Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Xanpan, ToC, Guilt, plagiarism and sorry

When I was doing my Masters degree I had it hammered into me: credit your sources, don’t plagiarise. To this day I take pride in trying to credit the source of my thoughts, back-up my ideas with research and apportion credit. I won’t always succeed but I think I do a reasonable job. Heck, I’ll go further, I think I do a better job than most.

So image how I felt after my last blog post, about Xanpan, when Benjamin Mitchell tweeted:

“@allankellynet I'm unclear why you don't mention Theory of Constraints 5 Focussing Steps. What's your thinking on this?”

I was mortified because, well, he was right. My blog post discussing how to improve throughput on a Xanpan board was pretty much a Theory of Constraints description.

I had plagiarised. I had failed to credit. And I had written something that other people have written before - probably better than me.

I apologise, I give due credit: these ideas are inspired by the Theory of Constraints - or ToC for short.

So how did I come to make this mistake?

Well, I think the answer is in two parts:

First, I have ToC thinking to heart and it now seems so obvious I’d forgotten it needed crediting

Second, the blog entry was written a day after I’d had a similar conversation with a client. ToC hadn’t been mentioned in that conversation so it wasn’t mentioned here.

So maybe the plagiarism occurred in my conversation with the client. Well yes, but.... my first point still applied and second I tend to avoid crediting with clients. Now I’d better explain that second point some more.

In conversation with clients I tend to avoid saying things like “This comes from....” or “I suggest you go and read....”. Yes I do say those things but every time I say it I believe there are two ways for a client to take it: they may take it as “good, Allan is giving me the original source” or they may take it as “Hmmm, this consultant is name dropping, doesn’t have ideas himself and is very academic.” (Plus, they are paying for my time so perhaps I should just explain things to them.)

In short I don’t think it always helps.

I also remember all those Professors at Business School who uttered “Smith Smith & Smith, 1904” (or whatever) at the end of every sentence. And those turgid academic journal articles where every paragraph was credited and thus become very very boring to read.

I could go on but you get the message.

Now, one more thing, this blog entry is really really defensive. I feel a little attacked by Benjamin - I’m sure he didn’t mean to attack me, its just in 140 characters people come to the point. Maybe he feels attacked by this, don’t know we could get deeper and deeper.

For anyone still reading, I’m sorry for droning on. However I think this does raise an interesting point: in trying to explain things, in writing and in conversation making things accessible and easy to understand is - in my humble opinion - at odds with academic integrity and full disclosure.

As someone who makes a living doing this I need to be more aware of it than most.