Why Children Need to Learn How to “Steal” Ideas.




As parents and teachers we spend a lot of time trying to help children learn right from wrong and that includes plagiarism.  The idea that a person might directly steal someone else’s work word for word is horrifying, and yet it’s happening every day around the world, just look at how many high school and college kids have been caught submitting an essay written by someone else in order to gain good grades.  The difficulty is that even as adults most of us don’t really understand the difference between plagiarism and “stealing” someone’s ideas but then making them your own, so we issue a flat decree “if you didn’t come up with it yourself, it’s not your own.” This can be detrimental to growing one of the most sought after skills now and in our future, creativity and solutions.

Here is where things get messy but important. In today’s world we are continuing to evolve and employers as asking for more great creative thinkers and problem solvers, but we’re not teaching and more importantly showing our young people how to do this.

If you ask any great creative person they will tell you that nothing is original it’s all a mixture of other ideas and finds but put together in a slightly different way, with a twist or within a different area and with that you create something new.  I know it sounds simpler than it really is.

It is a skill that can be learned, I was lucky enough to be part of a culture which practiced this every day and I saw many people rise to become fabulous creative strategist by learning how to borrow ideas from others and creating new ideas with what the famous TED Talk by Kirby  entitled “ Everything is a Remix”.  The idea is to show young people the difference between not only gathering raw information but also other people’s concepts and then creating a new idea out of these pieces.

Why it’s so important is that many of us have spent endless hours sitting in front of a piece of paper or our screen believing that we didn’t have the “creative gift” that others do all because someone once told us that our ideas had to be original, but not explaining what that meant and at least one of the tools you can use to get there.  I for one , upon seeing the curtain pulled back, had a huge Aha moment, which I really could have used in my first year at UBC or better yet back in high school.  So the question is how can we teach this to our children?  There is a great book by Austin Kleon called “Steal Like An Artist” which talks about this aspect and a few others which help build bigger thinkers and ideas, I refer to it often.

You can also play a quick and simple game which begins to hone these skills for youth of all ages, while driving in the car or if you’re making dinner.  Pick 3 totally unrelated items like Kangaroo, pennies and chowmein.  Now have every person tell a short wild story which has to incorporate all three items, the longer the better.  Something as simple as this requires you to think on your feet, pull from different parts of your brain and work to create a story that flows, integrating information so it’s easier the next time to pull together ideas from different places into one complete thought.  Have yourself and your young people give it a try.


  1. April says:


    I really enjoyed this article, and I recently linked to it in my own article on hopeculture.com.


    I’d be honored if you’d check it out. And if you enjoy it, feel free to share it on social media.



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