This is one of my favourite quotes from Thomas Jefferson;
“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh. 20 vols. Washington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1905.
Sharing ideas makes them stronger
Mr Jefferson was talking about intellectual property rights and the difficulty of protecting ideas once they have been released into the public domain. But if you read the whole extract he is actually making the point that sharing ideas makes them stronger.
He argues that the only time a person has ownership of physical property is when they are occupying it, but as soon as the property is no longer occupied, then ownership is also equally released. Squatting laws are essentially an example of how occupation confires ownership.
An idea is only owned when it isn’t shared
Taking occupation as ownership, then the argument follows that an idea is only owned by the inventor, as long as they do not share it with anyone. While the idea hasn’t been spoken, it remains the exclusive property of the creator. But this is when the idea is at its weakest, it isn’t even real yet. No one can buy it, sell it, develop it, build it, create it or improve on it. It may be the only idea in existence but it is worthless.
And because it is worthless it doesn’t lose any value once it is shared, this is the essence of Jefferson’s quote, by sharing an idea we increase the knowledge of the receiver, but do not decrease our knowledge. In fact we may even increase our knowledge as our receiver may improve upon our idea. They may give us another perspective, give us a better idea to act upon.
Present when ideas are born
I love this quote because this captures the essence of what I do as a coach. Everyday I get to hear new ideas, I get to hear what is going on in someone’s head, and I’m in many cases the first person to hear that idea. I’m there when it is born and it becomes real, and I get to help improve upon that idea. I get to give someone another perspective, help them act, to improve themselves, and improve those around them.
Thus I encourage you to share your ideas, if not with me, then with your coworkers and friends. Because that is when they become truly valuable, that is when they become real, that is when they are born.