I read your latest post about not having time to properly answer e-mails, so I'll keep this short.
What's your take on using an idea that you've seen on an internet forum or social networking site, and basing your next business project on it? For example, a member posts an idea that they have on a public forum, and everyone responds with, "Wow, that's a great idea - you should start a business and make some cash!" The member says that they just do it as a hobby and aren't really interested in making money.
If someone comes along and sees that, they indeed may want to take on the project and start making profit off of it, essentially stealing the idea and reaping the benefits.
Is that wrong? Since it was posted online for all to see on a public forum, hasn't that member forfeited any rights he had to the idea originally?
Every now and then, I write a fun ultra-short flippant post, and maybe even make some sort of point in the process. IE, see: "Does Free Will Exist?"
I almost did that here. I really, really wanted to.
The post would have looked like this - quoting your entire post, and then:
> Is that wrong?
And that would have been it!
Wouldn't that have been fun and clever?
Okay, then I thought, well maybe I can still be flippant, but also useful at the same time. So I would have written:
Go read this:
So yeah, go read that.
But then, y'know, I decided to actually write something serious. Here's my real answer:
Hey F, I respect that you're thinking through ethical questions, but you can't ask "Is this right?" without defining your ethical structures.
Ethics don't exist outside of you. Ethics are what you choose to live by.
I can't quite do that for you. I can share with you some way to look at ethics, or how I do, or whatever. If you asked, "What are your ethics on this point?" I'd tell you.
But I have weird ethics. I have duty-based ethics, where I look at what duties I have in the situation. If I was on a private forum like the Dynamite Circle and I copied someone's business marketing case, that'd be fucked. That's no good. Totally wrong. Breaks a duty I have to Dan Andrews, who graciously invited me to join, and fellow DCers who share quite a lot about their business trusting that it's a curated environment.
On a public forum, I think there's no such duties.
That's before even getting into the value of ideas, which is virtually nil. The value is in creating the magic for people, serving them, fulfilling their needs - thinking up a way to do that doesn't serve their needs. Executing on it does.
If someone said, "I'd like to tell you an idea in confidence to get your perspective, I'll pay you keep it confident, and you'll benefit from knowing it but can't compete with me... and it's something you'd never, ever discover on your own" - and you say yes? Okay. Duty there. That'd be stealing an idea, and no good.
A private forum with an expectation of discretion? Maybe stealing an idea.
A public forum? No duties. Get started. Deliver that value. Win.
Actually, my real answer is this -
> Is that wrong?
In my opinion, there would only be an ethical dilemma in taking an idea if you had an agreement not to do so before the idea was shared with you. The private forum Sebastian noted is one such example, where the forum exists as a place to share ideas and plans among trusted others. A private conversation between yourself and another person where your advice is being sought would be another.
A public forum is not such a place, and running with an idea spotted in a public forum is just part of the cut and thrust of business. You aren't stealing the idea any more than a rugby player picking up the ball when their opponent drops it in a tackle.
Ok, quote went wrong. The paragraph I meant was:
Hey F, I respect that you’re thinking through ethical questions, but you can’t ask “Is this right?” without defining your ethical structures.
Ethics don’t exist outside of you. Ethics are what you choose to live by.
I can’t quite do that for you. I can share with you some way to look at ethics, or how I do, or whatever. If you asked, “What are your ethics on this point?” I’d tell you.
Hey Sebastian. I think you cannot be more right than that. You cannot ask what is right or wrong without clarifying your ethic code. Freud sais that science has brought three narcisic wounds on humans: First Darwin, stipulating that human are not a "special" spieces and that we are just one kind of monkey that evolved. Second, Copperincus stipulating that the Earth is not the center of the universe, therefore that humans are not the center of the universe and just gravitating on this little rock on the big emptiness. And then came Freud himself. Slapping humans on the face with the last wound stating that not only humans are not a special spieces and not the center of the universe. But as an added bonus, humans are not even masters of their own emotions and thoughts. I think Freud is right. But I think he is incomplete. There is a fourth wound: there is not central or higher ethical system for humans. No true call. No holly way. No master Ethical path. Either presented by god, gods or philosophers. We cannot be bound to a higher call of human bondage, love and happiness all together through a higher, unified ethical system. What is good for a group will be wrong for another. Period and always. Therefore, one must state his/her ethical standard for him/herself. Then live by it truely in accordance of you values. Take your own decision based on your own ethical system. That`s the only way to be happy. That`s the only way to fell good and at peace with yourself. And that`s the only way to avoid internal conflict in yourself.
I'd take it even further. By posting it on an open online forum, the person indicates that he wants feedback on the idea, but also that he does not mind about other knowing about it. By stating that he wants to keep it as a hobby and not make a business out of it, the person implies that he either a) is genuinely not interested in making money off it or b) does not dare to actually implement it to make money off it.
In the first case, implementing it yourself does not harm his business interests.
In the second case, implementing it yourself might be what he needs to understand that there is actually a way to create a successful business based on this idea.
Sebastian, this is a magnificent paragraph:
I am impressed. And glad that you chose to elaborate.
Japan's customer service?
Legendarily good, yes?
Japan has extraordinary amounts of customer service since a large bulk of their belief and daily practice is based around duty-based ethics. This is a rare thing to most Westerners - in the West, we're very willing to fudge the rules to provide a better outcome. It's expected, even.
In Japan, the ethical systems are more along the lines of rules than outcomes. We're generalizing, of course, this isn't everyone. But it's most people here.
In many cases, I'm a big fan of stealing other people's ideas. You shouldn't take credit for ideas that aren't yours, of course, and I also wouldn't recommend stealing ideas if the sole purpose of stealing them is to stay competitive with the person/company you're stealing from.
In most other situations, though, I encourage stealing ideas. First, actively looking for ideas to steal means always keeping an eye out for improvements. Need some help on getting organized? Call the busiest people you know and figure out what their secret is. Want to open a new business but not sure how to make it unique? Travel to a few cities and look to see what other people are doing. I know several restaurants that are great, but the owners clearly have no intention of expanding. Talking to the owners about how and why they are successful can go a long way in helping somebody else start a (noncompetitive) business of their own.
Of course what I'm really talking about is sharing ideas. However, many people have great ideas, but for whatever reason the people don't take any action to spread their ideas. I'd love to see a website similar to TED, but 1,000 times bigger and with way simpler concepts. Essentially, it would aggregate all of the useful, daily tips and suggestions that people can use to improve their lives. The internet already has this information available, but finding it won't happen unless we all know how to search for it.
This reminds me of a story I once read (help me out if you know the source) about Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Supposedly, he would often gather a team of some of the best doctors and scientists he could find, representing several different specialties. Then they would all sit in a conference room together and just talk. Each individual would get a chance to talk about the top need in his field, the one thing that would mean saving the most money or saving the most lives or whatever the case was. In many cases, somebody else in the room would already have a very similar solution developed in their own field. In other words, the answers to our biggest problems exist already, but we're all looking in too narrowly.