Nobody Cares Enough About Your Idea To Steal It, Part Nine Thousand And Six

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019-08-11 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

Among most any subreddits you'll see the same questions posted, worded almost to the letter, by different people at least once a week. One of the subreddits I subscribe to, /r/gamedev, has some variant of this timeless classic pop up at least once every couple of days: How do I keep people from stealing my fantastic game idea (which, odds are, the person in question hasn't gotten around to actually making into a game, and which — spoiler alert — they probably never will)?

The stock answer is contained in the title of this post. Nobody gives enough of a damn about your idea to steal it, because it isn't ideas that matter, it's the executions of those ideas. Take an idea, worded in a reasonably abstract fashion, give it to ten different creators, and you'll get ten takes on it that will almost certainly have nothing to do with each other. And yet this same paranoia keeps popping out, unabated with each successive wave of newcomer creators.

Learning not to worry about someone else stealing your ideas strikes me as a necessary rite of passage for anyone doing anything creative. When you're young, or at least a new entrant to the playing field, it's hard not to think the idea is everything, if only because it seems so hard to come up with anything at all. With practice you start producing more ideas than you can safely do justice to in the first place, and with that the anxiety dissolves itself.

Back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and the tape cassette was still a primary means of music consumption, I had a friend with serious designs on being a screenwriter. He's since gone on to have some degree of success, but at the time he choked constantly on the same problem: Any time he was working on something, and he saw something come out that resembled his work in the vaguest possible way, he'd abandon it in disgust because he believed there was no market for his version of it now. I tried a couple of times to talk him out of this, but I never got very far. He's probably outgrown it by now — at least, I hope he has — but at the time it was dispiriting to see him not only shoot himself in the foot but chop the whole leg off. But again, it seems the only cure for this was for him to get into the habit of doing enough work and moving on that the loss of any one idea wouldn't be that big a deal.

Some of this attachment to Great Ideas seems to be part of the foolish commercial attitudes people have towards their work. About a decade ago, when I was dabbling more seriously in screenwriting, my father-in-law said something to the effect of, "All it takes is one hit and you're set." He was far from the only one to say it, too. The idea of the Great Idea as a sort of winning lottery ticket is pervasive: If I can just come up with this one amazing thing, I'll be made! But banking on a Great Idea to make you regarded as a Great Creator is no wiser than buying heaps of lottery tickets as a retirement strategy. It's also a perversion of the underlying motive: are you doing this because to want to make it, or because you just want to make something?

Milton Glaser once said it was absurd to be loyal to a given visual style; it didn't deserve one's loyalty. The same goes for an idea. Ideas are froth on the daydream*. Let 'em come and go in equal measure. Execution is what counts. And even beyond that: the habit of executing is what counts. Go get into the habit and the ideas will sort themselves out.

* One of the many translations of the title of a Boris Vian novel. This particular rendition is actually not that accurate, but it fits the sentiment expressed here.

Tags: creativity ideas