Source: Nir and Far The subject line read: “did you see this?” The message was from my editor Jen. “Nir, I saw the headline on this story and thoug
The subject line read: “did you see this?” The message was from my editor Jen. “Nir, I saw the headline on this story and thought it might be written by you—but no!” she wrote. “Very weird.” I instantly clicked on the link she’d sent.
My first thought was that I’d accidentally tweeted a link to my draft or published my post by mistake. It was as if someone had hacked into my computer or read my mind. Mele’s article used the same examples, cited the same research, and even linked to the same sources. I was so surprised, I sent Mele an email (though I’d never been in contact with him before), asking if he’d somehow read my draft.
Meanwhile, I rushed to post what I’d been working on, figuring this would at least prove I’d been writing well before Mele’s story appeared. Just then, Mele responded to my email saying he’d never heard of my work.
Of course he hadn’t. And upon further reflection, I felt pretty foolish. Whom was I proving anything to? Who really cared?
I’d gotten so worked up, fearing someone had copied my ideas, that I let paranoia get the best of me. I’d fallen into a cognitive trap.
The Sign of a Novice
People tend to believe ideas are rare things, gems to be collected and hoarded. But in fact the nature of creative work, be it corporate innovation, academic research, or artistic endeavor, tells us quite the opposite—that if a useful insight pops into your head, it’s most likely in other people’s minds as well.
Where I live, in Silicon Valley, there’s one sure clue when people are newbies to the tech community: they ask me to keep their ideas secret. Some entrepreneurs ask me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, an easy tell they haven’t been here long. With rare exceptions, few industry veterans sign NDAs for the simple fact that good ideas tend to come to different people around the same time.
It’s called the “multiple discovery theory,” which, contrary to the “heroic theory of invention,” posits that discoveries are most often made by multiple people, not by lone “geniuses.” History is littered with examples: the formulation of calculus, the discovery of vitamin A, the development of the telephone, the light bulb, the jet engine, the atom bomb.