Change Whisperer – Gail Severini's Blog


Fair game and foul play. Stolen: Change Management. Reward offered. Post 3

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” —George Orwell

Fair playThere are well-established boundaries for the creation and use of intellectual property. In the age of re-mix it is important to be very clear on them. One way is by citing resources properly and identifying plagiarism (post 1). Another way  is by understanding the current explosion of re-mix (post 2).

In this post, we’ll look at the conditions for producing and using thought leadership appropriately. We’ll begin by looking at what’s legitimate and what’s not.

Fair Game

There are four distinct areas:

1. Inventing

In the change management space, most “inventions” emerge from research, often conducted for Masters and PhD programs. A student candidate identifies a thesis to investigate, and then a board screens the thesis to ensure that it contributes to or develops/challenges existing thought leadership. In many cases, after the candidate earns a degree, he or she develops a commercial business around the thesis, usually based on tools and/or training.

In developing ways to apply theory in the field, it is often necessary to modify and extend existing tools and methodologies. This work should always be done under the direction of the original thought leaders. Only these individuals understand the original findings, the structure of the current approach, and its interdependencies.

2. Work made for hire

Within contract law, there is a concept called “work made for hire.” It stipulates that all work produced by an employee is the property of the employer (likewise, contractor/client).

This means that, even if you are employed by one company and move to another, you are not entitled to reproduce work created elsewhere. You are certainly not permitted to copy the intellectual property it was based on.

The reality of working life is that all intellectual property is produced by individuals who move from organization to organization. What they create in one organization becomes part of that organization’s intellectual property. However, what they learn goes with them. What if they re-create their work in the new organization? The law is clearly against this, even if it is rarely enforced.

3. Licensing

Want to use a commercially available tool, training, or methodology? Inquire into a license.

In many training courses, for example, when you finish, you get an official license to use the IP with very specific conditions. Completion of a training course is never a license to take credit for the IP or to use it as a base for building or modifying one’s own IP.

3. Publishing

Many of us write on the topics we are passionate about. We share our experiences and comment on what is working and what we are trying differently. To the extent that this explains, advances, or challenges current thinking it is a good thing.

Most of us can afford to be a little more diligent. If we imagine that we are writing for a Masters program or a PhD thesis perhaps we can raise the quality of our production.

At the very least, we should cite resources properly. As noted in Post 1, Plagiarism.org provides some excellent advice: “Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.”

As a reminder, they make it very clear when citation is required:

“Whenever you borrow words or ideas, you need to acknowledge their source. The following situations almost always require citation:

1. Whenever you use quotes

2. Whenever you paraphrase

3. Whenever you use an idea that someone else has already expressed

4. Whenever you make specific reference to the work of another

5. Whenever someone else’s work has been critical in developing your own ideas.”

They provide an excellent section on citation here (http://www.plagiarism.org/plag_article_what_is_citation.html) .

Foul Play

It is very clear what is legal and appropriate and yet, it seems, there is a lot of highly questionable activity happening. This ranges from representing someone else’s ideas as one’s own to building new methodologies on top of someone else’s IP without licensing, let alone citation.

If you do the following without citing sources (and sometimes even if you do cite them) it’s considered illegal:

  • Re-write or summarize someone else’s 5, 6, 7, or 8 steps and represent them as your own
  • Excerpt steps from different approaches and amalgamate them to come up with your own x-step process

Poaching content and methodology is not just “wrong,” it’s dangerous. The output is often shallow and sometimes so inaccurate as to be counterproductive.

You might say, “You’re over-reacting. There can’t possibly be such infractions. If this were so, there would surely be corresponding lawsuits.” The fact is that prosecution is time-consuming, expensive, and takes valuable attention away from present business. Many opt not to pursue infractions.

Caveat emptor (buyer beware)

We are really operating in a marketplace where being careful is paramount.

There is only a market for products that people consume. In that formula, buyers take on a symbiotic responsibility. The general marketplace includes blogs like this, as well as ebooks, Twitter, LinkedIn, FaceBook, webinars, seminars, conferences―basically any communication offered for marketing or commercial purposes. It also includes consulting and contracting services, in addition to training and coaching.

Remember the “broken windows” story in Post 1? What we all read, share, and buy sends a “signal.”

What can we do?

What can we do when we read something that is likely plagiarised or stolen? I propose to you that we owe it to each other to be active in our communities.

Some of the things we can do:

1.  Be an informed, demanding, and responsible consumer. Ask contractors and consultants: Who inspired them? What have they studied? Who do they reference in their work? What they are licensed to deliver?  Know the reputable thought leaders whose names you will expect to hear. Recognize and ask about licensing on concepts that they don’t own.

2. Reward “the good.” When you are impressed by original thinking or re-mix that is appropriately cited, say so. This has the effect of shaping the behavior of all players on the field. If proper citing is publically respected it will become more prevalent.

  • Tell the author.
  • Give endorsements and testimonials for great work and note your appreciation of appropriate citation and licensing of thought leadership.
  • “Comment,” “Share,” and “Like” on social media.

3.  Call out the questionable. When you read something that looks like plagiarism:

  • Err on the side of caution. Perhaps it is original material. Or the author might believe it so. Perhaps it’s an oversight. It happens.
  • At the very least, ignore the material. Do not “share” or “like” it on social media.
  • If it’s a blog post or discussion, consider leaving a comment like: “Gee, this really looks like XYZ’s work available here [LINK]. Were you inspired by this?” This allows the author an opportunity to set the record straight, sends a signal, and leaves a bread crumb for fellow practitioners who might come after you. You can even just leave a seemingly innocuous comment like “You might also be interested in XYZ’s work.” This also serves as a signal.
  • If you are determined to confront someone, I strongly recommend you take the conversation offline. First, public confrontation elevates the reputational stakes for both parties. Second, if you are wrong, it is my understanding that you can be prosecuted for slander.

Personal Risk

Let’s be realistic, there is a degree of mutual-reputation risk involved here. It is possible that an author could take great offense to a question. That has not been my experience, however. I have found that the recommendations above are open and respectful enough to be both effective and benign.

In many respects, we are peers operating in public space. Some would argue that no one has either the right or responsibility to enforce their own imaginary standards. I don’t happen to buy into that―I believe that all change affects us all, and that sets a higher duty of care. The question becomes whether the personal risk is worth it to you.

Where will you take a stand?

Every incident of plagiarism, accidental or intentional, is a “broken window.” There are no police. This must be a community effort.

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