What if you see someone else executing your idea?

A couple of years ago, I spoke about ecosystem marketing at a Nashville conference for authors, organized by my friend Tim Grahl. I shared the model I had developed after taking a 25 city tour to research a book I am writing on network and community building. In a shout to my friend Scott Stratten, I called it the UnBook Tour, since I was doing the book tour before writing the book.

At Tim’s conference, I met David Burkus, a writer and professor of leadership and innovation.

We had time to kill at the airport, so we grabbed some dinner together.

“What are you up to?” I asked David.

“I am writing a book about networking based on the science of human behavior,” he said.

Gut reactions

As soon as I heard his idea, adrenaline shot through my body.

My first reaction: panic. What if he is writing the book I am meant to write?

My second reaction: shame. Why didn’t I move faster with my book proposal?

My third reaction: jealousy. Why did he have to be so proactive and successful?

My final reaction: excitement. David is a really smart guy. He will probably dig up some really useful information in his research that I would never cover in mine. This could be valuable to my clients and the readers of my book.

A lot of time has gone by since that first meeting, and I have sidelined the book project while I build a small business learning lab in Mesa, using all the principles I am researching for my book. I figure the lived experience will make for the best stories, right?

Allies, not enemies

The other day, David and I caught up on the phone to talk about his new book Friend of a Friend  that comes out in May. (You can catch a preview with his TEDx talk here)

We talked about that airport conversation where both of us had felt a lurch in our stomach as we learned what the other was working on.

And yet afterward, we each dove into the only work we knew how to do: writing the book we were meant to write, from our unique point of view and strengths.

David and I have really different views, based on our training, life experience and political lens.

Which is why there is room for both of our books, and a lot more in the same genre.

Big, complex problems need all kinds of analysis and tools to be resolved. Multiple perspectives will solve different components of the problem, and reach different audiences.

Nilofer Merchant has taken a deep dive into mobilizing support for big ideas through networks in her new book The Power of Onlyness.

Ryan Paugh and Scott Gerber, founders of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) give their take on networking in their new book  Superconnector.

I see them all as allies in a shared mission: helping our community gain economic justice, stability and strength.

So what are your options when you see that someone took your precious book or business idea and ran with it? (And by “take,” I am not inferring stealing — that is another issue for another day).

Three common scenarios:

It is highly unlikely that you will come up with an idea that has never been thought of by someone else. If there is a big enough market for your business idea, there are bound to be competitors who see the same opportunity.

How many dentists are there in a common city?

How many apps are there to solve the problem of organizing finances?

How many consultants are there to solve the problem of poor leadership in organizations?

The answer, of course, is many.

There are many because big problems require a whole myriad of approaches and points of view.

Here are common scenarios I run into with clients on a daily basis:

Scenario 1: The exact book you want to write was written better by someone else.


  • Find another topic. If I wanted to write about shame and vulnerability, and Brené Brown stormed in with Daring Greatly, I may reconsider writing that book.
  • Find a really unique angle. I am not going to out-research a shame researcher, but maybe I could tell a unique story about shame that impacts a very specific audience, like small business owners.

Scenario 2: Your great business idea was executed beautifully by someone else


  • Find a gap in the product or service offering and create something to fill it.
  • Define your unique point of view and audience and speak boldly to it through your brand position and communication style.
  • Build it better. Make a more useful, valuable or cost-effective solution.

Scenario 3: A fellow speaker in your area of expertise nails a topic you want to speak on


  • Find your unique story and angle on your topic. Everyone has unique experience, and you have to discover yours.
  • Shift audiences. If you find yourself continually competing for work from a competitive speaker, find some unique audiences who will appreciate your message specifically because of your expertise.
  • Change topics. What is a message that you have been dying to share? The exploration is sure to lead to new and valuable presentations.

There is more than enough space for multiple experts and ideas. Lean into your unique voice, collaborate with smart peers, and you will deliver what is truly important: better solutions for the people you most care to help.

