Why not Share That Million Dollar Idea? The Psychology Behind Idea Hoarding

What’s your million dollar idea? More importantly, what are you doing with it?

projets, idées, invitations

Flickr image used according to creative commons licensing by zazie 

Unfortunately, ideas generally aren’t worth the bytes they occupy without execution. Want proof? Go check out all of these ideas that are freely shared. So, why do we feel so protective of ideas that we are either ill-equipped to execute, are going to allow to die a slow painful death or worst of all tinker with until someone else finally executes?

Kevin Mullet led me down this path this week when he posed the following question on Google+

At first, I thought that there were reasonable explanations as to why people don’t share curated content, which you can see in the thread, but the more that I thought over, his initial question I wanted to dig into why people are so reluctant to share the ideas or content that they have created?

When I was a kid, my dad told me a story about his father creating “the first ATM machine concept” in the 1950’s. Of course, it was rudimentary and mechanical, but the concept was essentially there to have a machine that could dispense cash without a human interface. So, was he attributed with the invention? Did he make millions for the patent? Is his face inscribed on every Diebold machine? No, no and no. He had the idea and nothing more.

Now, with so much noise and so much data created every day, why would someone hold onto something that they can’t immediately execute? There is some covetous ownership over ideas, and I would like to better understand why people hold so tightly to ideas or creations that are never going to blossom while locked under lock and chain in the recess of their, er, our minds.

Immediately, 5 reasons jump out to me as the cause for psychology of why people don’t share ideas:

1. “Give me time, I will make this happen.” You’re never going to execute on the idea, so let someone else have a shot.

2. “I have a friend that is going to help me get this done.” You probably do not have the resources, time or money to make this idea great, so let someone else have a shot. Maybe they will partner with you to make it a success.

3. “I can’t just give it away.” If shared, this idea or knowledge product could benefit thousands of people, so let someone else have a shot.

4. “This is my work product for my company and they are going to use it eventually.” If they aren’t using it now it is going to be obsolete, replaced or never used, so let someone else have a shot.

5. “I have a lot of pride in this idea, in the hands of someone else they may destroy it.” They may or they may make something amazing, so let someone else have a shot.

Sure, there are ideas that you may execute to change your life, but I would venture to say 80% are better fit for the hands of another. It’s like love you know, “If you ‘think’ something, set it free; if it comes backs it’s yours, if it doesn’t, it never was.” :)

The risk is that your idea may make someone else a million dollars. The reward is that you may play a role in the meaningful impact of thousands of people. You may also add to your brand the attribution of this brilliant idea.


Jeremy Floyd

Jeremy Floyd is the Chief Marketing Officer at Back Porch Vista. Formerly, he was the president of Bluegill Creative, a marketing and communications firm in Knoxville, Tennessee. In addition to managing the digital strategies, Floyd is an adjunct professor for the University of Tennessee Chattanooga MBA program teaching digital strategies and social media. Floyd blogs at jeremyfloyd.com and tweets under the name @jfloyd. Jeremy is licensed to practice law in the State of Tennessee and holds a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree from MTSU in English and Philosophy.

  • http://www.kevinmullett.com Kevin Mullett

    Glad you found use for my question and I find it inspiring to see it blossom into a bigger thing.

    As a funny coincidence I had started on a submission for a local TEDx event I was going to call “The Great Idea Giveaway.” During which I was going to do a cleansing of sorts by giving away about a dozen ideas I had never started, and likely never will, and ask the audience to do the same. Anyone is free to use that idea as I may never get around to it.

    My only additional observation on the release of ideas, is that ideas come prepackaged with enthusiasm for seeing it become a reality. In other words, you may be the only person who believes in it enough, or has the vision, to put in the work required to actually make it happen. Almost every idea I have given away has remained unfulfilled. Including one mobile app, which only needed to be coded. The “only” requiring hundreds of man hours of code time was enough for kill the project with those who had an opportunity to make money on it, but no passion to execute it.

    Clarification of point 4, which I believe relates to my response back to your question on my G+ thread. The ideas not shared publicly were currently being used and it potentially could have caused legal or other issues. An idea not shared isn’t necessarily an idea not in use.

  • http://www.jeremyfloyd.com Jeremy Floyd

    I would love to see that TEDx.

    Actually my #4 is a struggle that I’m having about a piece of content that I’ve created. I have a spreadsheet that I’ve been building to encompass social media strategy, goals, monthly dashboard measurement, timeline and micro-post tracking. I built the original spreadsheet as a primer for the students in my digital marketing class, but the more I’ve worked on it, I started using at my firm. I would love to give it away, but at the same time, I see the “competitive advantage” of hoarding it. My whole quest into this conversation is playing out my own internal conversation. :)

    Thanks for the comments Kevin!

  • Catherine Roy

    The photo’s license you are using in this post clearly states you must provide attribution. A title attribute included in the flickr code used to share the photo is not sufficient. Please comply with the license or remove the photo.

  • http://www.jeremyfloyd.com Jeremy Floyd

    Thank you Catherine. I apologize that the attribution code was not on there before. It is on there now. :)

  • Catherine Roy

    Thank you for the prompt response. Carry on :)

  • Ankur Goyal

    Well the article does have some value in it – I have an idea and I just want you to look in it and comment/feedback – I would really appreciate your inputs in it. please check dollarforhumanity.com and let me know what you think.