I shared a new business idea that we’re doing in Samoa with a friend recently. “Man, that’s such a good idea, the Tourism Authority will be sure to steal your ideas and do it themselves!” he warned me.
Maybe so, as their MO doing just that is well recognised locally!
I call myself an “ideas factory”. I do three things with ideas:
- Dream them up myself – usually in the early hours of the morning
- I take other peoples’ ideas, and
- Process them all – applying biblical principles, faith and creativity
I love what I do and think I’m very good at it, so I am therefore an easy target of idea thievery. I am also vulnerable to criticism of idea thievery if I do not acknowledge the original source of ideas that I use that were not mine.
I stumbled upon Rachel Farrell’s advice to employees whose employers steal their ideas at Careerbuilder.com. In regards to idea thievery she advises people to:
1. Document everything
2. Try to be team player
3. Look for the greater good
You couldn’t get a more volatile situation than mine! I’m an ideas machine, living and working in Samoa, which is arguably one of the least creative countries I could have chosen as home! Of course there are some notable exceptions to this awful generalisation, such as the amazing Samoan Tatoo artists, and the fashion designers (Mena) and some more notable exceptions to the rule, but overall, creativity in Samoa is highly structured and limited by tradition and cultural expectations. This lack of creativity occurs in many areas of life for example their foods are pretty much the same nationwide – all cooked with passion and pride as their forefathers did it, but very limited in their creativity.
“Fear of man” (which is manifested through extreme peer pressure, gossip, and people doing lots of awful things to maintain family honour) causes people to stay within clearly defined behaviour parameters. It works in both a positive sense and negative, so that nobody will do anything unless it has been done before, and when somebody does something everyone else will do the same. One BBQ established in a village will quickly sprout to three of four as others get on the bandwagon, not to be outdone.
Enter an ultra-creative Palagi with drive and passion and a bunch of great ideas and trouble has to be just around the corner!
My first encounter with idea thievery in Samoa was in mid 2010. I happened to be sharing our ideas and activities with a government employee who was an Acting CEO at the time. I won’t mention his name, but he was well respected in his department and was perceived as a very “clean” young man with a great future by the business community. After spending more than an hour explaining who we were and what we were doing he was clearly impressed with our creativity. So much so that on the way out of his office, he pulled aside my translator and SWAP Ambassador saying to him in Samoan,
I learned that day the depth of desperation from a people unable to see a way forward from their current morass. Ideas and vision brought hope. Good ideas have high value in Samoa.
It’s a long story which I’ve detailed at length in my book “A Little Slice of Paradise“, but over the last two years, despite the apparent encouragement of the Prime Minister, the Samoa Tourism Authority has made serious efforts to curtail our work in Samoa. After having had many interactions with the STA, mostly all painful ones, my clear observation is that the department is primarily a – you guessed it – a government department! It’s hard to use the words bureaucrats, creativity and vision in the same sentence, no matter which country you are in – especially the proudly ultra-conservative, third-world country of Samoa! Hence the source of the wisdom of my friend’s advice above, paraphrased, “They are idea thieves!”
Rachell knows all about how idea thieves work. Further on in her post she says:
“People who do this aren’t just doing it to you — they do it to others and ultimately will be exposed,” she reminds. “What goes around comes around and bad word spreads fast amongst the ranks.”
The police call the patterned behaviour of a criminal their MO, Modus Operandi and Rachell is 100% correct that idea thieves will repeat their crimes. I know from our own experiences what STA has done with SWAP and others have shared with me their experiences with STA taking their ideas and running with them too. It’s a clear MO that it is public knowledge here, but never spoken about (for fear of very real reprisals).
One of New Zealand’s top bloggers, Cameron Slater is forever detailing how the mainstream media take his ideas, then run the same story as their own without any appropriate attribution. It says much more about the character and integrity of the people at the newspapers and TV stations who use his ideas than it does about Cameron but I feel for the guy. Its really just more idea thievery!
On the other hand in regards to idea thievery, I (we) work very hard to attribute ideas to the original source. Notably, this has applied twice for us in Samoa:
- A Samoa Day
- A Palolo Festival
Bev Barlow, marketing manager for Aggie Grey’s mentioned to me once that she had been raising the idea of an international Samoa Day for years, but that nothing had happened. I thought that the idea had enormous merit. SWAP approached the Prime Minister and proposed that we develop the Samoa Day concept (noting clearly that it was Bev’s idea), as well as our Go! Go! Go! Samoa promotion that involved the international Samoa community utilising Social Media. Push came to shove and we received a written go-ahead from the PM to proceed, with Cabinet approval a formality. We brought up three Social Media experts from New Zealand especially for these projects, introduced them to the PM and STA, and got started planning.
