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Shyness Conversation Arbitrage

February 4, 2013

There needs to be a term for the following phenomenon, because it happens all the time, in my experience. A large group of people are debating something, and a shy person quietly says a great idea, and then someone else loudly annouces the idea to the group and gets all the credit. I have been on both sides of this sort of interaction. A lot of time the shy person resents the credit-stealer, especially if they don’t give credit where credit is due.

I don’t think the repeater deserves disaprobation tho. Where some people see idea theft and marginalization, I also see arbitrage and comparative advantage. Perhaps the original speaker did not say it in a convincing or clear manner and the arbitrager is gaining from their ability to say things in a way that more people can comprehend. Overall, it is beneficial to the group, because good ideas are not just thrown away because of their source. Quiet people can come up with ideas and bold people can sell them to the group. When someone quietly says an idea to a subgroup, they aren’t putting their reputations on the line as much as someone who loudly announces the idea with confident support. That risk deserves some reward. The idea repeater is providing the service of screening out the mediocre ideas muttered on the sidelines and only repeating the best ones. It’s still best to offer credit to the idea originator.

If you find yourself having your suggestions discarded, you have two main options. Speak up, be more aggressive, etc. If that isn’t a good option for whatever reason, such as women faced with sexist coworkers perhaps, you could also find a “bullhorn” to repeat your ideas to the group who will reliably give you credit. Maybe “bullhorning” is a good term for this phenomenon.

For the comments:
Do you think this social tactic is unethical?
Does it result in better decision making?
Has someone done this to you? Have you done it to someone else?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2013 1:13 pm

    There’s a little bit going on here:

    First, you use the term “arbitrage”, which is usually used negatively, is it not?

    Second, this seems reminiscent of the intellectual property debate. Who “owns” the idea; who has “property rights” over it?

    Third: I think that social conventions tend to suggest that the “repeater” should at least use appropriation: say who/where they got the idea from. If they are saying it as if it’s their idea, then in a sense that’s lying and unethical. But for mostly the reasons you cite, I’d be hard pressed to say that the repeater “owes” the idea person any more than that.

    From a practical standpoint, it may be a bad idea for the repeater to pass the idea off as their own anyway, as they may be expected to come up with more ideas in a similar vein. There’s been many a sitcom based on this notion anyway. However, the famous Edison quote also applies: Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Just having the “idea” isn’t usually enough to get much out of it; you also need to implement it. Of course, Edison is also famous for stealing many of his ideas from Tesla…

    • February 4, 2013 1:25 pm

      Arbitrage is sometimes used pejoritively, but I don’t view it as negative per se.
      Tesla is a great example. There was that one story your wife used to tell about the coder who was expected to work miracles. It was a take on Rumplestiltskin.
      Anyway, I don’t hold much stock in owning an idea or giving people credit for ideas. Everyone has ideas all the time, and they don’t take hard work to come up with, they just sort of happen. What takes effort is developing them and implementing them and convincing others of their goodness. I think the badness from taking ideas wholly stems from how the idea generator feels about it, which is usually bad, and if you make someone feel bad, you should try to ameliorate that somehow.

  2. February 13, 2013 11:23 am

    We’ve all had that experience where we work really hard on something and instead of getting recognized for our contribution, we have to sit there and choke back bile when someone else takes credit for the work. It’s infuriating to think about how hard you worked and how much effort you put into a project only to see some other glory-hound or charlatan pass all that effort off as their own.

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