Stealing Shamelessly

A few years back, we wrote a speech for a client who asked us to explore the concept of “stealing shamelessly.” As Chief Operating Officer of a global organization, he wanted to encourage employees to feel free to take good ideas from one part of the world and apply them elsewhere. This organization rewarded the originality of ideas, which fostered a culture that embraced creativity, but discouraged information sharing.

We loved the concept of what this speech could accomplish. We thought it was unique, fun and edgy, so we wrote a stump speech that this client could deliver on multiple occasions to various internal audiences. The speech worked. It achieved what the client wanted. After several months on the stump, employees embraced the concept of not having to be the author of an idea. This approach enabled their people to open borders, learn from colleagues, and welcome good ideas for the benefit of the entire company. The importing and exporting of ideas had begun!

That concept works well at a global organization where everyone is focused on the same goal. Employees are united around the brand. They share in the rewards when that company succeeds. But it made us think … does this concept work as effectively in our industry? In communications, can we “steal shamelessly” others’ creative ideas?

We certainly can’t lift someone else’s words. That’s plagiarism. There are also etiquette issues. After all, we shouldn’t re-Pin without giving credit to the original Pinner. We shouldn’t take a screen shot of someone else’s photo on Instagram and post it as our own. In the world of communications, our commodity is ideas. So how does this concept of stealing shamelessly play out in our space?

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

I love sharing. My parents would tell you, I never had trouble learning that concept as a child. And it has carried through in how we behave at Winning Presence. When we refer to someone else’s ideas, we give those people full credit. For instance, a decade ago, I met a great internal communications specialist from a firm called CRA, Inc. Their organization had developed an interesting approach to strategic communications planning, and I thought it worked. Today, while we have developed our own unique planning approach at Winning Presence, we definitely refer back to what we have learned from others in the industry on the topic. But we always give credit. I another example, I really love some of the Facebook posts from the people at Honest Tea and Everyday Health. Both often share inspirational quotes, which offers me a great start to the day. Occasionally I repost and, when I do, I will give an open “thank you” to those companies for what they shared and inspired.

I think both of these are examples of transparency and integrity, so here the concept of “stealing shamelessly” might work if it were re-termed, “sharing shamelessly.”

An Inadvertent Message

Last year, my son created a blog about gaming. In it, he reviews games and answers questions. One day we were searching for some information on one of his favorite games, and came across a website with a video tutorial of how to play a certain level. I thought it was really creative, and I suggested to my son that he do something similar. He said, “I can’t do that! Someone already did it.” While I wasn’t suggesting that he copy the same video, my nine year-old son found fault with even the notion that he would lift something that someone else had created. I love that ethic and moral compass.

Funny enough, though, I see it sometimes in our business. I have seen colleagues present other’s ideas as their own. It might be due to lack of ability or confidence. It might be a lack of ethics. But in our industry, it illustrates a lack of creativity. When you’re looking for someone to help you through a crisis, a speech, or an internal communications plan, creativity seems the fee for entry. It’s where our effectiveness starts and ends.

So I came to the conclusion that stealing shamelessly in the context of communications does have some element of shame.

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