Apple is the most valuable company in the world. It’s worth more than Google and Microsoft combined – and a lot of that is thanks to consistent innovation. The company has ranked #1 since 2010 in the Top 10 Most Innovative Companies list.

Just consider that…

But how did Apple manage to continue innovating consistently for over 3 decades?

The answer is complex, but one thing’s for sure: it had everything to do with idea theft.

And it’s not just that Steve Jobs famously said, “great artists steal”. It’s that the exchange of ideas, through theft or otherwise, is the surest way to innovate consistently…

While failing to utilize others’ ideas can freeze innovation, slowing businesses down to the detriment of consumers, industries and entire economies.

That might sound crazy – but stop and take a look at how idea theft can be positive, valuable and ethical, starting with point number one…

1. You Can’t Escape Some Idea Theft

Smartphone developers have been copying from each other for years… And not because they want to.

See, intellectual property rights tend to be rigid. They also tend to be designed by people who don’t understand technology development and innovation.

As a result, it’s virtually impossible to make a quality modern phone without using someone else’s patents and ideas in some way.

This is why every smartphone company – including Apple – has been sued dozens of times by its competitors, with $20 billion spent on lawyer fees in just 2010-2012.

The catch is that, ultimately, industry-wide “idea theft” has allowed smartphones to develop by leaps and bounds in the last decade… Thanks to everyone copying everyone out there.

Case in point: the iPhone 7 alone has “stolen” 9+ features from Android phones!

And yes; this is an industry-specific example.

Yes; your industry may be different.

But the point is, exchanging ideas – whether you call it “theft”, “borrowing” or “sharing” – is inevitable… And key to serving your customers’ needs to the best of your ability.

And if you do feel a little guilty, bear in mind that…

2. People WILL Steal YOUR Best Ideas

Speaking of patents and idea theft…

Did you know that Bill Gates got the idea – and a lot of the source code – for Windows’ graphic interface directly from Apple?

That’s right: Windows 1.0 and 2.0 were mostly text-based. To make Windows 3.1 – which looks more like the Windows we know today – Bill Gates borrowed heavily from Steve Jobs’ company.

Which would be infuriating under any regular circumstances…

Except that Steve Jobs borrowed the idea for his Graphic User Interface, as well as the Apple Lisa’s mouse, from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center after visiting it.

Or, in the words of Bill Gates:

We both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that [Steve Jobs] had already stolen it.

The takeaway is that you have a quality idea, people will find a way to use it. Unless you do the same, you’ll always find yourself at a disadvantage – kind of like Xerox did when it watched both Apple and Microsoft emerge as industry leaders using its GUI ideas.

And for the times when you can’t steal, remember the following…

3. If You Can’t Steal From ‘Em, Work With ‘Em

For many years, Microsoft vs Apple was the tech-industry battle to follow. Steve Jobs said Microsoft has no taste; Bill Gates’ company stole multiple Apple ideas, culminating in the fiasco that was Zune: the company’s “iPod Killer”.

But despite all their disagreements, the companies managed to collaborate whenever they were unable, or unwilling, to use each other’s ideas at a profit. In Bill Gates’ own words, in the 1980s, “we had more people working on [original Mac software] than Apple did!

That’s right: though Windows eventually branched out and made its own GUI operating system, they had absolutely no problem in working with Apple.

In fact, many years later, Microsoft saved its rival from bankruptcy with a $150 million cash injection and an agreement to continue making Office for Mac in 1997.

All of which brings up one important point.

Apple’s example shows that successful businesses are often happy to cooperate with idea thieves. You would be wise to do the same – because stealing will happen anyway (see pts 1 & 2), and this shouldn’t prevent you from cooperating with others profitably.

Especially when…

4. The Line Between Theft and Innovation is Blurred

Apple borrowed its GUI from Xerox, got its iPod click-wheel idea from the Nomad 2 Jukebox and took the Palm Pre’s card multitasking feature for its iPhone iOS.

And you know what?

Apple’s still one of the most valuable and consistently innovative companies in history – and other companies’ ideas are a big part of that.

It’s fair to say that, like Mark Twain once said, “there is no such thing as a new idea”. Instead, most ideas are incremental improvements to the ones that came before them, meaning that progress is impossible without some amount of “idea theft”…

At least in a world where patent laws and intellectual property rights are so tightly controlled.

You might even say that the difference between “borrowing”, “being inspired by” and “stealing” is mostly legal.

In and of itself, the exchange of ideas – yes, even through “theft” – is key to progress.

That’s why the most important takeaway from Apple’s history is…

Innovate at All Costs, No Matter What “They” Say

There will always be someone who points a finger and calls this idea or the other stolen or unoriginal…

However, like we stated above, the line between idea theft and innovation is blurred. If you want to get ahead in your industry, get used to the idea of someone having a problem with what you do.

It’s what Apple did to stay at the helm of its industry 30+ years after its inception – and if the most valuable company in the world isn’t too proud for a bit of idea theft, you don’t have to be, either.

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