I thought of that first!


You’ve heard the phrases, ‘Great minds think alike’ when you mention that you’d already thought of it. Someone probably mentioned to you the so-called ‘human superconscious’ (or is it ‘subconscious’). Some people say that ideas aren’t ours anyway, they’re gifts from God, the gods, or the Universe.

None of that’s any consolation when YOU had the idea first and then someone else comes up with it totally independently. You know they couldn’t have copied you, but somehow seem to have a version of it so close that they must have.

Is it that there’s nothing more potent than an idea that is now due? It’s certainly true in science and invention where, in 1669, differential calculus was invented both by Sir Isaac Newton in England and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in Germany.

Just one hour before Alexander Graham Bell registered his patent for the telephone in 1876, Elisha Gray patented his design. After years of litigation, the patent went to Bell. (See more famous things invented by different people at the same time here) .

We can see how that could apply to inventions computer and the television where numerous minds were, albeit independently, working on the same big problem.

But what happens when your idea surfaces for a story idea. An original, random-like idea that no-one could have possibly been working on from the same angle, surely?

Many published and famous authors have a policy of not opening mail that may contain story ideas. So don’t hand your story ideas to J.K.Rowling at a book signing. She’s had to deal with enough people who thought they’d had the idea of a boy wizard first so daren’t risk looking at anyone else’s ideas.

Russell T Davies, the writer and former executive producer of the television programme Doctor Who said that the BBC had to change its policy on unsolicited scripts and story ideas. They did this to avoid legal cases where someone may have felt their idea was stolen, even unconsciously. After all, there are only so many basic storylines and if you throw in an alien race, robots, time travel and monsters you’ve probably described a dozen Doctor Who adventures quite accurately.

It’s happened to me a number of times. I wrote a story in 1979 that featured as its premise a large ‘worm hole’ (although I called it a transdimensional black hole) at the edge of our solar system allowing the characters from Earth to visit a distant galaxy and for a fleet of aliens to invade Earth. To any science fiction fan, that’s obviously a description of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from 1993 (and Babylon 5 I suppose, from the same time).

But I got there first!

In 1983 in anticipation of the third Star Wars film, I had a dream in which I went into a toy shop and saw in a glass case dozen of Star Wars figures of characters that I’d never seen before. When I woke, I drew them all. Not one appeared like them in Return of the Jedi, but three of them did turn up 16 years later in 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. Psychic premonition or random chance?

I don’t rate either of those as that remarkable. I won’t be seeking legal advice.

Then there’s the case that caused me to write this blog.

In 1997 I wrote a short detective science fiction story based on a premise that I’d never come across before, combining physiology, the supernatural, artificial intelligence and robotics. I re-read this week hoping that perhaps it was perhaps worthy of doing something with. I’d never shown it to anyone, let alone send it to any publisher.

It was on my archive hard drive in a version of Microsoft Word from 1992. The only way to open it was Textedit and strip out all the funny codes.

My wife then read it and questioned when I’d written it. She commented that it was superficially similar to an episode the BBC’s Dirk Gently series, written and broadcast this earlier this year on BBC4.

So is there much hope for my story if everyone who reads it thinks I’m the one who copied an idea? (You decide, click here).

So what can we do about this when it happens?

Nothing.

Or rather it’s a reminder that when you have an idea, use it, do it, get it done and finished and out there in the open, protected by copyright or patent if that’s relevant. But don’t sit on it and wait as sooner or later, another great mind might well just think of it too.

You can’t protect ‘an idea’. You can only protect and claim ownership of the execution of an idea. So when you have a great idea, don’t hoard it, execute it.

Not only will you not get the credit, glory (and maybe cash) from coming up with the idea first, but if someone did beat you too it, how annoying would it be if their execution isn’t as good as yours would have been…

Would you like to read my 1997 short story? If you’ve seen the Dirk Gently episode in question you’ll then know what I’m talking about. Perhaps you’ll think it’s not the same thing at all…

Click here to read it.

“What you can do or think you can do, begin it.  For boldness has magic, power, and genius in it.”
– W. H. Murray*

(*It wasn’t Goethe who said that by the way, if that was what you were thinking. Murray got there first.)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

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20 comments on “I thought of that first!

  1. Hmmmmm. I’ll have to think about this one for a while. But the first thing that pops into my head is “Truth is recognized, not created” (from my book), and the second is that–as we are all seeking through science or fiction or faith to find that truth, we’re going to run into some similar themes. Our logic and intuition is based on experience, too, and if we come from cultures or backgrounds with similar elements, we may approach truth from those venues.

    If that made any sense, send up fireworks! :)

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  2. Had several of these moments ‘garden vacs’ in 1976 ‘tracker’ in 1983 are 2 examples. Now it CAKE! Recipes for success. ALmost there Book virtually written, – CAKE the presentation is close to formulation (if you fancy writing a couple of songs Ayd, Could work well). The last step is to get the book finalised and formatted to kindle.

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  3. Two comments. First it is not unusual in academia to carry out an experiment but delay in writing it up for various reasons. And then to find that someone else has published it. This happens to PhDs too – work on a project for 3/4 years to find someone pipped you at the post a few weeks before submission – nightmare!! Secondly, we can see this throughout history…. classical music, art so on and so forth.
    I think this opens up the whole debate of collective consciousness. Fascinating topic which I really love.

    Does anyone fancy starting an online club to discuss this?

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  4. BTW your advice “it’s a reminder that when you have an idea, use it, do it, get it done and finished and out there in the open, protected by copyright or patent if that’s relevant. But don’t sit on it…” is spot on. Thank you for the nudge.

