Change Whisperer – Gail Severini's Blog

Stolen: Change Management. Reward offered. Why is this happening? Whose job is it? Post 2

“In great matters men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small matters, as they are.” Gamaliel Bradford

How many incidents of plagiarism do you think you have seen since reading the first post in this series? Think you have seen some key language or original ideas misrepresented as the author’s, in blog posts or even methodologies? In the first post of this series we looked at why this is dangerous for our profession.

Why is this happening now?

The internet has become the town square. It is now the first and sometimes only place we go for information. The control, and to some extent, the quality of publishing has been exploded. High standards of journalism (such as citations and fact checking) exist only at the highest end of the spectrum.

In the town square, reputable sites line the street, like banks in the good ole times, but in the middle is a raucous haggle of merchants. It’s pretty ugly when you think of it this way. There may be quality product (perhaps like organic butter in the farmers’ market) in the marketplace but the pressure to drive the price down also drives the ugly side of competitive behavior―cheap imitations and knock-offs.

How’s the view from up there?

We’ve all heard the expression, “standing on the shoulders of those who went before,” but this noble notion seems to be offered almost exclusively in service of academics and founding thought leaders whose seminal work was completed prior to the ’80s.

There seems to be an unspoken, jagged line in time where work published before approximately 1980 gets referenced widely (for example Kurt Lewin, Dr. Kübler-Ross, and Edgar Schein, to name a few) and anything after that is only dimly acknowledged.

I believe there are four reasons for this:

1. History meets history in the making

Post WW1 through to the early 1980s was perhaps the heyday of industrial psychology and saw the emergence of both process and consulting paradigms. For an excellent review of this period, check out Chapter 3 of “A Brief History of Organization Change” in “Organizational Change: Theory and Practice” (W. Warner Burke, SAGE Publications, Inc., 2011). Tremendous progress was made in understanding organizations, as well as in establishing the foundational models of change management that we know today.

In the 1980s, much of this foundational theory of both individual and organizational change was beginning to be codified into processes and methodologies. This is continuing, happening in real time, and the pace is accelerating.

There are many brilliant people working in this space. Some of these thought leaders are better known than others. You might think that those who are renowned professors, who have published books, done speaking circuits, etc. might be protected from IP theft by virtue of their reputation. Strangely, not so. They are perhaps more susceptible.

2. Battle of the Ego: original thought vs. marketing

Much of the material published on change management today is actually marketing. In fact, many books are also nothing more than marketing.

The agenda of this material is naturally to sell the products and services of the author. There is an automatic bias: promote the author, demote, or exclude competitors. I say, caveat emptor.

3. The deafening silence

“Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.” —Henri-Frederic Amiel

There is another unspoken dynamic at play. I think of it as my mother taught it to me: “If you don’t have something positive to say, don’t say anything at all.”

There is a deafening silence when it comes to the critique of new ideas marketed to the business community. Isn’t it strange when you think about it? We have the power to “call out” plagiarism and foggy thinking but we don’t. Something else is at work here.

On this, and maybe only this, my mother was wrong. Silence is the enemy.

As long as knowledgeable practitioners tolerate plagiarism it will continue―in fact, it will grow.

If we think of our environment as a community where we are all citizens, we all have a role in serving and protecting the community. In fact, we can only all prosper when the community prospers. No single business (not grocery store nor dentist) thrives alone. When the windows are broken on the local school it reflects on the entire community.

The difference for us, though, is that we are a very loosely self-organizing community. We do not have, nor do I think we would benefit from, from an enforcement presence. So who will do it?

I am reminded of a wonderful little story called Whose Job is This?:

4. Whose job is this?

This is a story about people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”―Anonymous

There is only one person who can do this―the person who sees it.

This might feel risky, like you are making a target of yourself. You may be. The question is, “What do you stand for?”

There are benefits to standing up for integrity and there are ways to do it both respectfully and intelligently. Also, there are ways of referencing others’ work that still inspire credibility and add value for audiences. All this is coming up in the next two posts.

