Back in 2005 I had this idea for a web site. Here’s how it was supposed to work: You would use your mobile phone to send messages to a web site that would then re-broadcast that message to your “friends”. You could also use small desktop app. You’d “friend” people, and then the site would send you anything they posted.
Sound familiar? For the uninitiated, that’s basically Twitter. But about two years early.
I started work on it, but never finished it because I started to feel like there was no market for something like that. I got sidetracked and let it die.
Then, around 2007, I heard about this “tweet” thing and I was like:
Fuck, really? What a rip-off of my idea! Twitter STOLE my idea!
U Mad? Yeah, u mad.
When you see someone successfully execute and idea that you feel like you thought of first it’s a natural reaction to feel at least a little pain, especially if it was an idea that you had poured blood and tears in to only to find that (at least, your version) wouldn’t fly.
This has happened a lot to me. In fact, just today I found our that Travis-CI BLATANTLY COPIED another one of my ideas.
Except that, obviously, they didn’t really. They just thought of it too.
What really happened is that certain ideas are actually pretty obvious, but they have never been implemented, and this was just another case of people simultaneously working on something at the same time, probably out of coincidence.
History is a good teacher.
Elisha Gray knows about this. The (possibly apocryphal) story says that both he and Alexander Bell were working on nearly the same idea for a telephone system but were unaware of each other. It goes on to say that if Gray had simply filed his patent application a day-or-so earlier we would have been operating on the “Gray System” now instead of the “Bell System”.
The reality, though, is that this is happening all the time, just on a smaller scale. We live in a world where code is as quick and fluid as liquid lightning and where ideas are created, mutated and destroyed faster than ever. In this world there is every chance that that your brilliant idea is also the brilliant idea of many others around the world.
The sad fact is that there is a better than average chance that your idea has already been done, is being done right now or will be done before you finish.
Get Mad or Get Even?
So, what do you do in an instance like this? Do you get all huffy and scream and pout? Well, yeah, maybe for a while, but what good does that actually do in the end.
The painful truth is that no one cares who thought of the idea, they only care who executed on it and did it the best.
What’s left then, now that you know that no one gives your obviously brilliant idea a second glance? Here you really have only two viable options: pine for what could have been, or plan for what will be.
For the sake of sanity and happiness, you should do the latter, since the future is the only thing you can change.
Instead of feeling like you were cheated, or you were “not quite good enough”, this is the time to use your apparent “defeat” as ammunition in future battles.
Validation comes from everywhere.
Remember from before, how I invented Twitter, until Twitter came along and invented it again? You can see that as a kind of defeat, but you don’t have to. You have the choice to see it as one of the most awesome things that can happen:
An idea I created myself was PROVEN to be a good one.
Ok, so I didn’t do the proving myself, but the fact that someone else did and succeeded speaks volumes. Had I executed the idea, could I have been Twitter? Maybe, maybe not, but the important thing here is that my brainwave was validated.
Defeat helps you lose fear of being defeated.
So, Twitter proved that my idea was good, but in the end I didn’t finish it and I let someone else have it. That hurt.
This has happened on other occasions since then, and they hurt, too, but not as much.
How about that Travic-CI thing? I actually had a working version and real, running code that was almost ready for release, but I see now that they are doing it way better than I am. That hurts, yes, but I’m slowly learning that it doesn’t have to. Once again they proved that my idea was good, even if it was also their idea.
Once you stop taking it personally you get to start seeing it for what it should be: motivation.
How long until Failure is not an Option?
The oft-quoted phrase “failure is not an option” is usually used to mean that there is no other alternative to success, and so you had better succeed because there is nothing else.
But it can also mean something else. It can mean:
This isn’t going to fail, because you’ve seen you ideas in the past proven right too often.
The important thing I’m getting at is this: years of having ideas and thinking they are useless only to find someone else has later taken that idea and made it successful should ultimately teach you one very important thing: your past ideas have been good and so there is no reason why the next idea you have won’t be just as good.
Lose the fear of bad ideas. Believe in your gut.
Fear of failure haunts us all and it’s one of the main reasons we don’t do what we want. But in seeing other people succeed with your ideas you should learn that maybe your ideas aren’t junk after all and you should be the person to follow-through the next time and see where a fully realized idea can take you.