When Is Copying Not Stealing?

Posted by Richard Moran.


Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so the saying goes.  In the workplace, the concept of imitation, let’s start calling it copying, is a slippery slope.

Some believe that when it comes to processes, forms, procedures and much of the nuts and bolts of running an efficient enterprise, there is not much new in the world.  Those are the ones who say, “No need to reinvent the wheel, let’s just use what has been done in other places and use that”.

But wait.  Is it OK to look at an organization’s employee handbook and borrow liberally from it?  What if that organization spent thousands on attorney fees to ensure it was compliant?  What if an employee team worked for months on the handbook and believed their work to be the best in the industry?  Permission to “use” the work that has already been done is the right thing to do.  With permission all good things happen.

The “gravy trains with biscuit wheels” for copying are the activities related to benchmarking and best practices.  Benchmarking is when you compare your metrics to others that are comparable in as many ways as possible.  Poor results for your organization mean it’s time to see what others are doing to find ways to improve.   Best practices are the highly documented ways that others do something.  Most are so proud of what they are doing that they provide the informal license for others to do the same thing.  Probably not copying because implied permission is usually the case.  If in doubt, permission will once again release you from the guilt of copying.

I once had someone send me an email of thanks because she had read one of my books and she believed it had changed her life.  It was so meaningful for her she made twelve copies of the complete book for all of her friends.  She literally stood at the copier and reprinted the books.  Although flattered, that is called stealing in the form of copying.

The Internet has changed perceptions about copying.  If something good turns up as a result of a Google search or is posted on a site like SlideShare, does that provide tacit permission to use the content?  Maybe, maybe not.  Again, a slippery slope where gaining permission or citing the source will always the best way to proceed.

Truth is, lots of times, others can tell if you are copying.  If all of a sudden you seem a lot smarter than usual, or your graphics in a presentation are a step change better than what they usually are, or your work was completed a little too fast your colleagues will be suspicious about copying.  Ask any professor about this rule of thumb about rapid improvement that defies logic.  Again, citing sources will keep you out of trouble.

Learning how others do things and making good use of that knowledge is fine.  Stealing is not OK.

Stealing is a sin, literally, and at work stealing is slightly easier to define than copying.  Stealing can be part of the culture and it still takes place all the time and can make life miserable for any one around the thief.  The most pernicious form of stealing is to take credit for someone else’s idea or contribution and claim it as your own.  Yet it happens all the time and the worst offenders are insecure supervisors.  No one wants to work in a place like that.  Why come up with any good ideas if someone else is going to take credit for it.

Copying can help an organization if done with integrity and permission.

Stealing can ruin the culture of an organization, cause turnover, and inhibit innovation.

Know which is which.

Living the Dream: Equilibrium is the Measure of Success

Posted by Richard Moran.


Over a glass of wine, a friend recently told me she was the luckiest person in the universe. She said, “I have it made.” Her pursuit of a career as a wine maker led her to Napa Valley. She spent days outside in the vineyards, working with field hands and friends who work in the wine industry. In the evenings, she has relaxing dinners with her husband and two young children. She drives a beat-up old Jeep and takes her dog with her everywhere. She makes about $60,000 per year and is successful.

Another friend is a venture capitalist. He says, “I am living the dream!”  He spends his days with his partners on Sand Hill Road in California looking at deals and working with entrepreneurs all day. He says, “I see the future every day.” He works long hours and travels. At times he is away from his family.  When he can, he gets out for helicopter skiing and owns homes in several locations. He is sought after for advice from entrepreneurs around the world.  He makes several millions each year and is successful.

Both of my friends are telling the truth — they are both successful because the measures of success are legion. There is no metric for success that applies to all of us. We all seek and find different elements of life and work that make us successful, at least in our own eyes. As I have observed others who are successful, I believe that secret to success is about equilibrium. The variables to that equilibrium to me, and many others, are a combination of:

  •  Passion – Are you doing something you love, whether it’s working, or creating art, or caring for children?
  • Impact — Can you wake up every day and say, “I am making an impact”? Do you make the world just a little better every day? Or at least try?
  • Security — Do you not worry about money because you have enough to pay the bills?
  • Relationships — Do you get to spend time with the people you care about?
  • Looking forward — Are you looking forward with optimism and not living in the past? Are you not dwelling on regrets or past glories?

For most, these variables are intertwined and play off of each other. Sometimes you may have to sacrifice one for the other and throw yourself out of equilibrium, I know I have done that. Too many people sacrifice passion in order to make big money.

In the examples of my friends the wine maker and the venture capitalist, each has achieved a sense of equilibrium between the work they love, their family and their financial needs.

I found my equilibrium on the day I stopped looking for something better. I knew that if all of those equilibrium factors could come together in a positive way, a feeling of success would ensue. The feeling may come and go at different times in life, with different careers and as needs change. Adjust as needed and capture it and rejoice when you can.

Pleading Guilty and the Permanent Record

Posted by Richard Moran.


I had a lot of excuses for getting the ticket. I was not driving the car that I usually drive so there was no Bluetooth for hands free phone use.  The call was from one of my children and I always answer those calls.  I wasn’t exactly sure it was illegal to talk and drive in the spot where I was driving.  I was stopped at a light when I put the phone to my ear so I wasn’t really moving.  The headset that I could have used was broken.  It was early in the morning and maybe the law didn’t apply until after noon.  I was going to put it on speaker as soon as I chatted for just a minute plus I had to turn off the radio.  And, I see lots of people texting and talking on phones when they should be driving, what about all of them?  I didn’t see the patrol car sitting there until it was too late.

None of the excuses worked.  A very nice policeman pulled me over, did not chat very much and handed me a ticket for talking on my phone while I was driving.  I was guilty.  I pleaded guilty and paid the hefty fine.  I am not a habitual cell phone talker while driving unless I am on Bluetooth so it was not a proud moment.  It is not a safe practice and I beseech all of you to drive safely.  Don’t text and drive or drive distractedly.  But this post is not about the perils of breaking the law or driving carelessly.  This post is about background checks.

Years after my brush with the law, I was being considered for a new senior role in an organization.  It was a role that required an impeccable and spotless record.  References were meticulously checked.  Confirmation of earlier jobs and transcripts to prove I had the degrees I claimed to have were collected.   And, as part of the background check, any brush with the law was examined and guess what showed up?  A blemish was found that detailed my criminal record of speaking on the phone while driving.  How embarrassing.

My criminal record did not cost me the job.  I was lucky.  However, it is a reminder that your past can haunt you.

As a venture capitalist, when it comes to due diligence, it is always surprising to see what comes up on background checks for candidates. That time they were arrested in Las Vegas, or the parking tickets that went unpaid. The dispute with the neighbor. This also extends to what is found on social media – which IS now considered part of background checks.  So this is a reminder to think before you act, and to think before you post.

The reference check is now an art form.  Yes, the background check part is crisp and easy to document.  The former employment and academic records are straightforward.  You should know what any checker will glean from those reference checks and be alert to things like arrest records and such.  You should also be keenly aware of what any checker will find on Facebook and all social media outlets.  No place is safe.  The drunken and half naked photos will have an impact.

The lesson is, more than ever, there is a “permanent record”.  It is no longer the mythical file cabinet in the principal’s office.  The permanent record is everywhere; there is no escape.   It will follow you forever and is impossible to change.

There is one way to preserve your permanent record:  Use good judgment always and in everything.  That’s all.