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A blog about branding, marketing, and design, mostly through the lens of practical psychology, intended to be a resource to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Unless otherwise noted, all articles are written by Nyla Smith, owner of n-Vision Designs. {Subscribe to the RSS feed here: RSS}

"Hey, you stole my idea!"

Nyla Smith | Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Have you heard of "Quirky"? It's a website that allows you to submit your ideas for inventions, has people comment on and vote up the ideas, and if yours is chosen, the Quirky team actually brings it to life — they manufacture it and make it available for retail.

Quirky functions in the spirit of open collaboration, and there are some pretty useful products that have come about because of it. I think it's a fabulous idea. But...

I also see potential problems with it—most notably, the idea of intellectual property. As a member of the community myself, I've seen a few instances of "Hey, that was MY idea!" and "you ripped this off of me!"...sometimes followed by angry commentary mixed with a defensive recap of how the idea came about. Uh oh. It's that type of situation that makes some people reluctant to share at all.

Quirky would be perfect if we were a breed of humans that were completely unselfish, without pride, and believed in the greater good over our own individual good. But, on the whole, we're not. How unfortunate. Because if we were, I think some truly innovative things could evolve. Quirky tries to overcome this. They incentivize open collaboration by financially compensating those who have contributed to a winning product's development. For the most part, this seems to work—once you post your idea, people are eager to leave feedback, contribute ideas for improvement, offer suggestions for modifications...and ultimately, you end up with a better product than your original idea. It's creativity at its finest.

But of course, you still get the occasional "hey, you stole my idea!"...and I'm not sure there's a way to fully prevent that. Oh, the pitfalls of creativity.

All of this brings to mind a man named Dr. Keith Sawyer. Dr. Sawyer is one of the country's leading scientific experts on creativity. That's right, a scientist who studies creativity. I built a couple of websites for him ( and a few years ago, and in the process, learned a few things about creativity. Dr. Sawyer has researched creativity within groups. He sees creativity as a collaborative process. Sure, there are individual creative personalities, but when viewed as a whole, creativity is only enhanced through collaboration, rarely hindered. I think Quirky is a great example of this.

Many times in life, we're hesitant to share our ideas because we're afraid somebody else is going to take it and run with it, and we'd be left without credit, without fame, or without royalties. However, if we never share, I dare say Dr. Sawyer would maintain that creativity suffers...or even dies. (Of course, Dr. Sawyer, If you're out there, correct me if I'm wrong).

It's just something to think about. I myself am not immune (yep, I'm human too)...if I design something, I certainly don't want somebody else ripping it off and claiming credit for it themselves...especially if they make any money from it. That little voice inside would rise up and scream, "That should have been my money! My fame! Curse their ill-gotten gains!" I'm not proud of that, but I can only assume that's how I would initially react. Even in a group-related situation, where there is collaborative effort, I think I would still want to be given credit for "my part". Is that so wrong? Eh, maybe, maybe not. But when that mindset leads to a reluctance to contribute to the rest of the world, I'm not sure the world is better off for it.

Oh by the way, there are some pretty interesting ideas that pop up on Quirky. And by interesting, I mean absurd and impractical. (And some that involve toilets.) But I LOVE these types of things. Why? Because they push the limits. They're out of the ordinary. Not so status quo. Now, I don't like different just because it's different.  Rather, I recognize that it's the breeding ground for innovation. What's absurd may just need a few conceptual tweaks. What's impractical now, may lead to something that's more practical tomorrow. Oh, the possibilities. This is it, folks, it's creativity at its core.

So, let's all strive to be more creative, shall we?

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 13 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
Keith Sawyer commented on 02-Feb-2011 07:20 AM
Keith Sawyer here: yes, I agree completely with your post! And thank you, I wasn't familiar with Quirky, I will check it out.
Nyla commented on 03-Feb-2011 03:27 PM
Thanks for verifying, Dr.'s always dangerous when I put words in someone else's mouth. :)

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