Monday, 16 December 2013

ON PLAGIARISM, OR: HOW TO BECOME LEADERS IN LEADERSHIP BLOGGING


Deception, sleight of hand, subtly tinkering with lines – such is the left-arm spinner’s art. And it is an art that one former professional left-arm spinner, Vikram Banerjee, has managed to transfer to another domain entirely: writing blogs on leadership.

Of course, this is the age of transferable skills – and the company for which he writes, Footdown, are doubtless keen to peddle the idea that their Insight (and Mr Banerjee’s role is, precisely, the Insight Delivery Manager) into the generic traits of leadership are cross-transferable (although there may be a buzzier buzzword for this) – so I suppose the ingenuity must be applauded. Only, there is not a great deal of leadership being shown in these leadership blogs. Or rather, it is a dubious kind of leadership (and, as we shall see, that’s precisely the potential problem with teaching abstract ‘leadership skills’: they miss the most important, ethical questions. Such as: Leading what? And: Where?).

Ah, leadership. The world has had great cause to think about leadership these last few days with the passing of Nelson Mandela. The hagiography has been relentless – much of it fully justified, of course – but it behoves us to remember that Madiba did not build a utopia in South Africa. He merely averted a dystopia. Still, he is a shining example of strong-willed, fair-minded, magnanimous leadership in a world in which our faith in leaders is under constant siege. Here in Britain the news has been full of MPs fiddling their expenses claims and bailing out bankers, effectively endorsing the culture of cockswinging speculation that has brought nation-states to their knees; the BBC turned a blind eye to countless allegations of sexual abuse of minors on its watch and under its roof, while such predatory behaviour is a not exactly uncommon story among religious leaders; and sections of the print media – opinion leaders, after a fashion – have been busy tapping phones (small potatoes compared to the USA’s NSA, it turns out). 

Everywhere, then, a failure of leadership and a depressing culture of cynical self-interest and grab-what-you-can-and-hope-nobody-notices. Plus ça change

So, who might you expect not to succumb to the temptations of professional short-cuts and the duplicity crackling around the zeitgeist? How about – you know, just to take a bit of a punt – a company that offers coaching and mentoring on leadership? 

Banerjee's Twitter bio: "leadership consultant @Footdown,
a leadership, coaching and mentoring company
Of course, given said crisis in leadership – and capitalism, far from the rational production of goods and services we are told it might be, is in fact pretty much a rudderless operation seeking out only the richest seams of profit – it would seem a timely moment for companies such as Footdown to philosophise, proselytise, and steer enterprises of various descriptions through such turbulent waters. Indeed, those of a less charitable inclination might be tempted to see these Performance Coaches as opportunistic niche-fillers (akin, perhaps, to the fly-by-night traders hawking kitschy merchandise outside concerts and sports events), swooping down on the uncertainty in the air and offering up the robust assurances of their platitudinous panacea.

I highlight robust here because, of course, there is something slightly demented about the idiom of this new specialism, its jargon borrowed from the world of big-beast big business, with its muscly definitions (perhaps steroidally so) and beefed-up truisms: “Leveraging people’s strengths”, for example. “Adapting behaviours to suit environments”. There are others. And as part of their general effort to lead in leadership – to tap into that potentially rich seem of profit provided by the agitated credulousness and desperation of many firms in these straitened times – Footdown have a blog. Here can be found missives on topical matters from the world of sport, homing in on what they teach us about handling pressure and managing an organisation of whatever scale, in so doing borrowing insights from various fields to illuminate their hunches.

And borrow is indeed what they do – principally from the world of management theory and corporate philosophy, albeit in such a way that stretches the notion of borrowing beyond its ordinary definition and into the realm of plagiarism, which is defined thus by the Oxford University Press Dictionary:  

The act of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.  

Here is the OED definition, for good measure:

The wrongful appropriation and publication of another’s words, thoughts, ideas and expressions and the presentation of them as one’s own original work.

The extent of the borrowing leaves no room for doubt that such a definition is appropriate for Banerjee’s, erm, appropriations. 