Reader Interactions


  1. Becky Blanton says

    What you’re describing is a scarcity belief system. Scarcity says, “There’s not enough ____ to go around.” People with a scarcity belief system believe that when someone else wins, succeeds, looks good, encounters good fortune, has a good idea, or does anything that we want, wish, dream of doing – that somehow their experience takes away from ours. That’s a lie.

    Somehow we believe that there is ONLY one book that can be written on “OUR” idea, when it reality, there is no such thing. Think about how many restaurants there are around the world that are thriving. Think about how many McDonald’s there are that are making in excess of $5 million a year, even though they’re all selling the same food. How many business books do you have on your shelves that are all from different authors, but all about business? If it were true there was only one of anything, reality would be different. The joy of our world (America especially) is that we have a CHOICE. Chicken is chicken, but there are restaurants that make it taste better than others. Think of the chicken as the IDEA, and the execution of the idea as how good the chicken tastes. Even so, not everyone will like how different chefs prepare the same bird. It’s the same with any idea, product, concept.

    We fool ourselves when we tell that story that a great idea or topic was/is “ours,” or that once someone else writes a book about our niche, that we can’t write our own. Our books, our ideas, our implementations are unique because WE are unique (unless we’re mindless greedy robots trying to become the next best seller and we play it safe and sound like what we think will sell rather than what we feel/know to be true for us). When we KNOW who OUR audience is, and we KNOW what part/aspect of a story, idea, or book we want to share with OUR audience, our book will be everything to them.

    People love us, follow us, buy our books because of WHO we are, and because they understand the place and passion we write from. There are equally good business books written by other authors, but I buy Seth Godin’s books because I know and love Seth. It’s not about his being the BEST book. It’s about his being the book I can relate MOST to. I love Mike Michalowicz’s book because of his sense of humor, and how he tells a story. He has a knack for metaphors I love. He’s real. I buy books from authors I trust or know. Has NOTHING to do with, “Is this the best treatise on the subject?” I may buy four or five books on the same topic to glean what I can from each.

    The idea that there is ONE best book on any idea or topic is a LIE. Don’t fall for it. When I hear of someone writing THE BOOK I wanted to write, and I know them well enough to know their style, I offer to HELP them – sending them research I know fits THEIR style, or connecting them with my contacts – ones who can help them make THEIR book as good as it can be. Then I write my own book. It does us no good to thwart or sabotage another writer. It makes the world a poorer place.

    I remember when I was in Seth Godin’s Triiibes social media group. I was competing with two other people for Dan Pink’s writing contest – with first prize being a trip to TED GLOBAL 2009. I tracked down the emails of my two competitors and invited them to join (Triiibes was invitation only) Triiibes. I wanted my community there to meet them and hear their ideas. Ed Brenegar was the only one who responded and he joined Triiibes. I encouraged people to vote for the BEST IDEA, not for me. Ultimately Seth Godin stepped in when I was only a few votes out of first place [ http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/01/traffic-magnets.html ] and asked his readers to vote for me. They did and I won by a landslide. I entered a second contest – from among the 600+ TED attendees, to tell my story at TED Global that same year, and won…speaking at TED Global Oxford in 2009. It all worked out. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my fate. I wasn’t worried about going to TED. I just wanted the best idea to spread. I didn’t ask Seth to help. I only found out when someone emailed when his blog came out. I know for a fact that when we are generous, supportive, giving, and believe there is enough of everything to go around – we learn that indeed, there is.

    Leave the land of scarcity beliefs, enter the land where there is more than enough to go around and you will find you can’t carry all the goodness that comes your way.

  2. Kelly Pratt says

    Synchronicity says it perfectly.
    I just got done posting in my new community “so do it society“ that our topic for May was co-opetition. And then I start reading my emails and one thing Lynnsey leads to another and I land on this article. Of course 🙂 I always learn so much from you and I can always count on you to give me more ideas.
    I love that the word co-opetition has actually made it into some dictionaries
    co·op·e·ti·tion kōˌäpəˈtiSH(ə) n/noun
    “collaboration between business competitors, in the hope of mutually beneficial results.”
    Keep innovating

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