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  5. I would be interested to know if J.K. Rowling was influenced by (particularly) the second TV series of ‘Catweazle’ in the early ’70s. The boy has a Harry Potter look – and there is even an episode called ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’. But, from the moment we are born, we are subject to seeds of thought alighting on us from what’s there. If an idea forms on our soil and we are able to nourish it, it’s ours.

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  6. This happened to me in 2006 i had an answer to a equation i felt needed addressing at the time. During that summer many people had kids die in overheated cars- it came to me as i was watching the news -Answer a pressure alarm built into the seat that would signal a person who got out of the car it would be build into car seats and could be hard wired to new cars on the market it would sound thee alarm outside the car for everyone to hear if after the car was shut off 1 -2 minutes and the child was not removed–I did write this out in what they call a cheap copy right way i wrote out everything on paper sealed it and mailed it back to myself with the post mark as proof i was going to copy write it and thought about just selling it out to thee car companies I am guilty of being lazy i waited 6 months i got side tracked heres where the story gets funny i did a copy right search to made sure i was not stepping on no body toes with my work–Lo and behold a scientist at NASA had come up thee not the same set up but same ideal within the time i was doing nothing about it –now i was told i could still patent my car seat alarm just by changing it some but to me that would have felt like i was taking something from him .There have been many men in history that got beat to the punch and sometimes by there own laziness–Truth is if anyone is interested i have a set a plans right now for what i call a snow stick that could save lives but i got as far as paper and just tossed it aside–LOL—Angelic Insanity —-

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  7. Happened to me a year or two back. In the olden days when I wanted to write for Doctor Who, I used to think: what if they asked me to finish it, how would I do it? I thought, you have the Doctor in a big end-of-the-universe fight which he can only win by ‘rebooting’ the universe – and in the new universe he doesn’t exist except as a fictional character, so it’s ‘our’ universe. One of those idle things you file away in case it’s ever useful, unlikely though it is. Then at the end of Matt Smith’s first season, all the Doctor’s enemies gang up on him and the only way out is to reboot the entire universe and of course when it restarts he doesn’t exist. As you say, one of a finite storylines available, and when Steven Moffatt thought of it he not only invented it as I kind of did, he delivered and was in a position to make it happen. That’s a considerable difference!

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    • I had an idea in 1998 for a story called Doctor Who and the Dakek, about a lone Dalek, cut off from its mothership, lost in space for centuries and ends up wanting to seek out life rather than exterminate it as it is so lonely – in effect has forgotten how to be a Dalek, until the Doctor reminds it…

      I planned to send it to BBC books for their then new range of original Doctor Who novels. But didn’t.

      Just the same as was broadcast in 2005 as ‘Dalek’ then…

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  8. I remember as a child I wrote a short story in our “creative” writing class. I put everything in to that book. all my imagination and passion. Now to give some back story. I was not a child who watched TV, or played games, or to be honest read books either. I preferred to create my own stories and my own fantasy lands. I was lucky enough to live in a very country side setting and spent a lot of my time in very old houses with various little nooks to investigate. Also as Children we would entertain each other by telling stories that we had to make up on the spot, it was great fun. Anyway back on to the story that I wrote, after handing this in to the teacher I was approached by her and asked if I had ever read a book called the borrowers (she was surprised if I had, as I was about 5 or 6 at the time and that might have been a bit beyond the age group) I confirmed that I had not (and I hadn’t) she asked me because the story I had written held a striking resemblance to the story written by Mary Norton. I would like to note that although my story was written some 40 years later….I had never heard, read, or seen anything to do with the original book. Odd heh.

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  9. A great article that illustrates my argument against all the paranoiacs I meet who are terrified of having their story ideas stolen because they know someone who knew someone who had a friend that this happened to.

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  10. A good blog post, with many pertinent follow-up comments. It’s worth adding to these however, that while there is certainly value in an idea, there is just as much ‘added value’ (to use the vernacular) in the way in which that idea is brought to life. I imagine that there were indeed many people – authors among them – who had the idea of a boy wizard before and while JK Rowling was writing her first book. But her book captured the imagination because it was beautifully written. Perhaps some of those with a similar idea actually imagined a better, stronger concept. It doesn’t necessarily mean that had they committed it to paper it would have sold as well. As you say though, Ayd – that should never stop one from trying.

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  11. Wasn’t Dirk Gently created by Douglas Adams in the 80′s ;) ? Cant follow through the links, getting “page not found” unfortunately :/

    Basically no ideas or stories are original, how you tell them is!

    Had the same waste of energy paranoia over my GCSE media TV series project called Newmarket. I entered it in to the exam and 6 months later Trainer came out, the similarities were amazing, it even had horses in it! When the same thing happened with an idea I had about a Werewolf, Vampire and Zombie in a flat share my jaw dropped when Being Human came out!

    They are scanning my brain!!! LOL

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  12. A few years after my second novel was published (I’m a Turkish writer), a friend of mine gave me a book (written by another Turkish author), saying “read this – it reminds me in some ways of your novel.” I started reading, and was shocked: There were 2-3 places in the book where not only the same things were happening (as my novel), but the other author had even used almost the same sentences as mine, also the same metaphors! I was really upset and started thinking about whether this is plagiarism and what can be done about it, etc… until I finally looked at the year when the novel was published… and was again shocked: If there was a plagiarizer, that would be me, because the other writer had published her novel a few years before mine!!

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