When Stealing is Okay

On November 13, 2012, in Editorial Advisory Board, William Tincup, by William Tincup

William Tincup, HR Examiner Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

William Tincup, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor

by William Tincup

When Stealing Is Okay…

Ahem, borrowing.

I recently sat in on a presentation where the speaker had clearly stolen shit from me.  That’s not just my ego talking… they used phrases of mine, ideas that only I speak about.  There was no question they ripped shit off from me.

Insert Appalachian Trail of Grief…

At first I was mad.  I felt violated. Then I wanted revenge… that stage only lasted a few minutes though.  Then I felt sorry for them…  that only lasted a few minutes too.  Now, I’m at a place where I can talk about it objectively.

Here’s how the real world operates…

  • People & Things have rights
  • Ideas & Thoughts do not have rights

The first point is pretty damn clear.  If you want to borrow my car, you have to ask me first.  If you want to write an article on my blog, you have to ask me first.  If you want to throw a football with my son, you have to ask me first.  Pretty clear, right?  The act of permission.  Really easy when it comes to people and things.

Now ideas, thoughts, phrases … that gets more and stickier every day we inhabit the blue planet.

I’m not talking about the law… lawyers talk about the law. But I can’t understand most of them, and I’m interested in reality.

Here’s the deal, nothing you come up with is new.  Nothing.  Every thought you think is unique can be tracked back to some other place, some other person.  You might not realize that you are borrowing, but you are.  No such thing as new Art.  No such thing as a new idea or thought.  We’re all borrowing… ahem stealing from others.

Case in point.  Anyone who vaguely knows me knows that I care deeply about user adoption of HR software.  It is known.  You’d have to be living under a rock or partially retarded to NOT know this.  That said, I’m not the only person on the planet that cares about this subject AND I wasn’t the first.  Many (I wish more) great people care about this particular subject.  I realize that for the concept of user adoption to really gain momentum, it has to take on mass market properties… meaning, everyone needs to know what the fuck it is.  Currently and sadly, it is a nuance inside of a nuance.  For the literary inclined, think Oscar Wilde.

If you really care about your particular “truly unique” idea and/or thought, give it away.  Gleefully give it away.  Make it easy for folks to consume, borrow and share.

This might seem counter intuitive.  The main reason for this is our haphazard love affair with credit.  The “it’s mine” mentality.

That works with People & Things but not Ideas & Thoughts.

Now, back to the presentation that kicked off my awakening.  I think a rule of thumb in borrowing should be… if you promote an idea as yours – then 80% of that idea should be things that you’ve assembled and/or thought up.  And the other 20% should be attributed to whomever you are borrowing from.  This is especially true when the person that you borrowed from is in the room.  But I’d attribute even if they weren’t in the room.  I’m thinking of starting most of my presentations in the new year like this… “I’d like to thank Johnson, Johnson and Johnson for pioneering this topic.”

A hypothetical example of this… let’s say that I was asked to give a social media presentation about the blur between professional and personal.  I have some rather interesting and unique things to say about that.  No doubt I would also find a way to talk about Jason Seiden’s concept of Profersonal.  Rather than knock that off as my own, I should find a way to attribute that back to him.  Give him credit for raising our collective conciseness about the subject.

You get the idea, right?

Probably the most important lesson I learned was to stop taking myself and/or anyone else so seriously.  Our thoughts and idea aren’t curing cancer, poverty or ending wars.

PS. If you decide to write about idea borrowing, please make sure to linkback to this article. (sic)

  • Dave Ryan

    I have often used the William Tincup social media policy which states…”Use common sense!” However proper attribution is always given, sir!

  • InternMatch

    Another bonus — by attributing you will likely amplify the idea by spurring your reader on to learn more. You might also create a real relationship between yourself and the idea creator which isn’t a bad thing either 🙂

    Great article!

  • Great post, although I must admit that the photo of William Tincup without a hat is what a initially caught my attention. Scarcity marketing at its finest.

  • Brigitte Messing

    In truth, enjoyed reading the post, agree with his stance and was entertained; though, it pained me to witness the author use the word “retarded” in a context that is out of realm of anything that can be considered clinical (and in that use, that term has long since been retired), or any other appropriate context (if one, indeed, does exist). He almost lost me there – I kept reading out of principle for wishing to leave my thoughts. As someone who works within both the communications and HR disciplines, and who obviously is a talented writer and creative mind as he displays, I would expect a higher caliber of thought. Using a deeply offensive and antiquated word certainly isn’t creative, and most definitely is not original.

  • I agree with this insight. As someone studying and practicing in the science of I/O Psychology, I love that we focus on understanding disabilities and disorders as a foundation. In turn I feel this helps in bringing our awareness to proper uses, and I would be hard pressed to see this type of use, or to find myself supporting it. While I completely understand the point attempting to be made, this looks like an excellent candidate for type your thoughts to get them out, walk away, and then come back and re-read and edit as needed. I have a lot of respect for Williams, but this is definitely a poor decision in word-smithing.

    feel helps

  • HD

    I actually quoted you (verbally and plain text on the slide) in a November webinar, “Awareness + Interest = Adoption”. Thanks for allowing the borrow and I couldn’t agree more that you should give credit where credit is due.

  • Angela

    That’s what we wacky English majors called “generative” as one point. (I *think* to Marjorie Perloff’s credit?)

  • I quit writing for a long time the first time that happened to me. I was shocked to see something so blatant not attributed, especially with me sitting in the room.

    While I didn’t make a fuss out of it, I also made sure that person never got another referral or kind word. In the end, I felt more sad for him, and went out and made sure my ideas were followed by execution.

    Not sure it was the best solution, but I figure I don’t have to give away everything.

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