About the Steve O Zone

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ideas are worth sharing just as long as someone picks up the tab

I like quotes; quotations... like to quote quotes if that's even possible and I like to infuse them in my writing where applicable...

Today I want to get something off my chest re: Ideas and I came across this quote from someone named Howard Aiken, who was a computer engineer and mathematician, 1900-1973.

Mr. Aiken said of ideas... 

“Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." 

I'm not sure when Mr. Aiken said this and in what context but I can assure you from my personal experience, the idea, pun intended, that people will not steal your ideas is ludicrous. I have had more than my share of ideas stolen, plundered, pillaged and absconded... 

I fancy myself as a bit of an idea guy myself and I genuinely like and enjoy and take great pleasure in helping people. Be it through writing something for someone or merely brainstorming ideas over a given topic, problem, concern, etc...

I can't hammer a nail straight but if I can use what I have learned over the years to help someone, I instinctively try and do that.

Now my wife, God love her, tells me all the time, "you're too nice." And you know what? She's right... of course. People have taken advantage of my "niceties" if you will and the time has come for someone to put their foot down... and that foot is me.

I need to start taking the same approach as say a doctor or a mechanic or some other tangible profession... and therein lies the problem. People perceive creativity and all its machinations to be something intangible. 

No brick. No mortar. So why should I have to pay for it?

Look, I dont want to come across as a jerk and this is not to say I will not help my friends and family. Of course I will. And I will more than likely help a stranger too, as long as it's within reason. And I will determine if something is in reason or not.

Would you ever ask a doctor for free operation or a mechanic for a free tune up? Of course not... Well maybe some of you would but you get my point.

Justin Kownacki, whom I have never met but surely would love to, has a link on his website labeled "The $200 Lunch."

It is phenomenal... I freaking love it. 

Here's how it goes (verbatim):

“Can I pick your brain?”

In response to the question I’m most asked, I now have one simple answer:

“Yes.  Over a $200 lunch.”

Here’s How It Works
  1. You want to pick my brain.
  2. We meet for a 90-minute lunch* (your treat) and you pay me $200.
  3. We discuss your business and see where I might be able to help you.
  4. Lunch ends and we each return to work.
If we agree that there’s an opportunity for us to work together, we’re then free do so.

Or, if we determine that my expertise isn’t particularly beneficial to your situation, we enjoy a pleasant lunch and return to our regularly-scheduled lives, minus 90 minutes and what I’m sure will be some entertaining anecdotes.  (I have many.)

Interested?  Email me and we can arrange a lunchtime chat.

Plus, I’m a mostly-vegetarian, so your opportunity cost is even lower than it seems…

* NOTE: This offer presumes our lunch is occurring in Baltimore, where I live.  While I’m certainly happy to join you for lunch in the city of your choice, travel expenses for such adventures will have to be included.  (Also, I can’t swim, so no lunchtime boating, please.)


See what he did there? 

1. He's right up front. You want his help, want to pick his brain, get his ideas? No problem. That'll be $200 AND lunch thank you very much.

2. He tells you that he may not be the best fit. Why? Duh because he may in fact not be but you will never know that until you meet with him... and pay him $200 AND lunch, that is.

3. He offers to travel to meet with you... on your dime of course. 

Justin knows his ideas; his talents; his abilities are absolutely tangible... emotionally tangible, spiritually tangible, conceptually tangible; metaphorically tangible even. 

And as such he expects and rightly so, to be paid for his ideas; his time; his talents. 

Is that so wrong?

How about you?

What do you do? 

Do you get paid for what you do?

Or do you give your services, talents, skills and abilities away?


"I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent;
curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined
with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas."
-Albert Einstein

Til next time,



Justin Kownacki said...

I'll tell you what else that $200 does for me: it spares me the endless requests from people who'd rather pick my brain for free. Even if no one ever took me up on the deal, it would be worth implementing solely to save myself the hassle of dealing with people who want something for nothing.

Sure, I believe in giving back. I just can't afford to give back every time somebody rings my doorbell, or I wouldn't have a house for long.

The Fantasy Football Hub said...


Yeah I'm sure there are no shortage of those who want to pick your brain for free...

Thanks Justin!
Steve O

Siddhartha Herdegen said...

Okay, Steve, I agree but I don’t.

In my heart I’m an economist who knows time is valuable and ideas represent at least some time in development and generally more time in explanation. You (and Justin) should be compensated for your time.

But I’m also an economist who knows ideas make everyone better off. Everyone in the world lives better because people have shared their ideas. Some have gotten filthy rich with their ideas others have not.

There are really two questions: Does getting rich from ideas produce more/better ideas? Do we deserve to make money from our ideas?

To be brief, the answer to question one is, we’re not sure. The jury is still out but many intelligent people who study this kind of stuff for a living don’t think it does. The ever popular Dan Pink makes the point strongly in his book Drive, people don’t become more creative or more efficient at cognitive tasks when paid more. Michele Boldrin makes an even stronger case in his book Against Intellectual Monopoly.

So, I’m unconvinced paying people for good ideas makes the world better even though it has a visceral appeal.

The second question relates to the nature of where good ideas come from. Generally, good ideas build on other people’s good ideas so there’s a communal nature to what we develop even if we do it “by ourselves.” Secondly, there’s a randomness to it. We can’t just come up with great ideas at will and on demand.

