Finding Your Voice and Honoring Your Sources


There is no new thing under the sun
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (KJV)

What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.
William Ralph Inge

I’ve spent my career wandering back and forth between business and academe. One of the smartest hires I ever made (smart in the sense that she was smart and my decision to hire her was equally smart) will be rolling her eyes right now if she reads this. Opening with a quote annoyed her no end; two quotes will likely push her over the edge.

New ideas are the driving force now for both business and academe. How new ideas are treated, however, is quite different. In academe everyone cares about intellectual capital provenance. Ideas have a history and the history matters. There are a host of practices and norms for maintaining that provenance.

In business new ideas have been the purview of a handful of specialists, despite recent debates about patent waivers for Covid-19 vaccines (for example, With a Covid-19 vaccine patent waiver likely, time to rethink global intellectual property rules - CNN). What you can do with an idea is much more pertinent than where the idea might have come from. Academic practices for connecting new ideas to their history don’t have much of a foothold in this realm. Certain ideas become linked to names—Porter’s 5-forces, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Christensen’s disruptive innovation—but more often than not ideas simply appear without attribution or genealogy.

Why does any of this matter? Treating ideas as free floating entities becomes a problem as decisions are woven out of more complex, interconnected webs of ideas and analysis. You want to be able to deconstruct both successes and failures to be able to keep making progress.

2 thoughts on “Finding Your Voice and Honoring Your Sources”

  1. Interesting that you bring this up in the week Sheeran is found to have not infringed on a music copyright. It makes me wonder “what is an idea?”.
    Perhaps there should be different definitions, different words, different judgements for different kinds of intellectual property.

  2. Mike – an excellent point. I thought about referencing the Sheeran case but opted not to. Something to follow up on.

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