I believe any programmer has several ideas that she/he considers as innovative or at least valuable. It may be an idea of a new product which will make this world better or a new development approach, etc.

But a great idea must be implemented and promoted/advertised. This requires a lot of work (proofs of concept, prototypes, technology previews, etc.) and a lot of money (appropriate advertisement, marketing, etc.). So months later, the idea stays in our heads, but nothing else is done, because it's difficult, long and expensive, sometimes even impossible for a single developer.

On the other hand, it would be painful to share our ideas, and see a medium-size company which has enough resources making something useful from it and having success and money.

So what do you do with your ideas you can hardly implement or patent? Do you talk freely about them in discussion boards and with other developers? Do you keep them like a precious thing without never talking about them to anybody?

If you keep your ideas, why are you doing so? Is it just because you hope that one day, you will be able to implement them and have a huge success, while you know very well by experience that it's an utopia?

  • 8
    I recently found this website which could be helpful if trying to find a way to implement your idea: kickstarter.com. Like Tim mentioned below, I rather take a chance of getting ripped off by trying, than let the idea fad to memory by not trying
    – Adam
    Jan 4, 2011 at 18:11
  • 3
    having watched The Social Network recently :) ? Jan 4, 2011 at 19:21
  • @Matthieu: You seem to have posted that as a joke, but the movie makes a very good point. Jan 4, 2011 at 19:37
  • @Mason: it was partially a joke :) But regardless of one's opinion on who was right or wrong the very fact that Mark Z** had to pay several millions of dollars does illustrate the issue. Jan 4, 2011 at 19:49
  • Yes, to protect the man kind.
    – Job
    Jan 5, 2011 at 2:48

16 Answers 16


Ideas left unimplemented might as well be predictions of what someone else is going to implement. I think that it is rare, especially in this day and age for only a single person to come up with an idea. If you thought of it, chances are that someone else has as well.

Fortunately, I work in a company that treats its people very well. If I come up with something that I think would work, I meet very little resistance when it comes to gathering the resources that I need to implement it. I'm also compensated quite nicely if an idea does well.

For those who don't have the resources to get off the drawing board, you have two choices. Try, as hard as you can to get your idea in front of people who can help you - or keep quiet about it and watch someone else implement it.

I don't think the fear that 'someone is just going to steal my idea if I go to them for help' is reasonable, in most cases. You have a 100% chance of never seeing your idea get off the ground if you stay quiet, and perhaps a 5 - 10% chance of getting ripped off if you don't. While you may think your idea is worth millions, it probably isn't. Don't overestimate how much someone might want to steal it.

Given that, I think the choice is simple.

  • 44
    it is rare ...for only a single person to come up with an idea. and this is why software patents suck.
    – Benbob
    Jan 4, 2011 at 19:41
  • 4
    @Keyo - Agreed.
    – Tim Post
    Jan 4, 2011 at 19:42

"An idea has a shelf life of a banana" - Bill Gates

So you either do something about it or watch someone else do it. The first thing to do (at least what I do) when you hit upon an idea is to do some serious research. Try finding out if that's already been implemented. If it has been implemented even in a broader sense of what your idea is about, evaluate your idea again and see if it is worth going the distance. The point here is, almost any idea you come up with, would have been or is being implemented, but the beauty of it lies in the implementation. Just as I read in another post on PSE, ranking and indexing were present before Google and so was social networking before Facebook.

After doing all that if I strongly believe in the idea, then I would definitely share it with a really close friend/colleague of mine and try to get his opinion on it. I may sound opinionated, but you really need to share with some one else as well. Take all the success stories (at least in the web world). They all had friends who teamed up, shared a common dream and chased it down.

So evaluate, share, go for it and never look back !

  • but later i wanted -1 for "...I would definitely share it with a really close friend/colleague of mine and try to get his opinion on it..." VERY bad idea. do not share it with ppl who cannot become future stakeholders and esp those who cant comprehend it fully
    – Chani
    Apr 12, 2011 at 6:01
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    @Scrooge About the "Cannot become future stakeholders", well, those people are usually straight-forward in their views if you ask for an honest opinion. They either give it the praise it deserves &/or point out challenges."Future Stake Holders" may give you a biased opinion and may not be in the best position to give you a neutral and honest opinion,which is vital. About "those who can't "comprehend" it fully", well I never said you share it with every Joe you know. You pick someone who's close to you, who's aware of the concepts that your idea is based on & the problems its trying to solve. Jun 13, 2011 at 17:23
  • If I research my idea on Google, Google will steal my idea.
    – Willy Goat
    Aug 27, 2017 at 21:32

I keep my ideas on a list I maintain with a mind mapping software.

