Ideas Should Be Stolen

It was the start of 2005 and I was in Vegas with Barry. “I have the best business idea,” I said. “I’ll tell you, but you have to promise to keep it to yourself.”

“Okay, what is it?”

“Promise not to tell anyone?”

He promised.

“Alright,” I said. “This is just between you and me. It’s gonna be huge.” I leaned in and lowered my voice. “I’m going to write a BlackBerry virus. It’ll infiltrate your address book, send itself to all of your contacts, and then delete everyone from your address book.”

“How is this a business idea?”

“After the virus spreads, then I’ll start selling BlackBerry antivirus software! I’ll be the only one who can write it because I was the one who created the virus!”

I paused in earnest anticipation.

“That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard in my life.”

And I was shattered. I never carried out my BlackBerry virus. I don’t know if anyone else ever did either. Probably not, because the idea was stupid.

Last night, Warren sent me a link to an iPhone app that looked remarkably like opensmut. We’d been scooped. That’s actually good, I said. It means we’re in a good space.

Here’s how I see it: I’m not that smart. For every fantastic idea I come up with, there are plenty of other people out there who have had the same idea. I would be worried if none of those people thought the idea important enough to execute.

The real world isn’t a winner-take-all game like academia, where getting scooped can be the kiss of death. Even if someone else corners the collaborative webcomic market in the US, that doesn’t mean opensmut is doomed to obscurity. We’ll pivot, evolve, or simply register and move into China where the US app is banned.

Business ideas should be widely shared, and open pollination encouraged. Let someone else deal with the perils of making version 1.0. The most successful products today are regurgitations of things that already existed. iPad and MS Tablet. iPhone and Palm pilot. Facebook and Friendster. Hunger Games and Battle Royale.

Here are some other unoriginal ideas that are ripe for reinvention:

Free higher education. Some course offerings at coursera are quite good, while others are complete rubbish. There needs to be an organized curriculum. A little bit of quality control and accreditation could go a long way.

Sharing-based-employment. People are sharing their homes, their vehicles, their skills, their bodies, and making a tax-free living doing so. It’s an unregulated frontier akin to prostitution at this point.

Nursing homes. Like public schools and Comcast, the clientele have little recourse if the service providers do a bad job.

3D printers. Right now they’re like the impractical and inaccessible laser printers of the 80s. Someone needs to make them more consumer-friendly. You know who should be doing this? Hewlett Packard. Dear Meg Whitman, throw in the towel on those Windows 8 tablets already. That ship has sailed. Go back to printers.

I hope somebody steals these ideas from their originators and reinvents them. It would make the world a better place.


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