Steal my thoughts…

On one of my previous posts about whether junior faculty should be seen and not heard- commenter Bahrad left the following comment:

The absolute worst advice is the absolute “seen and not heard” one… If you *never* voice an opinion, then that will definitely be damaging when it comes to tenure. The key is to find a battle & make sure that your comments are as well-considered and informed as possible.

Also, and this is a particular challenge for female junior faculty – you have to formulate your comments in such a way that your ideas are clearly acknowledged as being from you, so that goodwill is reflected on you and not transferred to some other faculty member who jumps on your background. (Without seeming like an egomaniac, obviously, but the balance between arrogance and confidence is tougher for women in the still male-dominated social norms of faculty meetings.)

I agree with that first paragraph, and that pretty much sums up my approach in real life, for better or worse.  BUT, I’m paying special attention to the bold text, and I know oh so well how that feels. Mention an idea in public or mention an idea in private, usually one which I’ve thought quite a bit about… have the operative listeners nod their heads all in agreement. Then, the next day or shortly thereafter- the listener(s) in question comes back to me and says… that THEY were thinking… what a great idea it would be if XYZ were implemented- like using my exact words.

Sometimes I’m not sure if this is a problem in translation. When they mention this to me is it some kind of compliment, without the usual language of a compliment, and without saying the actual words to acknowledge my contribution to the matter at hand?  Because it sure doesn’t feel like that- it feels like a co-opted idea…and it is hard for me to stomach.

My tactic for the moment has been to let these things go- because really, in the end the idea gets implemented and that’s what I REALLY wanted anyway. But it would be nice to be acknowledged from time to time… so how to encourage this by formulating comments in a particular way..?

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11 thoughts on “Steal my thoughts…

  1. Oh good topic!
    How I wish I had an answer for you.
    Actually, I just had a meeting with my advisor recently where he handed me off a list of six things… one of which is something I’ve been thinking of doing since I connected My Favorite Protein with InterestingGeneProduct-8 at a seminar back in *checks*… June. I’m perfectly content to let him think it’s his idea (if he does- he didn’t explictly appropriate it or anything).

    I am slightly worried that come recommendation letter time he won’t think of me as independent.

  2. This is not at all meant as an excuse or justification, just as a possible causal explanation. I have speculated that the issue is not so much that men tend to glom onto women’s ideas without giving credit more than they do other men’s, but that men–and perhaps women–tend to glom onto *everyone’s* ideas plenty, but men are more likely to be listened to when they say, “Hey, wait a motherfucking second! That’s *my* idea!!!”

  3. I tend to fix the “bright idea” speaker with an “I know what you just did” look and say something like, “Oh, you mean the way I suggested yesterday?” Delivered with a bemused yet friendly smile, this will make the person appropriating your idea only curse you, rather than loathe you.

    At least, I hope this is the result. It’s possible there are a LOT of people who hate me out there.

  4. I’m with CPP. Glomming onto ideas happens constantly. But when credit time comes around, people tend to mysteriously remember the gentlemanly contributions better than the ladylike ones.

    To some extent, letting people steal your ideas is an aspect of leadership. If you are continuously seeding the world with your thinking, then you always appear to be at the forefront of ideas. You can create a magical sense that you are speaking people’s thoughts before they get around to it. This is the essence of being influential: people begin to perceive your thinking as their own.

    However, there is the tricky business of being seen as influential in addition to actually being influential. I tend to think that a reputation for being influential is usually based on superficial cues that are thought to indicate leadership skills, rather than any real honest assessment of your influence.

  5. ‘but men are more likely to be listened to when they say, “Hey, wait a motherfucking second! That’s *my* idea!!!”’-

    C PP: Oh, I hate that this is the way it is. But it is. How to fix?

    Dr. J- So far I haven’t chosen to deal with it like this. Although now I’ve stopped being surprised when it happens … so I could actually try it!

    Yolio- Interesting- ‘letting people steal your ideas is an aspect of leadership. If you are continuously seeding the world with your thinking, then you always appear to be at the forefront of ideas.’…. so do you see this as a reason for putting out the ideas and moving on- not getting caught up in being acknowledged at some level?

  6. I’m with Yolio. Put it out there and see what happens. It’s also worth considering whether, when the idea turns out to be stoopid, you would also like to take the blame for it.

  7. Ideas, ideas…

    It’s belaboured point, but an important aspect of taking credit for an idea is making sure that you are at least partly involved in any subsequent implementation of it. Even if you ultimately need some Big Shot’s involvement to give the initiative any real teeth, it’s still important to invest something, anything, of your own labour in the project, so as to share the responsibility for it and ultimately to be associated in any way with its success.

    In every meeting I’ve ever attended (no faculty meetings yet, but I’m betting the human nature element holds), it’s no cliche to point out that every person around the table is alwayschock-full of ideas, but that when it comes to the question of who wants to take those ideas on… *crickets*. But if, on that rare occasion, somebody puts there hands up and says, “Hey, I’ll take that on”, nobody in the room ever gives a shit about whether that person was the origin of the idea or not; that person becomes the sole owner of that idea regardless. And, to my mind, that’s only right and proper.

  8. DSKS- In some sense I agree with you, ideas are cheap and the person who takes the idea on and makes it happen gets the credit for that. But what happens when you are jr. faculty and you don’t actually have the power to make the idea happen???

    Furthermore, would you be surprised if I told you that I’ve had people not give me credit for my published work… in a highly public setting?

  9. Whimple- Me??? Stoopid Idea??? NEVER. … (It’s a joke people!!) … but seriously, I have a billion stupid ideas, I’ve just never had one get carried up the line … like the more on target ideas…

  10. “But what happens when you are jr. faculty and you don’t actually have the power to make the idea happen???”

    I was driving home on Monday evening from our humble community theatre board meeting when it suddenly occurred to me that our longtime little boys club had just been taken over lock, stock and barrel in a brilliantly artful and bloodless coup. The strategy was simple: the female members, who were until then only peripherally involved, turned up and volunteered to take on all the various responsibilities. And, being a bunch of lazy narcissistic buggers, the gentlemen obliged them.

    I think the libertarian pessimist version of the old saying goes: “With great responsibility comes great power.”

    Well, I think the lads and I just handed over the keys to our toy box 😦

    This may or may not have any relevance to the conversation, but it was on my mind.

  11. “so do you see this as a reason for putting out the ideas and moving on- not getting caught up in being acknowledged at some level?”

    Yes, sort of. I think it is really tricky, and I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes the people around you see more than you realize. In these times, you don’t need to fight for credit because the dynamics are being duly noted. OF course, other times your colleagues are shockingly oblivious…I do know that it is bad for your mental health to spend too much energy worrying about these things. I think that it is good to focus on the ultimate goal, “I need my colleagues to see me in xx way.” And try to judge whether or not a particular interaction is undermining an image that you NEED to project, for professional reasons. As for the mean little injustices, best to be above the fray whenever you can. IMHO.

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