Why it’s good to be a copycat (plus five ideas you can steal from me)…

Please don’t steal my car. If you drive away with it, I won’t have it any more, which is a real hassle.

Please don’t steal my identity or my reputation either. Neither travels well, and all the time you’re using it, you’re degrading something that belongs to me.

But my ideas? Sure, yes, please, by all means, take them.

I have a confession to make: I stole that intro. All 59 words of it.

It came from this excellent article by Seth Godin on the Ted blog. I stole it because it makes exactly the point I wanted to make (only a little better).

And as I’m telling you I borrowed those words, and I’m not trying to pass them off as my own (albeit after the fact), that’s ok isn’t it? I mean, why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?

But I still feel a bit guilty about it. Why? Because like most of us I’ve been conditioned to think I shouldn’t steal other peoples’ ideas (and definitely not their words). And although I’m probably a bit more comfortable about it than you are (more on that later), I can’t help feeling under pressure to keep coming up with new ideas.

In reality, though, I’m not sure there is such a thing as an original idea. Isn’t everything a reinvention of something someone’s already thought of? And is that necessarily a bad thing? After all, as Seth Godin puts it:

So I don’t feel too guilty about ripping off other peoples’ blog post titles. I’ll happily  admit I nabbed the idea for Why using big words can make you look stupid from Derek Halpern’s blog. I’ll also hold up my hands up and say I recently spent an afternoon looting from Sarah Von Bargen’s website after I discovered her brilliant small business blog.

And there’s more…

I completely ripped off the idea for my PR Bootcamp summer school from Nikki Elledge. But even though I adapted her idea to suit my audience, I still felt guilty. So I emailed her to tell her about my project…and she messaged me straight back to wish me luck (‘Go get ‘em Jan!’) and point out she didn’t invent Facebook courses.

And I regularly pilfer story ideas from other radio/TV – or completely different industries – and adapt them for my specialist area (education).

So does this make me lazy or unimaginative? Or does it save me time and free me up create things that are more original? I’d like to think it’s the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should steal peoples words; but helping yourself to their ideas, and making them your own…that’s fair game isn’t it?

So in the spirit of sharing, here’s five ‘copycat’ ideas you can steal from me:

1. I’ve created a spreadsheet where I record compelling headlines, email subject headers and blog and podcast titles I can steal for my own use.  When I’m in a hurry, I use Evernote’s web clipping tool or Pocket to save them till later.

2. I scan magazine racks for headlines that would make good blog post titles (or article ideas) and snap them on my iPhone.

3. I use FREE tools like this one to help me come up with blog post titles

4. I save email marketing copy (in fact any effective copy) that lands in my inbox…so I can adapt it for my own audience 

5. When I’m delivering training, I search for presentations on Slideshare or Pinterest that I can adapt for my own use

So do feel free to nab my ideas…and tell me what you think in the comments section below.