Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
March 29, 2012 6:16 AM

Where Do Ideas Come From?

"I keep having my ideas ripped off!"

I grew up being friends with a very successful individual. The problem was that this individual could have been much more successful (especially if you asked them). If you sat down with this individual and asked them why they thought they weren't as successful as they had imagined, it would all boil down to one thing: "people keep stealing my ideas." Sure there are patents and trademarks and other things to help protect that which is proprietary, but is an idea and/or a concept the same thing? As someone who has been Blogging for close to a decade, I'll often come across a Blog post that gets lauded for its originality and perspective, only to find out that it's a shared sentiment to something I wrote about years ago. Do I think that this Blogger stole my idea? No. Do I feel like I got the short end of the wishbone? No. Ideas come from the zeitgeist. While the thought may be (somewhat) original to me, it was inspired by the things around me (that which is being said, done and communicated). In essence, an idea is the "tip of the spear" to things that have inspired me. It would be (somewhat) audacious of me to think of it as being a purely original idea. I'm also hopeful that the content I publish inspires new ideas from others (whether intended or not).


People often want to meet with me to share their business ideas and get my perspective. It's a very flattering position to be in and it really does humble me. Sadly, three quarters of those meetings never happen because I won't sign a NDA (non-disclosure agreement). I would quickly have a very bad reputation if I was stealing ideas but beyond that, I've rarely sat down with someone and been show an idea that I hadn't already seen in one incarnation or another. I also worry that it's something we may be working on for one of our clients. I'm sure there are many lawyers and legal professionals who will scoff at this Blog post, that's fine: Google knows all. You see, you can claim to have an original idea, but I would recommend that you do a search on anything and everything that you would define as an idea unique to yourself. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this back in May 2008 for The New Yorker in an article titled, In The Air. His article doesn't make my point true or valid, it simply points to this very real reality: ideas are in the air.

Steal this idea.

The other day, I saw this tweet on Twitter: "tzacchi: @netclueonline wonder what @mitchjoel and Twist Image (Six Pixels of Separation) think of your new logo. #2minds1thought." It linked to this webpage. Look familiar (especially to those who remember the first version of the Six Pixels of Separation logo)? Do I think that they stole our idea? I hope not. I'm going to assume the best in people (and not the worst). But again, Google doesn't lie. How hard is it to see that the Six Pixels logo came out in 2008? Seems pretty obvious - if anyone cares - where that one, idea came from. I also can't speak to previous brand identities that our designers may have been inspired by to get to our result. So, should you steal ideas? The answer is yes, so long as you're not stealing it - exactly. Artists have bee saying this years. Do you remember Picasso's famous saying: "good artists copy but great artists steal"?

Stealing is only stealing when the ideas don't inspire.

Those who steal ideas and make something different win. Those who steal ideas and do nothing with them but steal, are thieves. I had breakfast with Chris Brogan today. He's a friend... and someone who I don't get to spend enough time with in the year. We were talking about this notion of ideas and stealing. We started laughing because we have both been caught in instances where we've found ourselves Blogging and realized that we had actually written about the exact same topic at some point in the past. Caught red handed! We're now stealing from ourselves! We both laughed, but it was a true moment of enlightenment for me. Ideas are everywhere. It seems obvious enough. But, you need humility. So many things inspire me: music, books, Blogs, people like you and more. With that, I'm humble enough to recognize that I may just be vessel here and not the source.

What do you think about ideas... and where they come from?

By Mitch Joel