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?
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.
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