Social sharing is essential for building online communities and serves as a powerful collaboration tool for businesses and entrepreneurs. So why are people still so afraid to share ideas? What’s holding them back?

It’s how they think about sharing.

The psychology behind why people don’t share ideas is rooted in fear, a fear with a few different faces. Whether you are in a collaborative brainstorm session at work or hanging out with other entrepreneurs, there’s always that moment…to share or not to share a great idea.

Here are five psychological reasons behind unshared ideas.

1. Fear of Idea Pilfering

Thoughts like, “What if my idea is a total flop or gets rejected?” or, “What if someone steals it and makes millions?” race through your brain. Suddenly the choice to share becomes personal instead of just an action.

The truth is, an idea remains just an idea unless someone does the work to execute it successfully. The world is full of stories about ideas similar in nature and focus, and effective execution is the determining factor behind why one fails and another succeeds.

Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint.com on ideas and execution:

“I went around and talked to as many people as I could about this idea. A lot of people, when they come up with a business idea, they keep it inside. They don’t want anybody to “steal” their idea. I think that’s a horrible idea. I think you should tell everyone and anyone your idea, without fear that they’re going to steal it. It’s all in the execution. A good idea is really a dime a dozen.”

If you take the act of stealing off the table, there are still very valid fears behind the complicated psychology of sharing and crowdsourcing ideas.

2. Judgment

When you have an idea you value, it can be a challenge to open it up to critique. If you keep it close to the vest you are free to daydream about it. The idea remains safe and you continue to feel good about yourself.

The act of sharing an idea can kill the fantasy you build around its potential. It may leave you feeling vulnerable in front of colleagues, or put you in the defensive position of trying to prove its value. However, when fear of judgment wins, you miss out on collecting feedback that can bring an idea to the next level and make it a success. Get into the mindset that your idea has value, and you’ll poke holes in the fear of feeling judged.

3. Fear of Being “One-Upped”

The ego can be a strong wrestling partner, especially when it comes to feeling vulnerable and threatened at the same time. Sharing ideas can kick-off feelings of competition if people start to change your idea and suggest improvements. It’s absolutely natural to feel ownership over an idea, just stay mindful of how often this fear keeps you from sharing or stepping up as the lead to execute it.

4. Lack of Confidence

When you believe in your own abilities, you also believe in your ideas. You aren’t concerned about whether other people approve or if you will be seen as an expert. You share out of a desire to support your team, employer, or for the sheer success of a project or business venture. Lack of confidence in your ability to generate new, quality ideas on a regular basis can also be a challenge, making you feel it’s best to keep them internal rather than share. Pay attention to how you collect ideas. Are they gathering dust? Do you shy away from taking the lead on your own idea to make it a reality?

5. Fear of Failure

This one is obvious but still worth pointing out because it’s a biggie. To sidestep a fear mindset, walk yourself through the worst case scenario. When you can clearly answer the question, “What is the worst that can happen?” you put fear and anxiety in the spotlight and give yourself the chance to work through it.

Fear around sharing ideas is perfectly normal, but it doesn’t have to hold you back.

A Better Way

These are five reasons people may not want to share ideas, and in reality, there are probably dozens of other reasons, too. But help to encourage the sharing of ideas in your marketing department, and throughout your company by providing a “safe” and “confident” place for people to suggest ideas for marketing content and strategies, and you’ll have access to a slew of new opportunities. Learn more here.

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Katrina Pfannkuch

About Katrina Pfannkuch

Katrina Pfannkuch is a creativity consultant specializing in writing, editing, strategy & coaching. She's a bit of a data nerd & loves seeing how pieces of the informational puzzle come together to paint a creative picture. Catch Katrina & her insights on kick-starting creativity at @creativekatrina on Twitter.