The Insider is feeling a bit annoyed with plagiarists (not that we're aware of anyone copying us lately). We think it is very peculiar that talented people borrow the work of others writers and then immediately forget they did it. These same people never forget who owes them money. They never forget the name of a reporter (or blogger?) who criticized them. They never forget to execute stock options in a "timely" manner. Yet they copy whole paragraphs from other writers and immediately suffer a profound memory lapse. Whether you’re a sophomore at Harvard or the CEO of Raytheon, you are where you are because you have a steel trap for a memory, formidable intelligence and over-weening ambition. Can a poor memory be part of the same package? I doubt it.
"How Opal Got Caught..."
Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan’s novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," was recently pulled from the market by her publisher. (The title alone should have been reason enough not to publish the book!) Ms. Viswanathan has called the borrowing of some 40+ verbatim passages from another book about adolescent angst "unintentional and unconscious." Given the relentless ambition, the unwavering intent and the conscious planning required for getting into Harvard these days, I am not convinced.
Mr. Swanson, Raytheon's CEO, suffered a similar spate of adverse publicity when a reader happened upon the 1944 book "The Unwritten Laws of Engineering" by W. J. King, an engineering professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. It turns out that Swanson’s rules 6 through 22 can be found virtually word for word in the King book. In a press release, Swanson says that “While many of [his book’s] sources remain anonymous, clearly, the similarity of the language between Professor King’s 1944 book and some [ie. most] of the rules within the ‘Unwritten Rules’ is beyond dispute." “Similarity of language” makes it sound almost innocent. This is copying, pure and simple. (It's interesting to note that "Swanson's Unwritten Rules," like Viswanathan's book, has been pulled off the market.)
Swanson's Rules, Revisited
Before Swanson's unwritten rules fade into a richly deserved oblivion, let’s review them one last time. When we first blogged these rules, we assumed that Swanson had indeed written them. Even then, the rules often veered perilously close to cliche and platitude. This time we’ll look at them from the perspective of a memory-challenged CEO.
o Learn to say, "I don't know." If used when appropriate, it will be often. For example, if someone asks you if you were you aware that you copied extensively from another writer, simply look puzzled, say you don't know and assure them that the "similarity of language" was inadvertant.
o It is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it. Like passing something off as your own work, when someone else wrote it.
o If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much. And if you’re criticized for plagiarism, you may be doing too much of the wrong thing.
o Look for what is missing. Many know how to improve what's there, but few can see what isn't there. What isn't there is candor. If you steal someone's work and get caught, own up to it.
o Viewgraph rule: When something appears on a viewgraph (an overhead transparency), assume the world knows about it, and deal with it accordingly. You might also assume that when a book has been published, someone somewhere has a copy of it.
o Don't be timid; speak up. Express yourself, and promote your ideas. Heck, promote someone else’s ideas. Just promote!!
o Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements. Where exactly did these "unwritten rules" come from?
o Don't overlook the fact that you are working for a boss. Keep him or her informed. Avoid surprises! Whatever the boss wants takes top priority. Even when you consider that Swanson is the boss, being charged with plagiarism comes under the general heading of “surprises” to be avoided.
o Cultivate the habit of making quick, clean-cut decisions. Do I bother giving credit to Professor King or not? Nah, go for it, Swanie!
o Don't ever lose your sense of humor. Agreed, but it’s tough to laugh your way through this one!
o Have fun at what you do. It will reflect in your work. No one likes a grump except another grump. Go away! No more interviews. Mr. Swanson is feeling a bit grumpy at the moment.
Swanson’s damage control press release ends with the following statement: “This experience has taught me a valuable lesson – new Rule #34: ‘Regarding the truisms of human behavior, there are no original rules.’” Does that mean Mr. Swanson has no original ideas about good management? I doubt that’s his real message. Here’s the Insider version, rule #34a, applicable to Mr. Swanson and Ms. Viswanathan (with their eerily similar names): "Either express your ideas (regardless of the source) in your own words or give credit where credit is due.”