The fact I have that list creates lot of frustration in my life because of my inability to implement all of them. I don't care about money, so the ideas are all about doing, not collecting dollars. Sharing the idea is not a problem at all.

I don't think you have to worry about other people stealing your idea. Even if the idea is great, it's still your idea. Who else has the energy, the need and the desire to implement it?

  • Out of curiosity, which software do you use?
    – sova
    Jan 4, 2011 at 21:26
  • iThoughts for iPad: ipadmindmap.com/iPadMindmap/Welcome.html
    – user2567
    Jan 4, 2011 at 21:29
  • if you have any ideas for better web-framework for java, please don't share them, EVER!
    – IAdapter
    Jan 9, 2011 at 19:54

No. Ideas are a dime a dozen.

"Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." - Thomas Edison

Even if you take the time to turn your idea into a real working product, good luck getting investors and customers to listen to you talk about it ... Now imagine trying to convince people when its nothing but a thought in your head. There is hardly ever anything to gain in keeping it secret.

If my own experiences are anything to go by, most ideas never make it past a few beers between friends, and most of those never make it past a half-written business plan or a few lines of code. And 60% of start-ups fail. What are the chances of that idea being worth anything on its own?

  • +1 You have to implement it , for it to be anything. This is the same as the talent vs hardwork debate. You have to beat the odds.
    – abel
    Jan 5, 2011 at 9:19
  • On the other hand, if you are in regular communication with one or more investors (e.g. if they're your friends/bosses) then maybe you would be more inclined to go down the prototype and present route
    – adamk
    Jan 5, 2011 at 9:30

As far as I'm concerned, I would rather see someone else implement my idea, possibly getting rich on the way, than keep it secret and unimplemented forever.

I'm very pragmatic in nature and hardly envious, so I don't mind if someone else makes money with an idea I couldn't implement myself; so it would not be painful for me to see them make money. They take the risk, they spend money and work, so they shall succeed with my blessing. An idea is worth nothing, it's the execution that makes it successful or not.


I don't tell much about them if I tell anything at all, not for fear that they'll be stolen, nor denying that they might be unrealistically ambitious, but simply because announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them, and if I do one day find myself with the time and resources, I want every edge I can get.

  • That's a fascinating article, and it may make sense BEFORE you get the ball rolling, but I believe there's still a point where announcing your plan makes sense, otherwise the idea may just stagnate without outside help. Jan 4, 2011 at 17:39
  • @Mark Freedman: Right, though as other answers have pointed out, it's best to first consult someone you trust who can give you useful advice, rather than just make an announcement.
    – Jon Purdy
    Jan 4, 2011 at 17:42
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    Yep -- I meant "announce" in the general sense of no longer keeping it to yourself. I was involved with a software startup a few years ago, and we were insistent on NDAs and the like, afraid someone else would steal our "great" idea. BIG MISTAKE. Most people and companies are too wrapped up in their own crap, or chasing their own ideas to steal someone else's. We could have used the advice and input of many others, before we killed the attempt and the dream died. Jan 4, 2011 at 17:51

Do you talk freely about them in discussion boards and with other developers?

I find that when I tell other people what my plans/ideas are, then I waste too much energy defending my ideas to actually get them done (there are too many people who want to argue for the sake of arguing, as well as people who think they know more than you do and will be busy demanding that you implement your dreams/plans/ideas their way). The worst case I found was at the company I just left, where I mentioned some ideas I had for product improvements to my boss (and his boss), was told I may not work on them on company time, then was dinged on my annual review for "not following through" on the ideas I was specifically forbidden from working on.

Ideas are cheap, and I have lots of them. Implementation is hard and I lack the time to implement even a small fraction of my ideas. Ideas that I know I'm not going to have time to even try to implement I'll tell others about.

  • +1 'there are too many people who want to argue for the sake of arguing, as well as people who think they know more than you do and will be busy demanding that you implement your dreams/plans/ideas their way' - I hate those guys! :)
    – adamk
    Jan 5, 2011 at 9:32

When an idea is in its infancy, we can see all kinds of benefits and none of the drawbacks. The knowledge we are operating under is only partial. It might be the idea of marketing, or how you are going to make money off of the idea (the most difficult). Very likely your idea is saving you time, effort, etc. but others aren't quite affected by it in quite the same way as you. The most critical thing to consider and hardest to be realistic about is that just perhaps your idea has been tried out before and it failed for whatever reason. Maybe the failure was because of something you figured out how to overcome, but also very likely there is something deeper that you haven't considered yet.

