Are you always trying to steal as much as you can?

Theft in progress

I have a confession to make. I have stolen property in my house. I know because I stole it. Besides, the object itself makes it obvious it is stolen. The offending item is a small hand towel that I took from a hotel. Embroidered into the corner is the phrase “Stolen from Pennyhill Park”. That’s a five-star luxury hotel and spa in Bagshot if you didn’t know. Their marketing department clearly decided to benefit from the inevitable theft of items from their establishment.

I am not the only thief around. This week, political journalists were told to stop stealing items from the Presidential jet, Air Force One. It turns out that cutlery, towels and pillowcases have been plundered by the hacks given an opportunity to travel with the President. 

It reminds me of when I was at a family lunch, and my son liked the glass in which his drink had been served. He said he’d love to take it, and, naturally, I said he could not as that would be theft. When the waiter returned to our table, my son asked if he could take the glass home. The waiter replied, “I don’t see why not. We had 48 of them delivered on Monday, and now we only have half a dozen left.” Other diners had secreted these posh glasses away in pockets and handbags. My son was given permission to take the glass without being secret about it because he had the nerve to ask.

Now, far from suggesting that you are a thief, I wouldn’t mind guessing that among my readers, there are plenty of hotel towels, cutlery from posh places, and glasses taken from pubs. Thievery is everywhere.

Except where it needs to be.

We are delighted that we could take that spoon from that hotel or that we put a towel in our case, and they didn’t know. But while we do that, we tend not to focus on what we should be stealing. 

We should be stealing knowledge.

I was reminded of this at lunch this week when one of my colleagues said they were frustrated by people who put barriers up to ideas from outside. Who would have thought that academics were set in their ways? Yet, in every university, you will find people saying, “I’ve been teaching this way for the past 40 years, so I know what I am doing and do not need to change anything”. Mmmm…really?

Indeed, a few years ago, Cambridge University invited me to speak to its senior leadership about the benefits of social media. At the end of my presentation, a crusty old professor said, “You do know that Cambridge is over 800 years old, and we managed to get that far without resorting to Twitter. So I can’t see why we need to use it now.” He was unwilling to accept any ideas that did not emanate from Cambridge – probably not even beyond his college. 

In business, I see similar attitudes. I imagine you experience them, too. The “not invented here syndrome” is alive and well in many companies. Equally, many business people attend meetings with clients or go to seminars or exhibitions and seem to have their eyes shut. They don’t observe the way the people they meet do things or the ways in which the company operates. 

However, I’m always on the lookout for what other organisations do. I steal their ways of doing things. I am a prodigious pilferer. If someone I meet has a good way of working that improves on mine, I’ll happily take their idea guilt-free. If I attend an event and I hear a method of achieving something that beats my way, I’ll make a note and steal their idea. I have no qualms when it comes to stealing their knowledge and using it to improve what I do.

Think of it this way: it is learning. I’m willing to learn from anyone. I’ll use their ideas and ways of working if they improve on what I am doing. I’m not embarrassed by doing this kind of thieving. 

This means that when you are next at a hotel, rather than stealing a fluffy towel, pinch their way of doing customer service if it is great. Or steal that productive method of cleaning that you notice. Have your eyes and ears open because better ways of doing what you do are all around you. All you have to do is notice them and steal them.

The first step is accepting that other people may do things better than you. Then, pinch what you see. Your business will improve when you become a knowledge thief.

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