Stealing Good Ideas

[May 24, 2020]  An Army Colonel once told me that his path to success had a lot to do with him stealing good ideas from others.  Initially, I was shocked.  But I realized that we all steal ideas all the time; we call this learning.  We take the ideas of others, make them our own, and integrate them into our memory and thinking process.

I came to understand the word “stealing,” in the Colonel’s comment, was a bit amorphous and fluid.  He did not mean stealing copyrighted material, or their identity, or even taking the idea to give himself credit.  What he meant by stealing was to take a good idea to make it his thinking better, stronger, and more resistant to defeat.

“We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” – Steve Jobs

A good friend of mine, a very successful businessman, taught me a lesson that I will never forget.  He said that your most unhappy customers are your most significant source of learning.  They tell you where you lack in your service, as well as never asking anything else in return.  My friend said that you should never be ashamed of asking them why and taking their wisdom to heart.  It is not stealing but becoming a wiser man.

And yet, there is no end to education.  It is not a book well-read, an educational degree awarded, or a life finished.  Learning is forever.  It is what distinguishes the animal from the human.  We “take” ideas, and that includes terrible ideas that assure failure and misery.  That is still learning.  Make no mistake about it; wisdom is not served up quickly; it is dirty, hard, unceremonious work.  Those that give us ideas, intentionally or not, are part of us as leaders, and we should be thankful.

In the early game of American football, it was a version of rugby until the forward pass was introduced with a rule change in 1906.  The pass changed the way football was played forever.  Gridiron American football has evolved the game and was the result of an idea that was “stolen” from a player in 1876.  Perhaps the word “borrowed” might be a better choice of words.  Regardless of what we call it, the idea of the forward pass was worth introducing into the game to make it faster moving and more entertaining.

Fairness, as some will undoubtedly argue, suggests giving credit to one’s idea source.  Naturally, we cannot grant credit for everything as the root of these ideas in the past is frequently forgotten.  Absorbing the ideas of others does not “take” or embezzle them away as those people still have their ideas.  This act of stealing a good idea is what learning is about and will always be about.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Stealing Good Ideas

  1. Yusaf from Texas

    Today is Memorial Day in the USA. And, with that in mind, I will keep my comments short. I will be planting American flags in a local veteran’s cemetery. There, others and I are among those who are showing what respect is about. I didn’t get this idea from thinking it up on my own but from watching others and ‘stealing’ their ideas. I’m a much better person for it.

    1. Max Foster

      Yusaf, you have once again made me proud of your dedication to the Nation and your respect for us all.

  2. José Luis Rodriguez

    Spot-on article. Thanks. I will remind everyone that today is the day before Memorial Day and that we should all consider attending Memorial Services around our neighborhoods. This pandemic thing is a bit overblown (maybe, ha ha ha, LOL). IMO, I will be going to a local parade (wearing my mask to obey the local rules). I also look forward to being surprised as what Gen. Satterfield has to write on the subject when I log in tomorrow.

    1. Deplorable John

      I look forward to tomorrow’s Memorial Day blog post too. Hope you have a great weekend, Jose.

  3. old warrior

    Loved the “stealing” article. You kicked butt as usual.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Yep, that’s why I and others keep coming back. I would like for you to suggest, being a long-time commentator here, that we get together and suggest a range of topics for Gen. Satterfield to tackle. This would add to our understanding of leadership a bit more and perhaps also be entertaining as well.

      1. JT Patterson

        Sure, Otto. At some point I will. Thanks for the suggestion. Any ideas you might have (and others here as well) would be appreciated.

  4. Wendy Holmes

    I love American football, not soccer (sissy sport). Thanks all for jumping in to encourage Mr. Bryce to write more for us. His down-to-earth articles have been a godsend to me and my friends who are always asking about the lines of thinking we have here. 😊

  5. Tony B. Custer

    Truly a valuable piece of logic here today. I would like to see more on this concept. I too get ideas from others and, of course, not always give attribution for various reasons.

  6. Delf A. "Jelly" Bryce

    Just popped in this morning to get a quick glace at what Gen. Satterfield has been writing about over the past several days and found this blog post about “stealing good ideas.” This is how I made myself in the world of great leadership. Find an idea, expand on it, make it better (and more useful), and get the idea before senior leaders who can use it. This is a very effective path to getting things done, promotions, and increased responsibility.

    1. William DeSanto

      Hi “Jelly” …. wonderful to see you back here in the forums. Gen. Satterfield has made significant progress with pushing us to THINK more widely and boldly. Good always to read your comments. Please write another article soon for us.

    2. Doug Smith

      Hi Mr. Bryce. Big fan of yours and so many of the readers of this blog by Gen. Satterfield shows. We all would like you to write about your experiences to show us the ‘how’ in applied leadership.

      1. Dead Pool Guy

        I’m all in on your recommendation Doug. Mr. Bryce is one of a few favorite Guest Bloggers in this leadership website. No doubt about it, one of the very best I’ve read in a long, long time.

  7. Eric Coda

    Very apropos. Thank-you again for your timely articles.

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