The Anti-NDA – Why Our Partners Must Sign It, And Why We Need More Of Them

The Anti-NDA – Why Our Partners Must Sign It, And Why We Need More Of Them

Two fine gentlemen from Buenos Aires recently approached us, curious about our experiential entrepreneurship programme Early Stage. About to develop a similar course together with several universities, they wanted to discuss a partnership with us.

Early Stage exists to execute a grand vision: to teach the world practical entrepreneurship, the new literacy for a post-industrial world. We’re acutely aware that our vision can only be fulfilled by teaming up with like-minded people worldwide, so we were excited to speak with Team Argentina for a few hours the following week.

Before the call, the Argentinians respectfully offered to sign NDAs before we share our insights and programme secrets (signing NDAs, non-disclosure agreements, is a fancy way of saying “I won’t steal your idea, nor share it with others, if you share it with me”). We thanked them for the kind consideration, but we respectfully declined the offer.

Instead, we sent them our newly developed Anti-NDA.

Introducing The Anti-NDA To Enforce Sharing Of Share-Worthy Ideas

The Anti-NDA is our attempt at turning Pay It Forward into something actionable, with a built-in sense of accountability, rather than merely a popular idiom we claim to live by.

We all pay lip service to “pay it forward”, and “sharing is caring” is thrown around without much conscious thought. But talk is cheap. By literally committing to share, we aim to illustrate the importance of actually taking action towards spreading good ideas freely.

Simply put, the Anti-NDA is a formal commitment to share. Any share-worthy ideas that arise from interactions between the agreeing parties must be shared with anyone who can use them to make a positive impact on others.

The Anti-NDA is a formal commitment to share good ideas and insights with people who care.

The purpose of this agreement is to ensure that the parties work in the interest of the greater good, by pledging to share good ideas freely and generously with external third parties without inhibition.

[Read the entire Anti-NDA contract we signed with the Argentinians HERE]

Why We Need More Anti-NDAs

The classic non-disclosure agreement is fundamentally rooted in fear. We’re afraid of sharing openly because, hold on, “someone might steal my idea”. We hear this all the time, especially from inexperienced entrepreneurs. Paradoxically, everyone with a proven track record in entrepreneurship seems to agree that execution, not ideas, is the scarce resource in the field.

If success is really about execution rather than about the idea itself, let’s tweak the fearful assumption from “someone might steal my idea” to “someone might execute on my idea”.

Making this tiny change begs the question: Who is going to execute on your idea better than you?

Execution Is Hard And Scarce, Ideas Are Easy And Abundant

Execution is damn difficult and resource-intensive. Practically nobody has the time, desire, grit, capital, network nor skills to execute on any ideas whatsoever. The tiny subset of the population who do have the resources to innovate effectively, are typically highly entrepreneurial people. What do all these folks keep in the back of their heads? An abundant backlog of their own ideas! What makes you think that they will choose to apply their scarce resources to execute your idea over one of their own, in which they are already emotionally invested?

The fact of the matter is this: the chance of someone stealing and executing effectively on your $1 billion idea is minuscule. On the flip side, getting honest feedback from others is invaluable. The mathematics of idea sharing is a simple calculation in that respect. The risk of someone stealing your idea pales in comparison to the value of honest feedback along the way.

Benefit of sharing ideas (honest feedback) > Risk of sharing ideas (someone “stealing” and executing on it)

Just for good measure, let’s assume someone actually does steal your idea, gathers an amazing team, executes brilliantly, makes huge sacrifices in their personal lives, works around the clock and becomes a billionaire in an IPO 10 years later. So what? Hopefully you’ll have executed on other great ideas in those 10 years, earning your own successes!

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. –John Steinbeck

The truth is this: ideas are richly abundant. You can find them everywhere if you keep your eyes open and your curiosity alive.

Another truth is this: most ideas are terrible. If you only have one idea, it’s probably not a great one, despite what your ego keeps telling you. Write down 10 ideas per day for 6 months to become an idea machine, and you’ll never run out of ideas again. 

Having embraced the fact that ideas are richly abundant, the anti-NDA makes more sense than ever. Explicitly opposing the notion that ideas are sacred and secret, can help others embrace a sentiment of idea abundance too.

The classic NDA is frequently presented as a prerequisite for having honest conversations about new ideas. The result is often that ideas aren’t shared, or important information is withheld for fear of loss. While impossible to measure, we can only imagine the costs of these information barriers to our societies, in the form of lost opportunities to refine and execute good ideas more effectively.

We’re far away from where we need to be in terms of idea sharing, but thankfully this sentiment is shared by some of the wisest, most effective innovators of our time. Elon Musk expressed it best, when Tesla released all their patents to the public in 2014:

We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform. –Elon Musk

While we have zero grounds for comparing ourselves with Musk, one of our time’s most impactful innovators, we cannot help but echo his statement with a few tweaks:

We believe that Early Stage, other organizations teaching entrepreneurship, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-spreading method of teaching practical, entrepreneurial skills.

By expressing these sentiments loud and clear, we hope to be able to inspire others to share more as well, in the name of progress, growth and prosperity for the greater good. In an ideal world, open innovation and a free, unhindered flow of ideas would be the status quo, so reminding people to share would be unnecessary. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet.

Surprise And Delight To Create Awareness Around Sharing

The Argentinians were somewhat surprised by our unusual approach, but they were immediately positive to the underlying rationale behind the agreement. The Anti-NDA’s inherent surprise factor, and the awareness and discussion about these topics that inevitably follow such a proposal, are potent forces for change. 

Anti-NDA agreements may not be legally binding, nor enforceable by law, but that is not the point. The point is that they are effective tools to create awareness around the importance of idea sharing, which is why we need to see more of them in use.

Open-Sourcing the Anti-NDA – Because Sharing (Truly) Is Caring

Sharing openly is at the core of the Anti-NDA. A natural way forwards is, of course, to share the agreement template itself with anyone who may find value in it and resonate with our mission.

Therefore, we’re open sourcing our Anti-NDA template to anyone, anywhere, to use for any positive purpose. You’re more than welcome to tweak it any way you want, so long as its original intention to serve the greater good is contained.

Get your copy of the Anti-NDA template in Google Docs-format at bit.ly/anti-nda. Use it well, and pay it forwards.

-Team Early Stage

[PS – We’re building a global impact machine. Want to join? If you’re interested in setting up an Early Stage programme in your area, or contributing in other ways, please get in touch with us via e-mail].


Also published on Medium.

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