Have you ever voluntarily given away a good idea? I just did. I didn't do it out of altruism, although it's OK with me if the recipient of my idea thinks that.
I gave this idea away knowing that the person to whom I mentioned it might take it and run with it without me, but hoping that he would instead provide one little thing I needed to follow through with the idea myself or that he would at least express an interest in collaborating on the research related to testing my idea. In fact, he said "Great idea. I'll work on that and let you know how it turns out."
OK, that's fine. It isn't such an awesome idea that I am emotionally and professionally shattered by having someone else work on it. It just would have been fun. I could have worked on it without this guy, but it would have taken me a long time to get set up to do the research, whereas he, now that he has My Idea, can do the work rather quickly. I am sincerely looking forward to finding out the results, even if they are acquired by someone else.
I should also mention that this person is an assistant professor whose tenure evaluation is starting to loom. If this idea works out, it may help his career in some way. I hope it does.
Nevertheless, this incident started me thinking about what I would have done in a similar situation. The passage of years since my professorial youth has perhaps blurred my memory of what it was like to be an assistant professor, but the feeling of tenure anxiety is a rather visceral one that I don't think I have entirely forgotten.
So, I may be giving myself more credit than I am due, but I think that I would have taken the collaborative approach if given a good idea to run with. I think that I would have asked the giver if they wanted to collaborate, and, if they did, worked out a way to do so.
But everyone is different in terms of their interest and ability to collaborate. Collaborating has been a major feature of my career, and, for whatever reason, perhaps it isn't for the Recipient of My Idea. Maybe that's just how he prefers to work. Maybe he is concerned about getting maximum credit for his research.
What would you do if given a good research idea? (whatever your career stage)
Would you ever give away a good idea?
10 years ago