Nobody likes money taken from them. But you know what's even worse? Having your ideas stolen from you. 

About 30 percent of us have had our ideas stolen at work. It's a terrible feeling. So terrible, in fact, that we judge people who steal money from us as less bad than those who steal our ideas. This is according to a multi-study paper by Assistant Professor Lilien Ellis at the Darden School of Business.

As the knowledge economy becomes more knowledge-based, ideas (good ones especially) are precious commodities. People's work is judged based on the quality and quantity of one's thinking. So the last thing we want is to have those ideas taken from us and then for somebody else to get all the credit.

In Ellis's work, she was interested to see how people perceive an idea thief, and to compare that judgment with how a money thief is perceived. She was also curious to see how it might impact people's decisions to interact with colleagues who steal ideas (versus money).

Here's the key takeaways she Ellis found and what you need to know for how to innovate without stealing.

Harsh judgments come for people who steal ideas

In one of the studies, it was found that we are less willing to offer co-worker support if we find out that they stole ideas versus if they stole money. That's right, we'd prefer to help someone who stole money. Similarly, we'd prefer to work with an ideas thief versus a money thief. 

Further, not all ideas are created equal. Ellis found in her research that stealing creative ideas (versus practical ideas) had more severe consequences.

The judgments stem from a breach of trust

Why do we dislike idea thieves so much? It's not about the value of the idea, according to the research. In fact, we know that ideas are a dime a dozen, and that they realize their value only once we execute on them.

Rather, we see someone who steals an idea as untrustworthy because of what it says about them as a person, regardless of the merit of the idea itself. Once again contrasting money thieves and idea thieves, Ellis found that we tend to attribute the stealing of money to external or situational causes (i.e., they fell on hard times, or they lost their job). But we tend to attribute the stealing of ideas to internal or personality causes (i.e., they are bad people with a poor sense of ethics). 

Steal, if you must, but have the right intention

The often misattributed line "Good artists borrow, great artists steal" captures the nuance at play here: the surface-level appearance is not so different with someone who's imitating versus someone who's outright stealing.

If I find out that someone "used" my idea, the next thing I want to know is their reason for doing so. Did they take it because they wanted to solve a problem as part of the team? Perhaps it's because they were inspired by my thinking and wanted to add to it? Or is it more selfish in its intent -- are they taking my idea because they want the attention? Because they want all the credit? It's the difference between "using" and "stealing."

Ideas will be taken. That's the basis of human culture and learning and organizational innovation. Without that, we'd have no creativity. But you must guard against the possible reputational damage that comes from the perception that you're stealing ideas. Give credit where credit's due. Take ideas for the right reasons.