It’s okay to steal if you give it back

By Matt Perryman

Awhile back, on LinkedIn, a post came across my feed from one of these “creator economy” people.

You know the ones — they’re on LinkedIn after a “7-figure exit”, selling courses on how to be come a creator on LinkedIn.

That’s one too many LinkedIns for my liking.

The gall, though, runs deeper. This guy straight up lifted his signature idea, the thing he talked about in every post and pitch, from another well-known name in the same space.

I know this because the guy who created it wrote about it in a book he published back in 2013.

I thought about blowing it up, but you know what? I’m done with slap-fights on social media. Allowing myself to live in that negative cloud of energy all day is one reason I turned into a cynical, jaded person who could never say anything without heavy sarcasm.

All the same, these shameless behaviors, sliding right out of moral grey-areas into straight-up black-area, is why marketer-bros have a reputation for the sleaze.

It’s because many of them are.

There’s a phrase going around called “ethical stealing”.

If you weren’t already clear on this, that’s about as logical as talking about a round triangle or a married bachelor.

Stealing is by definition unethical. Stealing involves deception, taking advantage of another, removing them of their rightful property, and other forms of injustice I’m forgetting.

That’s what the word means.

Turning theft into an “ethical” action means 1) you don’t know what theft means and 2) I shouldn’t trust you to understand ethics any better.

You’ll note that this has little to do with the actual use and resuse of someone’s ideas.

The “ethical thieves” haunting LinkedIn and other social media would be a-okay with but two little tweaks.

Two details that almost nobody would notice — and would certainly not take anything away from their fragile status — but make all the difference between a sterling reputation and fraud.

(Maybe “ethical fraud” is okay too.)

Here’s the thing. We’re all borrowers.

Everyone that creates borrows from someone else. They borrowed, too, as did the people they borrowed from.

The epic poems of Homer and whoever wrote the Epic of Gilgamesh were borrowed by some nameless souls who lived before writing. The founding documents of civilization borrowed from someone else — good luck escaping it.

There is a miles-wide gap between borrowing the idea of a man blown off course on the way home, and pretending that I wrote the Odyssey.

When is it okay to borrow ideas?

Any time. Always.

But if you’re going to take someone else’s IP, by name, and call it your own? Find something else to do with your life.

I mentioned two tweaks to make this right. Here they be:

1- Give credit. Ideas are public domain and nobody owns them, that is true enough. But if you’re lifting somebody’s style, give them a nod. It costs you nothing to do this — except your integrity if you don’t.

Showing appreciation for your inspirations is high-quality vibration. Being a selfish internet guru is low-vibe.

2- Give back. The marketer Ben Settle calls this “adding to the cookie jar”. When you take a cookie, give a cookie back.

That means extending, refining, deepening, transforming, transplanting, generalizing, and adding your own unique spin with your unique ways of seeing, thinking, perceiving, feeling, understanding, talking, explaining, and filtering the idea through your own personal “cognitive lens”.

In other words… pay it forward.

Leave the commons more abundant than you found them.

There’s no “ethical stealing”, but there is a right and good way to take responsibility for your influences.

Matt Perryman 

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