The lineage of good ideas

I’ve had several comments on my post on the risks of knowledge work that I’ve misattributed the comment:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

I attributed it to Mark Twain, but my readers believe it belongs to Abraham Lincoln. Certainly wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong on an attribution. I did a quick bit of googling to find that the quote is also attributed to Einstein and Groucho Marx among others (according to Ask Yahoo). They suggest that you can even trace this one back to Proverbs 17: 28:

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise:
and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding

Of course, in a knowledge management context, this kind of problem is interesting beyond the immediate feedback from my readers. Good ideas, like successful projects, are likely to be a product of many parents (another maxim usually associated with Kennedy, although he didn’t claim it as his own insight). Getting the record straight is only one consideration in moving from good idea to successful implementation. The value in tracing lineage isn’t so much about parceling out credit as it is about learning from both the successes and failures of others.