Nobody is Going to Pay You For Your Ideas

Yesterday somebody posted an interesting comment on the bottom of my post ‘How to Sell an Idea to a Big Company.’ Sadly, that post explains to people why they can’t sell their ideas to big companies. Most of the 70-some comments there are from people who ignore what the post says and share how great their ideas are. This one is slightly different. This person acknowledges the problem, as follows:

How do I sell not an idea but my involvement in creating ideas to a reputable company? Is there a way for me to work (preferably from home) and continually provide my endless supply of ideas to a company? How do I go about getting a job where I am the idea man; where I am a part of the think tank for a company; where I can show them what is wrong and why and how they can do it better and blow away the competition in the process? Is it even possible to have such a dream job or am I just fooling myself?

If you have to ask, then yes, you’re fooling yourself.

Because although it is true that some very special people get jobs like that — Alan Kay, for example, computer pioneer, extremely accomplished; or click the image here to see a piece from the New York Times about Entrepreneurs in Residence — it takes accomplishments to validate ideas. Those entrepreneurs in residence are there for ideas, but they didn’t get there by having ideas. They got there by executing on ideas.

I think the people who walk around thinking they have multiple great ideas, but have no accomplishment to prove it, don’t understand how ideas work. Untested ideas are like unwritten novels. All unwritten novels are brilliant — on the minds of would-be authors who didn’t write them. You and I can’t evaluate our own ideas. We’re too close  to them.  Real ideas are out there in the world, bouncing around, until somebody locks onto them, does something with them, executes, and makes them happen.  That gives them value.

The only thing you can do with a great idea is execute. And nobody in their right mind will pay you until you’ve done that, and more than once. You have valuable ideas: then prove it.


  • Dr. Rizwan says:

    Dear Sir,
    Please share your opinion regarding the following:
    If I write an e-book (with ISBN in India) explaining about a new task or about a new technological advancement and I provide complete description about that task or technological advancement in that particular e-book with diagrams and flowchart. The ISBN is taken in July 2021 in India and this e-book is published on my own blog or website for customers from anywhere in the world online.
    My questions are : (1.) Can any company, from anywhere in the world, take patent on that particular task or technological advancement or it can add in it’s existing system in future without my permission?
    (2.) What can I do if any company take patent in future without my permission?
    Thanks a lot for your answers

  • ian francis says:

    Hi Tim,
    Firstly thank you for taking the time to share your experience and advice, I hear you when u say that ‘ you dont own an idea and cant sell one’ or at least no one is obliged to pay you even if they take it and successfully run with it. which is sad news to hear, even a little deflating because im left wondering then how do ideas get shared and developed and rewarded for?
    I do have a question for you tho that if answered might further help those still left scratching their heads not quite ready to throw in the towel like myself which is: would, if all correspondence such as emails or video presentations , recorded Zoom calls etc etc received and responded to by a company to whom one had pitched ideas to not protect or give grounds to sue for financial compensation should said company go on to use or develop those ideas, or enter into markets that before said shared correspondence they were not engaged in but go on to without you .

    Or is there no honest integrity left in the world and i should just forget the idea that there might be ?

    • Tim Berry says:

      Ian, that’s a tough question to answer. Like so much in business, there are always exceptions. You’ve read my post above so you know how skeptical I am; but once you get to the point you are at now, it’s a question for lawyers, not me. If you think you might have a good case, with the specifics, then maybe you take the case to a lawyer. Don’t give me the last word. Tim

  • Mikhail says:

    Hello. Thank you for your post. But if I have an idea that is proven to work… for example if I am a farmer and I know how to grow vegetables without chemicals, it was a successful idea and I want to sell it to other farmers and take a percentage from profit for it. Is it possible to sell the idea in that way?
    I will be glad to hear your opinion.
    Thank you.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Mikhail, thanks for asking. My opinion is no, you can’t sell that idea. Nobody really owns an idea. It’s exclusively yours only until you tell one other person and if that person tells, you have no legal recourse unless you have a patent. And patents are only for formulas, inventions, or algorithms, not ideas. So you might be able to sell it once or twice, or even a few times, to farmers naive enough to buy it from you. But they won’t have to pay you, and when the secret gets out, your selling is done. That’s my opinion.

  • Leonard Hanson says:

    I have an idea that will make the company offering the product brazillians, it’s a food product. My question is; Once a company starts selling this new product concept, can any other restaurant just start selling the same product concept? Here’s an example, a restaurant develops a new product concept and it’s an immediate hit, people are lining up to buy your new product. Let’s say it’s a new product concept where you make BBQ chicken with the BBQ sauce on the inside of the chicken skin so you’re not getting sauce all over clothes, hands…The best part of this is that it keeps the bird moister, keeps the bird fresher for longer. now l’m able to sell and serve yesterdays birds, in fact, most people prefer 1-2 day old over fresh! A lot of people don’t like eating chicken skin, which pretty much ruled out BBQ chicken. But this way, the skin can be stripped off, the sauce stays stuck on the meat.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Leonard, thanks for the question. I’d like you to read another post here on my blog, If Your Idea is Any Good, It Will Be Copied. Restaurants copy each other all the time and there’s not much you can do about it. I’m not an attorney, much less a patent attorney, so I can’t really say with any authority, but your idea doesn’t seem like it could be patented. That blog post I cited offers more background. Tim

  • Stephen Lahey says:

    The value is in the validation. So true, Tim.

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