Hang on to Your Best Ideas

A friend I know has little game he plays for mental exercise: whenever he hears cliche, he immediately turns it on its head. So when I ran into him the other day at dinner party, and someone repeated the old line about how “Everybody has one good book in him,” I restrained smile. Sure enough, he shot back with: “What good is writer who only writes one book?”
To my surprise, however, I found that I disagreed with my friend, and all because of an obituary I’d read that day. The deceased was the creator of famous comic book and later television character; however, he never got rich off his creation. Having been employed as staff artist for comic book publisher at the time, he was bound by “work for hire” agreement. The company owned any ideas he’d brought to them. Despite the contract being extremely specific on this point, he’d grumbled for years that he’d been cheated, eventually sued his publisher, and ultimately gave up cartooning. He died broke and bitter.
This man had proved that one “good book” or idea was enough. The publisher has made millions from it, and is still making money to this day.
But the fate of the poor artist also moved me. Here was someone who’d had his idea and even seen it succeed, only to lose control of it. And that loss seemed to destroy him. Given his example, I’d rephrase the cliche today to say, “Everybody has exactly one good idea in him – but only the successful recognise the fact, and act accordingly.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re 10-ideas-a-day person, or someone whom lightning has struck just once. The odds are you’ll only get one great idea in your lifetime – one in which all the cards are dealt just right, the marketplace is ripe, and then everything clicks. If you’re smart, you’ll hang onto the rights of that idea as stubbornly as if it were your first and only child. In sense, it is.

Dime-a-dozen idea types
“Idea men” are dime dozen – facile types who can spin out pretty good products or concepts while others are still opening their notebooks. Rarer are those who can match ideas with markets. The rarest of all are those who can tell the difference between marketable idea and blockbuster.
The only thing rarer than these lucky visionaries are the ones who, when they get big notion, have the discipline to shut up about it and start planning to make it their business.
What should you do, then, if you have had the idea of lifetime? We’ll assume that this is genuine lightning strike, and that you don’t commonly have “ideas of lifetime” every month or so (if you do, perhaps cold shower is in order).
We’ll also assume that you are self-employed and that you are not encumbered by any legal or moral obligations to “own” this idea with an employer. (If you’re working at company and this bolt of lightning hits you precisely because of your work at that company, that’s an entirely different story. You may be obliged to share the idea with your employer, as the bitter cartoonist did with the publisher. Of course, unlike the cartoonist, you may want to negotiate your way into getting your fair share of the idea.)
But that said, the one thing you don’t want to do is give it away. Don’t blab about it to friends. Don’t approach would-be investors too quickly to seek their advice. Protect yourself. Take steps to make it “your” idea. That means talking to lawyer to file the proper protections, patents, or trademarks.
The rest is basic Entrepreneuring 101: blood, sweat, credit card debt, and tears. I leave that to you, but will offer one more cautionary tale, this one about man who did everything right, created successful business with growth potential, and then, in one moment of hubris, gave it all away.
His idea was simple: sexy lingerie in romantic upscale environments. From single boutique in buzz-worthy shopping district in San Francisco, he branched out to Beverly Hills, then Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And then, he sold out. The amount he got seemed to him extraordinary for an idea he’d had lying in bed one morning.
He took his million dollars and never looked back – until the day his old company broke the $50 million sales mark. Today it’s global empire, exactly as he conceived it. Him? His next two companies failed, and then, after working as consultant in marketing while trying to raise capital, he vanished. All they found was his cheery red Ferrari, the one he’d bought with the proceeds of that first sale, parked at one end of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The moral: Never give up your best ideas. Losing them can hurt far more than you imagine.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management Group.www.successsecrets.com

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