I’ve been robbed twice in one week!

The first time I was sitting in a meeting as the CEO praised Amanda for her good work on a human resources initiative to attract and retain quality employees.

“Amanda has reworked this project so it better reflects employee benefits and needs,” the CEO said. He then went on to list major improvements, all of which I suggested to Amanda in an hour-long meeting we had the week prior. I said the project needed an overhaul as it was filled with unmeasurable generalisations and included no employee benefits, no statistics, no behavioural indicators, basically, no ‘people’ stuff.

Amanda basked in the glory of my hijacked material as the CEO acknowledged her for understanding the emotional and behavioural sides of employees, the exact areas I told Amanda were missing from the project.
She had stolen my ideas and presented them as her own. I wouldn’t have minded so much if she had made a simple acknowledgment, “I have to say, a lot of the changes came out of a meeting Belinda and I had.” But not a peep was uttered through her smug smile.

It must have been a dry idea week because not only were my peers stealing from me, but I was also robbed by a person in my team!

I was having dinner with work friends when Monica asked, “You know the Clothing Club initiative, was that your idea?”

I proudly acknowledged it was. Clothing Club allowed employees a stab at the previously forbidden garment samples we produced and many said they were saving hundreds of dollars a year.

“I thought it was your project,” Monica said, “Do you know Therese got up in front of the entire company and said it was her idea? I was watching people’s reactions and they clearly weren’t very impressed with her claim to your Clothing Club concept.”

So there it was, thought thievery, twice in one week: in the first instance the only two people who knew about my input were Amanda and myself, in the second, dozens of people within the organisation knew Clothing Club was my idea.

In both cases I think they were desperate for praise and recognition, even if they had to steal from me to get it.

I know Therese is insecure as she constantly recites her resume to new colleagues to reassure them of her abilities. Instead of gaining faith in her expertise they hear someone bragging about their skills, which often brings up their insecurities and turns the conversation into a duel. “Yes, well I’ve had experience in…” The thing is Therese has great ideas of her own, and I was happy to share the glory, so what was she thinking?

In Amanda’s case, I’m not sure if it was insecurity or confidence. She’s a new employee who just completed her three-month probationary period when ‘the incident’ occurred. Prior to that she appeared to be on her best behaviour whilst lulling us into a false sense of security. After passing probation, she obviously felt she had job security and traded in her common convertible for a BMW and asked for an office upgrade. Perhaps she was feeling bold and didn’t think the CEO would praise her in front of everybody, including the person she stole the ideas from.

In each case I was a little shocked and disappointed in my colleagues especially as I am one of those people who constantly acknowledges workmates. If I hear a great quote I say, “Sandy has this great saying.” When someone shares a good idea I build its profile, “David told me about a thought he had and we’re going to work on implementing it.”

It’s not professional to take credit for ideas that don’t belong to you. Even if someone told you something that sparked a personal pearler, let other people know about it. Acknowledgement is a great gift to your colleagues.

If you’ve had an idea stolen, how did it make you feel? Most people get m-a-d and ‘how dare they!’ often pops into their mind. Unfortunately, they don’t confront the thief. Instead they go around telling their workmates about the dirty dog and rarely do they expose them to their bosses as in many cases the culprit is their boss.

If you’ve been the victim of thought thievery and haven’t confronted the perpetrator, or at least clarified the situation with those who have been disillusioned by the thief, you’re leaving it open to happen again. So try to expose the situation.

In Amanda’s case I casually said to the CEO, “It’s great that the company is creating a better workplace environment. Amanda and I had a meeting last week and discussed the project. I’m glad she valued my opinion and incorporated the suggestions I gave her around…” I could see the cogs turning in the CEO’s head as it registered that all those ‘great ideas’ he praised Amanda for, were actually mine.

I didn’t have to do anything in Therese’s case as she exposed herself when she foolishly announced to two hundred people that her initiative had finally launched. She’d only been with the company for three weeks and many knew the project started a month before that. In her case, justice was immediately done and people became instantly wary. Perhaps she thought I wouldn’t find out because I wasn’t at the meeting, she was wrong.

Perhaps it’s possible you’re not the victim, but the perpetrator who steals ideas with a repertoire of justifications? “Sure we talked about it, but I presented it, so it really is my idea.” Or “I don’t remember you telling me anything about that.”

What in your nature encourages you to steal? And let me ask you, what if the person you’re presenting to dislikes ‘your’ concepts? Would you suddenly attribute those ideas to the person you stole from, as you’re happy to take the glory, but not the blame?

Remember the warnings that appear at the beginning of DVDs concerning copyright? It’s the same principle so whether you’re the victim or thought thief, the message is clear: stealing is stealing.

How to handle this situation

Part of you wants to jump and scream, “You dirty $*#@, how dare you steal my idea and present it as your own!” But how often have you seen that happen (wouldn’t it be great)? Learn from the experience and be mindful of what you share with this person in future, don’t withhold creativity, but feed them very little. Also, let those who’ve been fleeced by the thief know about it, “I’m glad you liked Amanda’s presentation and I was pleased to see that she used many of my suggestions such as…”

Some thought thieves are occasionally so audacious that they repeat your idea back to you at a later stage. Don’t seethe, be bold and say something, “That’s great you want to go ahead with what I mentioned last week. I’m happy to develop my idea.”

I know from colleagues that their initial ‘body’ approach is the desire to slap some sense into the thief. But let’s not go there. Take deep breaths and let the anger flow out of your body, don’t hold on to it.

Rest assured you’ll come up with many more unique ideas. You have the gift of creation, the thief obviously doesn’t. Eventually they will be exposed.