Meanwhile, can you think of any other reasons why plagiarism is so common these days?

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6 Comments so far
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Great set of posts Gail.

Many of my posts, comments and information from white papers have shown up on other sites. So far every one of them has cited me. Even repurposing of content can be flattery if consideration and a link is provided.

Since I am a bit of a black sheep (breaking the silence in number three I hope) my consideration with citing is this: If we are contrarian and essentially disputing the “seminal work” ( your words- my definition of that word in this sense just means “early on”- not powerfully influencial) of historic gurus do we still cite?

I know the answer, just being playful abd rhetorical…

Comment by Garrett Gitchell (@ggitchell)

Hmmm “do we cite?” I think I know your answer but I don’t want to presume. I say “yes, for sure”. I have heard that debate in academia is fierce so for sure “they” can take it. And we serve our community and our clients by being direct and clear.

Where I usually get a little stuck is on “how” – it is never my intention to criticize another who is on their own journey. What I do feel comfortable saying is things like “that just has not been useful to me” or “in my experience …” How do you “do” it?

Comment by Gail Severini

Gail, I have so much to respond to, but so little time and space! I recently came across a study I know you will find illuminating. The study reported 8% of college students admitted to purchasing a paper at some point during college and handing it in. If that many “admitted” it, imagine the real number? However, 62% of these same students report they know of “other students” who bought and handed in a paper at some point during college.

8% ≠ 62%

I’m sure they do not improve after college either. I’ll include a reference below so you don’t nail me for plagiarism!

Nice work.

Scanlon, K.M., and Neumann, D.R. (2002). Internet plagiarism among college students. Journal of College Student Development, 43(3), 374-385.

Comment by Ron Koller (@changeadviser)

Ron, thanks so much for making time to share this reference! That’s a pretty scary set of statistics and judging by the myriad of junk “out there” those graduates are still “hard” at work.

As a community we can put a chill on that.

Comment by Gail Severini

Another element possibly at play is an evolving definition of collective thought and an inherent change in social culture. I see it in my sons who are 28 and 23 and who have grown up with the Internet at their fingertips. I recall once in an MBA “multi-cultural management” class, being presented the concept that in certain countries “sharing” the answers to an exam was not at all considered “cheating” but rather simply “collaboration”. It was something I reflected on for a long time “how can that not be cheating”? In addition to considering the standards in context of experience and the due rights of intellectual property, I also like to push myself to be open to the possibility that yes, maybe the rules HAVE changed…

Comment by Yvonne

Hi Yvonne. Thanks for posting. A couple of other senior practitioners have raised this as well. I am sure you are right, that there are cultural norms at work here – both as currently exist in different cultures impacting ours through globalization and as changing cultural norms in the cultures that we each operate in.

My children are now teenagers and I see some of the influences you mention. To your example tho it seems that fuzzy thinking is at work in the world. I may be getting old but I no longer accept that because an approach is being used that it is most effective. If the purpose of an exam is to assess the ability of an individual than sharing answers works against that purpose. If the purpose is to assess how that individual operates with a team then surely a different testing method would be more appropriate. Sharing answers seems very random – it could be factored by how smart the person next to you is rather than how great at collaborating you might be. Clearly I am not qualified to evaluate this and I cannot relate to the example, i.e. I see it happening but I don’t understand it.

I spent some time trying to figure out the influences but ultimately I decided that all I need to know is that there is a real trend and it will continue to accelerate if we do nothing.

Something I probably was not clear enough on in the series is this: should educated and experienced practitioners take the existing body of knowledge and challenge it, innovate it, customize it for application, mix and match approaches to optimize success? YES! Yes, please. Immediately. But IMHO it is necessary to do this in deliberate, thoughtful and transparent ways. Responsible professionals do this automatically. What, I believe, we also need such responsible professionals to do is this: hold others accountable to that same standard.

Here is what I am most interested in: where do you draw the line?

Comment by Gail Severini

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