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"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Michael Schrage on how to “plagiarize your way to productivity and profit”


Michael Schrage

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Michael Schrage for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

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Was it Picasso or T.S. Eliot who declared, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”? [click here]

Who cares? It’s a great quote and even better innovation heuristic [click here].

Productive plagiarism in the Internet era isn’t for the faint of heart. Technology’s accelerating power to textually, and contextually, track “who wrote what when” has digitally updated the aphorism to “Good artists borrow, great artists steal…and get caught.”

The New York Times recently posted a hilarious piece exploring the cat-and-mouse countermeasure competition between college students and faculty in calling out cheaters. The Facebook generation’s ability to sneakily transform any mobile device into a grade-enhancing weapon of class deception is truly remarkable. American undergraduates may not be able to parse sentences or calculate percents but let no one discount their proven talent at making iPods their partners in academic crime.

Watching embattled educational empires strike back, however, is enlightening. Frustrated faculty and tech-savvy teaching assistants can be as ruthlessly innovative as their incorrigible charges. Good for them. My favorite precision-guided weapon in their arsenal is iParadigm’s Turnitin plagiarism detection service. With over 13.5 billion web pages indexed, Turnitin has become the term- paper gold-standard for faculties fed up with students who believe cut-and-paste/drag-and-drop manipulation of Wikipedia and JSTOR articles constitutes real writing and research. Turnitin’s effectiveness has successfully made plagiarism so onerous, so challenging and so risky that — surprise! — “smart” cheaters now calculate they might as well do their own work. Talk about an educational revolution…

So much for Tom Lehrer’s paean to the powers of plagiarism [click here]. Indeed, Turnitin’s corporate parent takes Lehrer’s lyrical interpretation of “research” quite seriously. The Oakland, CA firm has expanded beyond the ivory towered groves of academe into businesses where the line between “boilerplate” and “borrowing” has grown vanishingly small. The firm’s offering, iThenticate, sniffs out content copying malfeasance in publishing, government, law firms, finance and other text-intensive industries. Apparently, it’s catching on. Call it IP for IP — Innovative Protection for Intellectual Property.

There’s another spin that can be put on the software and systems for plagiarism detection and intellectual property protection. Right now, the dominant effort is to deter, or catch, a thief. I think smart organizations — organizations that care about information sharing, knowledge management, and creative collaboration — should see all this as infrastructure for creating new cultures of attribution. These technologies should be more than high-tech tools to track cheaters; they should be mechanisms for showing how organizations share ideas.

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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of Serious Play and the forthcoming Getting Beyond Ideas.

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Friday, July 16, 2010 - Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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