My friend and colleague, Corey Michael Blake, posted a short video on his Facebook wall, questioning how to handle it when someone takes an idea that is your intellectual property and uses it without attribution. To give context, he developed a concept for a conference that worked really well to build community and bond the attendees, and is part of his brand now. He shared this concept with a friend of his who then hired a graphic recorder to create the same concept at his own event. While the friend called to thank Corey, he did not give him credit for the idea.
In Corey's video, he struggled with what to do that is in alignment with with his seemingly conflicting values around the situation. He put the question out to his Facebook friends and when my own answer became quite long, I realized I had a lot of energy - and discovery - around it myself. He suggested I do a blog post on my thoughts. My own thoughts on it are not neat and easy either...creativity is messy, and the creative response to something with many facets is messy. But here was my exploration on the creative response - because it changes...there is no one right way and multiple options - to someone using your ideas without attribution:
I have no solid answer, but have some thoughts on it, which are always evolving. I've had this happen to me several times, and it does not feel good..or right. I went through the same internal debates for a while - wondering if I should just be "above" it and let it be OK since it is still getting the mission out...or if should say or do something about it.
For me, it really came home when I was facilitating a program I created and put out in my newsletter, and someone on my newsletter list used my exact same language to create the same offerings with the same names...and then a couple people in my workshop thought I got my ideas from that person! That's when I saw how not speaking up for, and owning what I created more explicitly, negatively impacted me and my business.
Eventually I came to a sort of both-and…speak up for what I feel is in integrity, both for me and other other person and situation...and...then let go if and when the situation calls for it. A kind of "pick your battles" approach. And there is not always a clear answer on that....it's always in flux.
I personally do not see our core values (love, community, service, etc.) as needing to be competitive with each other or with operating a business. Love contains serving others AND honoring your own work. Love contains healthy boundaries. What finally emerged in me was the that my values of creative uniqueness, love, trust, sharing, service and running a business, etc were not in competition at my next level of thinking....they were all pat of the whole that contained both flow and structure, which includes generative boundaries that are healthy for myself, others and the whole - and which includes my business. Clear boundaries offers a stronger platform for the clients and others we serve. Being a doormat is not loving your own brand or business.
If people are using your creative concepts and ideas explicitly, it's appropriate give you credit in some form, especially if they are doing it in the context of their own business...even saying something like, "This was informed by x and and we added y..." You do not need to deter someone from doing something amazing using your work, but you can request they acknowledge the source in some way.
Some caveats to all I just said: sometimes ideas emerge in the collective consciousness to many people at once…and you put something out there that others have also thought of, or they have a similar version. In those cases, then probably best to let it be. Also, I have seen people take credit for originating something or some world view now that others were doing 10 or 20 years ago (pre-social media so it did not go viral)...so it is always good to google to see what else is there. And a lot of time, people build on ideas, with their own novel iterations, so it is hard to parse out who created what.
In my work, there can be a lot of overlaps in what I create and versions of what other colleagues create. Or at least overlaps in some principles and insights....but how we language it, what we create with it, and how do/express our work is very different. Our language, models, frameworks, approaches, and expressions of it are unique, even if a concept is similar. But in Corey's situation, where someone used a specific concept he created, expressed in a similar form he created, I think it's appropriate to contact the person and ask if that person might give an attribution in some way. If they don't, then maybe let it go and use the experiences learn how to frame generative boundaries before the next time.
Like parenting, where and how to set boundaries in a loving, yet solid, way, what you allow has to be a personal choice based on who YOU are, and what you value most. I know I have to often hold the question or situation for a while in my mind and heart before the emergent idea or solution comes into my consciousness and I know what's right for me in the situation. My intention is that I speak to or act on my truth in loving kindness in a way that is honoring of my self, the work, AND the other person...and then let go after doing so. How someone reacts is up to them. Sometimes I wait too long and it's too late, but it helps with clarity for the next time.
Truly original or ethical thinkers would not have a problem with giving you credit. In fact, they would not want to take credit for other's ideas - because one of their core values IS originality - and they would want to support yours. For those that do have a problem with it - maybe that's part of their own growing edge...? I don't know the answer for anyone else, but being a doormat when someone takes something from you without offering to give you credit doesn't seem good for anyone.
In improv theater, you always "serve the scene"…sometimes that means staying on the sidelines out of the way, other times it means stepping in and taking over full-on, or it can mean any of the many variations in-between. When someone takes your work without giving you an attribution in any way, you can serve the scene with a creative response: stepping up to act in alignment your unique set of boundaries that honor your business AND serve the greater good as you see it in that situation. Sometimes that means letting it go. There is no one right way across the board. The creative response is going beyond the knee-jerk protectivensss of "It's mine!" or the doormat inclusiveness of "Anything is OK in the name of service" into conscious engagement and choice.
I think we each are called to create the boundaries around our brand that feel right for us. Doing so can expand our frameworks to the place within us where our values yes-and each other, not negate each other. My 2 cents.
Michelle James © 2015