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Enterprise Software

Co-worker 'idea theft' is often not deliberate

If a co-worker has ever taken credit for one of your ideas, you know how frustrating it can be. But it may help to know that the idea theft might not be intentional.

If a co-worker has ever taken credit for one of your ideas, you know how frustrating it can be. But it may help to know that the idea theft might not be intentional.

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In a recent blog, I wrote about employee sabotage in the workplace. The resulting discussion and ensuing e-mails describing specific instances of co-worker sabotage depressed me to no end. Apparently, the world is just a bad made-for-TV movie.

One of the most common acts of sabotage among workers seems to be stealing credit for ideas. I've had this happen to me on a number of occasions. For example: I'll mention an idea in a meeting with one person, and then a week or so later that person will state the idea as if he'd just thought of it. In my cases, however, these "idea thefts" are not intentional.

I belong to a LinkedIn discussion group called Office Politics, Workplace Politics, and Organizational Politics. In a discussion about idea theft in the workplace, one of the posters, Alan S. Koch, owner of ASK Process, Inc., and a computer software consultant, made a great point:

One must take care in accusing anyone of "credit theft." Ideas are funny things — difficult to manage, and even hard to prove ownership of.

Although intentional theft of ideas is common, unintentional theft may be even more common. Consider: I have advocated a certain idea on multiple occasions when "Bob" was in the room. He may have been listening, or he may have been absorbed in his Blackberry. Either way, the idea was tucked into his memory.

Later, in another context, that memory was triggered by circumstance, and combined with new information, it suddenly made sense to him. He presents it as his idea because he doesn't consciously remember the seed that was planted way back when.

I don't see a way to "prove" credit theft, so an ego-less approach makes more sense than trying to confront a wrong that the perpetrator may not perceive.

He's right. You could resort to carrying around a recording device with you at all times, slap it down on the table when someone co-opts one of your ideas, and announce, "I have taped evidence that on November 8, 2008 I said those exact words in a meeting with you." Of course, that won't work — especially if you ever want people to speak to you again.

In today's competitive work environment, it's hard to not get credit when you deserve it. But IT is, in most cases, a team-driven environment, so if everyone pitches in to make an idea work, it really doesn't matter where it originated.

In my next blog, I'll talk more specifically about the role of credit recognition in a team-driven environment.

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About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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