I reread the post Your First Thought Is Rarely Your Best Thought: Lessons on Thinking by Farnam Street and, upon reflection, thought about Lincoln Murphy’s open complaint about how people are stealing his material (you can substitute “Lincoln Murphy” for just about anyone as ideas are stolen or “borrowed” all the time). Aside from the hucksters who do it maliciously, why do we steal ideas?
Could it be that our first idea was not so great? Could it be that we could not come up with something better? Maybe it’s because he or she has got it all figured out and there’s really nothing else to add. If a speaker, coach, or pundit is 100% correct, then what incremental improvement will I find down the road?
So why do we steal? I think it’s because our best ideas require more effort and it’s easier to grab someone else’s lunch from the fridge than it is to get our own. We know Tom usually brings a good lunch and we are pretty sure he won’t need it because he’s scheduled to go out today. So it’s fine. It’s easier to take than to create.
Or take deadlines. If I have a deadline to write a college paper, save an account, or win an election, I’m under a lot of pressure. It’s far easier to take what’s already proven. Besides, it’s more like “borrowing” anyways. So we justify it. I’m tired, it’s the end of a long week of travel and I want the easy way out.
Another possibility is since childhood we were taught not necessarily to be creative, but follow a form. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That English paper or math question taught us the building blocks of how it’s put together. So we disassemble and reassemble over and over. We learn structures, but not originality.
It’s easier to steal what works than to risk investing in something that may flop. This starts out with our thinking. We’re afraid to invest in thinking. As Shane says in the linked article above, “a lot of people see thinking more than a few minutes as a waste of time…”
If we don’t explicitly see the return on investment, we usually scrap the idea. The same is true for thinking. Thus, we limit our investment in thinking. That habit leads us to steal from others rather than create because we lack the research and development. We don’t fully understand the nuances and components, so we source ideas from others.