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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

best practices =
copying someone else =


Recently I discovered that someone wrote a 1,000 word article that included passages lifted straight from my book, “Best Practices are Stupid.” The examples were the same. The language was the same. The only original part to the article were the first two lines. After that it was all my content.

And no, this was not a computer “scraping” my blog. It was not some unscrupulous internet marketing person trying to draw traffic.

It was from another professional speaker! Someone who calls himself a “visionary.”

Here’s the kicker, he was dumb enough to title the article, “Best Practices are Stupid!” (the image is his Facebook post promoting his article)

Fortunately, everyone who read the article immediately knew that it was my content. In fact, so many people commented on the blog post letting the author know this was the case that he eventually pulled down the article due to pressure.

I’m not going to shame the individual by mentioning him by name. That’s not my goal here.

Although we know the expression, “Imitation is the sincerest of flattery” (c. 1820) there is an earlier version I think is more appropriate, “Imitation is a kind of artless Flattery” (c. 1714).

Call it what you want – imitation, copying, plagiarism, best practices – there is little value or beauty in a replica.

Trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets can be used to protect some innovation. But unless you want to go through a lot of expensive legal battles, these may not always be the best option.

Sometimes the best protection is to be known for something that is instantly recognized as yours. When you do this, the market will self-correct. When the competition copies you, people will immediately devalue the replica.

Imagine if you saw a television commercial that said, “Switch to our insurance and save 15% in 15 minutes.” Unless the company was Geico, you would know it was a complete rip-off. Would you do business with a company that was so unoriginal that they had to copy someone else?

In the movie, “Coming to America,” there was a fast-food restaurant, McDowell’s with a big yellow “M.” Had you seen this in real-life you would immediately know it was copied from McDonald’s.

When you listen to a cover band, you know it’s not original music – and you also know that they’re earning a small fraction of what the original musicians made. And although counterfeit items try to replicate to the smallest detail, they never can charge the same premium as the real luxury item – and the wearer will never have the same experience knowing the item is fake.

And of course there are numerous examples of plagiarism bringing down political figures and many others.

Best practices are the business-world equivalent of counterfeiting and plagiarism.

Although there is a time and place for them (which I explain in my book), they are never a form of innovation. Replication is never innovation.

Although it is fine to be inspired by past creations, you always want to make significant improvements and make it your own.

P.S. A few years ago I wrote an article on a similar topic. I was inspired by meeting Larry the Cable Guy’s impersonator in Vegas. 

  1. Innovation’s a funny thing and to be honest when you get near the internet marketing crowd they’re always going to be looking for an easy way to do whatever it is they do – so it’s no surprise they pinched your content, I’ve had the same problem, maybe worse.
    Some years agoI wrote an eBook on setting up Google Business pages (way back in the day) and after a few weeks Google’d the title out of curiosity.

    Imagine my surprise to see some dude selling exactly the same book – not even a change of title – on an internet marketing forum.

    Plagiarism at least plagiarism of written content online is just one of those things we’re going to have to learn to live with.
    When it comes to ‘real world’ examples of folk swiping other people’s ideas at least you have physical examples as evidence.

    • Stephen Shapiro says:

      Thanks for chiming in. I have Google alerts for the titles of my books. Nearly every day I get an alert that someone is selling my ebook illegally or allowing free downloads. I can’t stop those. Too many. In this case it was someone who is a “thought leader” who was using my content – and the content of others – to further his position in the market. That I can stop. As it turns out he hired an intern to do all of his social media/blogging. Sadly nearly all of the articles she “wrote” were plagiarized from others. In the end I think we need to a) pick our fights and b) be so well-known for something that the market knows who is the really owner of the IP. Thanks again!

  2. There you go – an intern – which I guess really means freelancer/contractor/. If I were going to try and establish myself as a credible source of information the last thing I think I’d do is employ someone to carry out the work for me.

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