But the STA had problems working with us. The projects were delayed, stalled and eighteen months later we have no idea what has or will happen. The point however is this – while the Go! Go! Go! Samoa promotion was our idea, the Samoa Day wasn’t and we will never claim that it was. Bev gave us the idea. She authorised our use of the idea and didn’t seek any credit but it was important for us to be squeaky clean when it came to the source of the idea.
The second idea came from the Prime Minister himself. We (The PM, Sonja Hunter CEO STA, me and Debbie) were talking about likely dates for the Go! Go! Go! Samoa and Samoa Day events, and Tuila’epa wondered aloud whether or not the Palolo rising would be a good date. His exact words were:
“I’ve always wondered why nobody has done anything [around the Palolo rising]. It’s a unique Samoan event”
I actually advised the PM that combining an international event with a small local event didn’t wash with me but that it would be better to do something special around the Palolo rising as another event. My logic is that the more reasons for people to engage with Samoa the better. STA did nothing about the Palolo rising in that year, nor the next, so when we spoke recently to the operators of a Beach Fale resort on the very Savaii beach that locals descend every year for the Palolo gathering, it was a no-brainer – a Palolo Festival we should have!
We always put on two conditions before we work with any business. Partners or clients must show Emotional Ownership, and Management Commitment – the two requisites for a successfully run business. If they are just taking our ideas and doing them, it will not work.
The idea of a Palolo Festival is not new. Samoans have been having a party on the beach for generations at the Palolo season. Some resorts have been doing it in a small way but no one has coordinated any activities, but we are, now. I want to open the idea up to anyone else in the industry to get involved. It would be great to see lots of participants nationwide join in with activities and ideas to encourage visitors to Samoa around the time of the Palolo rising. I’ve already started inviting others to join in the “fun” this year, but you heard it here first!
The PM however had spoken the idea to us, so we added a third condition to our involvement. We required that our resort owners approach the PM and seek his blessing on the idea BEFORE we agreed to do the event at this resort. It was not an easy thing for an untitled man to do – approach the very busy top man in the country and seek his support, but he did, and he now has a BIG blessing as a result. Apparently the PM told him that he was very welcome to do whatever he felt that God was leading him to do regardless of what he (the PM) or I (the Palagi), said.
The point was not that Tuila’epa had to give this man his blessing. The point was that he needed to be acknowledged as the source of the idea. Oh so simple, easy and honest!
Jesus always, always, ALWAYS gave credit when credit was due so He was constantly referring back to the source of His wisdom and power – His Father.
There are many in Samoa who fail to live up to their own bleating that “Samoa Is Founded Upon God!” by stealing ideas and claiming them for themselves. I will work very hard not be one of them!
I have some closing comments which contain some direct words:
- For those in political power in Samoa, be it within a family, or a job, or in government, I would remind them that the source of real power is humility before God. The opposite is pride (where we want to be the centre of attention and to get the glory for the idea) and pride ALWAYS leads to death and destruction. It is a cultural norm here to let everyone know about your power, but the bible warns you against such arrogance, for one day you will be found and will surely fall. STA and your leadership, I’m talking to you!
- I will always speak openly honestly and fearlessly. I document discussions and blog about my experiences. When people steal from me, lie to me or any business or person associated with SWAP our policy is to make it public and to prosecute if a crime is committed. Seven ex-employees have learned this the hard way. Five have spent time in jail as a result and another two are currently facing jail. I do not treat life as a game, so I never give up, ever. This is not vindictiveness, we simply have to because we must be trusted. If we are seeking Palagi involvement in Samoa, by way of investment or simply even by inviting them to visit, then they must know that justice exists here.
- False humility is a sin. Life is NOT a game. Pretending to be holy when we are not led to instant death for Ananias and Sapphira. I said above that I love what I do and am good at it. I know that I am and I do not believe in false humility. Jesus didn’t. He is and was the Son of God and he said it loud and clear. Speaking loudly about ourselves is not always pride as long as it is true.
I know that one of our ex-Ambassadors (actually a guy who jumped ship and now works for the STA!) has made a big noise around town saying to people that “None of Dennis’ ideas will work!” and a lot more negative things behind our back.
Apart from the obvious truth that anyone makes a fool of himself by initiating or sharing hatred and gossip, I say to him publicly, “Total nonsense, sir! SWAP and I may not be perfect in your eyes, but we are professionals who care, who know our stuff and we’re not ashamed to share our ideas – freely by the way!”
We should all make sure that we work hard to attribute ideas to the source of those ideas. Once we do that, once, twice, three times we set our MO to be honourable and trustworthy.
There is hope however for those with an existing MO of idea thievery – just humble yourself to repent and acknowledge the source of the ideas.
The world will actually trust you, respect you and love you more for doing it!
Enjoy your Sunday everyone – it’s been great preaching to you from sunny Samoa, a country that doesn’t have a word for “winter” in its vocabulary!