Bottom line is that like opinions, and idea and $5 USD will buy you a cup of coffee. It isn't worth anything until you try and do something with it. You can only do something with it if you talk to knowledgeable people that will help you understand where your idea is lacking. I've found that sharing my ideas has paid off more than not. Most of the time the only thing I do with my ideas is to perform experiments to verify if they hold water or not. It helps me understand the problem I'm trying to solve better, and many times I have an epiphany of how I could do it another way after those experiments.


If you think the person you're about to tell could take your idea and make a business out of it, you just found a potential partner.


There's a new startup called OpenInvo which hopes to become a marketplace for ideas. I think if it takes off it could be just the solution you're looking for.

Sometimes I really wish this were true: We didn't believe you at first, but we asked like three people who were at that party. They not only corroborated your story, but even said you totally mentioned wanting to start a company someday. Sorry! If this isn't enough money, let us know. Source: http://xkcd.com/827/


I'm sort of a lone ranger. Regrettably, I know no other programmers. Since I do all the work on my projects myself, I rarely tell people my ideas, and when I do, it's harmless because 1) they don't care or 2) they lack the resources, skills, dedication, etc. to act on it themselves.


If I have (IMHO) a really great idea, but can't do anything about it right away in terms of implementation, I still go ahead and check if there are relevant domain names available and if so, grab them. Otherwise I keep the ideas to myself.

  • I'd give you -1 for squatting, but I do this myself, lol. Jan 4, 2011 at 18:49
  • @dukeofgaming: Squatting is different if you have an idea for a webapp; buying up domain names just because you think they will be desired by someone in the future is a hilarious subculture that exists on the internet and if I had any ideas on how to ban this behavior I would write a letter to ICANN today.
    – sova
    Jan 4, 2011 at 21:27

A great idea can have a great implementation and marketing and still doesn't take off. When I say this I'm thinking in Google Wave which is a great product that didn't achieved the expected success.

"Overnight success takes time" once said Jeff Atwood. When he says this, I think in Twitter, which AFAIK saw its fastest growing rate when it wasn't such a novelty anymore.

I have some ideas I keep to myself, because I want to implement them. But those other great ideas I will not have the time to implement, I share with the world and hope someone implements them.


For me sharing ideas is not a problem, it's getting people to listen what's harder. Usually it requires too much effort, all that explaining and convincing. It's really similar to "not invented here"-syndrome, in that people feel much more motivated by their own ideas, and suffer from "not invented in my head"-syndrome.


Thinking about an idea makes you notice things related to that idea much easier. It is called priming. So, there is very much a benefit in having a list of ideas or even a document for each idea trying to describe it and different aspects of what would make it viable (monetization strategy?) Over time, you go over the idea in your own head multiple times and based on new contexts and new learned skills, the idea may get more and more polished.

Sharing your ideas similarly allows you to polish them. If you tell the idea 3 times to different people and they all ask the same question, that can indicate the issue with the idea (or with your delivery of it). Try to learn from it.

At the same time, I don't think it is possible to give away a complete idea, only facets of it. And if you can summarize all of your thoughts into 10 minutes conversation, that is probably not a fully developed idea anyway. For an example, here is an idea I shared on my blog and had some feedback on since. Except that even that long write up is just a small part of the idea and is missing some core aspects that I think hold the most promise (monetization, building the community, gamification, etc).

I also have a document collection of smaller ideas on wide variety of topics, some of which I have shared freely in various degree of details.

So, I would say, share early versions of the idea, polish your thinking, polish your presentation, keep trying to add to your idea based on what you are learning or experiencing now. Then, when the time comes, you will be much further along than you expect.

And if somebody else implements a similar idea before you get to it, enjoy that. You did not have time for it anyway and it validates that you have worthwhile ideas. It means that maybe your other ideas (you do have several, right?) may also be viable.

  • I never talk about my plans, because it takes away energy from making them reality.

  • Build something cheap and test the market before you invest money.

  • Realize that there are 7 factors that control your business success: attitude, innovation, information, marketing, systems, action, and profits.

  • Attitude is what keeps you focused, innovation is what sets you apart (but innovation is not about being a pioneer, its about copying successful systems from other industries), information is what feeds your business plan, marketing is what gets the product sold, systems are what automatize your business, action is how good you are at getting things done, and profits is how you manage your money (do you re-invest or blow it out on cars, toys?). Its pretty hard to balance all of these, but when they work in symphony, things happen pretty quickly.

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