Accidental plagiarism in our everyday life – a reflection about life-long learning

This morning, I was on a call with facilitators who work in the training arm, as independent contractors, of a larger organization.  This is a smart, accomplished group (excluding me, of course).

In the course of our one-hour meeting, at least four times, someone said:

“I don’t remember which book I read this in, but here’s an insight I would like to share.”

All of them were good insights:

One quoted “See it, Own it, Solve it,” which another identified as coming from the book The Oz Principle.

Another said “In a recent Adam Grant book, he talked about ‘the preacher, the prosecutor, the politician,’” and another said that that was from his new book Think Again.

I quoted “Ditch the shiny badge,” from the Kouzes and Posner book Encouraging the Heart.  But, I also attributed to them the phrase:  “catch someone doing something right, not someone doing something wrong,” and, after reflection, to be honest, I’m not sure that that came from that book at all.  (Maybe Tom Peters?).

And then, I also said that a book I read called the leader the “Keeper of the Vision,” but I could not remember which book I read that in.

None of our “mistakes” in remembering were intentional.  But I think our failure to remember the exact source indicated that we read widely, and our thoughts are shaped by all the books and articles we read, all the talks we hear, all the counsel we are given.

We know much, and we learn from a broad array of sources.

So call us accidental plagiarists.

I think this is ok.

Intentional plagiarism – writing or saying something that we treat as our original thought when we know we stole it from another, is a terrible, unethical thing.  It reveals the lack of values in the plagiarist.  It should be condemned, and if one does this to make money off of it, or build reputation or brand off of it, it should be harshly punished.

But…when we say “I can’t remember the book I read this in, but_____,” that acknowledges that we got the idea from somewhere – somewhere outside of us.  It is not claiming to be original.  It is just a reminder that our memories are imperfect.

And, of course,  if we were writing in a major publication (not, like this blog post), we would be compelled to find the source.

Isn’t it true that we are all accidental plagiarists?  Maybe the trick is to be an accidental plagiarist from a book, or source, or article, or Talk, that is substantive, worth learning from, and then quoting to others.

Learn from the best.  Then quote them, even if you can’t remember exactly which of the best you are quoting.

Be a humble learner.
Be a life-long learner.
Be a grateful learner.

And give credit…even if you have to say “I forget the book I read this in, but…”

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