual territory. Nobody swipes an idea if they know everyone already knows its rightful owner.

    2.) To get valuable feedback on the idea so that its Achilles heels were revealed before I presented it "for real."

    I hate to sound arrogant, but I have always worked hard for my ideas. Sometimes, the best way to protect your intellectual property is to "tag it as yours" during the creative process.


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