This leads me to look at ideas as gifts bestowed for the benefit of all mankind. Should we really keep those to ourselves unless we’re paid to share them? I’m not sold on this, I did grow up a capitalist after all, but I get the perspective.

Now I know you’re not just talking about ideas here, you’re talking about time as well, and I’d be the first to say your time is worth getting paid for. But I also think too many people take good—world improving—ideas to their grave because they were afraid someone else was going to get rich with it instead of themselves.

And that’s a pity for everyone.

Malcolm Sleath said...

The value of an idea is not determined by the time it takes to convey it.

In school we are rewarded by being the first kid to stick his or her hand up with the right answer. That isn't how it works when you are dealing in intellectual property.

If I have an idea that is of value to a client, I'd like to find out about the value to them, and get them to explicitly articulate it - so they know too - before I part with the idea.

steve woodruff said...

What you're paying for is someone's time and expertise. It's a perfectly legitimate transaction. Brainstorming with a really smart person about business ideas may seem like it should be a freebie, but that really smart person paid a large, hidden price tag to get to his/her current place. Now I have to think about implementing Justin's approach...!

Mark Anzalone said...

Very interesting approach. I'll consider whether it will work for me. I am often on the other side of the table personally and believe karma plays a roll in life.

True there must be boundaries...

I love your photo illustration! I know the exact point in the movie this frame comes from.

PamMktgNut said...

Steve - Great post. I am like you and love to give. I started off my biz with lots o' free lunches. I quickly found should I continue the rate I was doing them not only would my butt grow to the size of Texas but my biz would never see profitability. I made the hard decision that I simply don't do (or rarely do) "free lunches" anymore.

I love @Justin ideas and need to think about how to implement!

One thing I am starting to do more is free webinars and team calls. We are also offering more trainings at local chambers etc. That way people can still tap into us but it is a one to many environment and something that has a higher potential of bringing a return.

I struggle with the "idea" aspect as well. Similar to accounting or an attorney you're right as we wouldn't ask them to meet us for lunch for free to discuss a legal case. I know several attorneys who won't even spend 5 minutes on the phone for fee and they are running multi million dollar businesses.

I think the folks who complain that we're rude if we don't do free lunches and that brag they give it all away are only hurting themselves. They can keep meeting with the free lunch lovers. I'm going to focus on building out my online biz revenue models and the customers who see value in my time. To each their own ;)

Unknown said...


Wow...this is a sticky wicket, isn't it? I was just discussing this very conundrum with my accountability brethren.

How do we find the balance? How do you still behave in a way that feels right (i.e. a good guy) but not over commit yourself to the point of being completely ineffective.

A very bold and intriguing solution from Justin. I'm going to have to ponder how to steal the essence of it but personalize it for me.


smitten said...

Wow Drew could not have said it better myself. This applies to my volunteer organization as well. I am involved with a Home & School Association (PTO)and often people want us to "give" party events for free, lunches free, etc. We had various ideas on how to effectively run these events but to make money for our school. If we gave away everything including our ideas we would be left with no money and no way to help better our school. I know much different than the business world you are all in but there are similarities I found very interesting. Great post Steve, thanks!

The Fantasy Football Hub said...


Thank you for your detailed and thought-provoking reply.

To your point re: Dan Pink & Michele Boldrin re: "people don’t become more creative or more efficient at cognitive tasks when paid more..."

I surely do not generate ideas, create ideas, etc based on how much money I am being paid. To me this was never about this... but about getting paid for services rendered, plain and simple.

This may sound contradictory but I do not use money as a motivator.

And as to your point re: people taking ideas with them to their graves... that is so true and so sad and as you aptly state, a pity for everyone.

The Fantasy Football Hub said...


"The value of an idea is not determined by the time it takes to convey it."

Very, very profound! I may have to use that one myself!

The Fantasy Football Hub said...


"...but that really smart person paid a large, hidden price tag to get to his/her current place. "

That is truly what's forgotten in all this... Great, great point!

The Fantasy Football Hub said...


Thanks for your feedback Mark... always like meeting a fellow Delta House member... LOL!

The Fantasy Football Hub said...


I think the idea of free webinars and team calls is a great one... I really do.

It is truly a fine line we all walk re: ideas and how they are shared and we are ultimately compensated for them...

The Fantasy Football Hub said...


I thought the exact same thing first time I read it on Justin's blog "very bold and intriguing solution..."

But you have to admit, the guy's got a point for sure.

Good luck "personalizing" it... :)

The Fantasy Football Hub said...


Yes Drew's a pretty smart fella, even for a Dodgers fan... :)

But your example is dead on and exactly the same principle.

People ALWAYS want something for free and the minute you try and charge a perfectly reasonable fee for your time, service, etc... all hell breaks loose...

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that for every great idea imagined there are 5 other people in the world who have just thought of it, too. Only the first to act on it will see a profit. While three others are thinking about it, one is scribbling the idea on paper, and the last is chalking it off to a bad dream and going back to sleep.

Act on your idea and try to make it profitable for you and mankind. That sounds like solid logic.
Rusty @ www. Rusty LaGrange. com