The first article alighted upon – and all of these are tagged under ‘leadership’, incidentally – dealt with the recent departure of Jonathan Trott from the Ashes tour with a stress-related illness. This is what the author (well, ‘author’) has to say:

Cricket has always meant a great deal to Trott. With a cricket coach for a father and a player (Kenny Jackson) as a big brother, he was steeped in the game from the start. It seemed natural when he breezed through the age group teams in South Africa and moved to England to pursue his career full time. He flourished, making many a match winning contribution and seemingly having a perfect temperament. He made a century on debut in 2003 and soon became a fixture in a strong Warwickshire side.  
However, in the summer of 2007 he lost form completely and, at times, looked unrecognisable from the batsman who had previously dominated. He reacted the only way he knew how and worked harder; pushing himself further. He could be seen in the nets as early as 7am on the day of games. The more he pushed, the more he failed. He talked of “worms in his head” that were eating away at his confidence and forcing him to overthink something that had once been so natural. He talked about giving up the game and pursuing a different career. 
But he found a way through all that. Partly through the support of Ashley Giles and partly through the support of his wife, he found the stability to deal with the inevitable setbacks that occur in a career as a batsman. He learned to accept that, as long as he had prepared well, he had to accept the occasional failure. 
To prevent those intrusive thoughts entering his head, he settled upon a formula. He would make that famous trench in the pitch between deliveries; he would fiddle with his pads; bend his knees; check his boots and gloves. Anything it took to ensure there was no time to let those thoughts creep back.

Insightful enough, I think you’ll agree. Only, these are more or less the exact same words used by George Dobell in his dissection of the matter for ESPNcricinfo some 11 days earlier. To wit:

Cricket means a great deal to Trott. With a cricket coach for a father and a cricket player (Kenny Jackson) as a big brother, he was steeped in the game from the start. It seemed natural when he breezed through the age group teams in South Africa and moved to England to pursue his career full time. 
He flourished. With nothing to lose, he made a habit of producing match-turning contributions and seemed to have the perfect temperament. As he explained, when he was batting well, he hardly thought at all. He just played each ball on its merits and had the hunger to do so all day. He made a century on debut in 2003 and soon became a fixture in a strong Warwickshire side. 
But then came the first of the serious setbacks. In the summer of 2007 he lost form so completely that he barely managed 20 and, at times, looked unrecognisable from the Jacques Kallis-like batsman who had previously dominated. It is not easy for a perfectionist to accept failure. 
He reacted the only way he knew how. He worked harder; he pushed himself more. He could be seen in the nets as early as 7am on the day of games. 
And the more he pushed, the more he failed. Even on nights away from the game, he could be seen practising his trigger movements and back lift in the glass of restaurant windows, in bathroom mirrors on holiday, in clothes shops and coffee bars. He talked of the absurdity of a game in which, when in the best of form, you can play and edge a ball to slip but in the worst of form you can miss and survive. He talked of "worms in his head" that were eating away at his confidence and forcing him to overthink something that had once been so natural. He talked about giving up the game and pursuing a different career. 
But he found a way through all that. Partly through the support of Ashley Giles and partly through the support of his wife, he found the stability to deal with the inevitable setbacks that occur in a career as a batsman. He learned to accept that, as long as he had prepared well, he had to accept the occasional failure. 
To prevent those intrusive thoughts entering his head, he settled upon a formula. He would make that famous trench in the pitch between deliveries; he would fiddle with his pads; bend his knees; check his boots and gloves. Anything it took to ensure there was no time to let those thoughts creep back.

Fairly similar, no? 


And that’s not the only passage lifted verbatim from the host piece. Here is Banerjee taking stock of Trott’s achievements:

Whatever happens in the rest of his career he has touched heights that few manage. He has played some great innings; he has won games for his country; he has been part of a team that reached No. 1 in the world in all formats and he has won the ICC Player of the Year award, arguably the highest accolade in cricket.

And here is Dobell’s rumination on what might be the end of a marvellous international sojourn:

Whatever happens in the rest of his career - and it would be disingenuous to pretend that this may not be the end of his international career - he has touched heights that few manage. He has played some great innings; he has won games for his country; he has been part of a team that reached No. 1 in the world in all formats and he has won the ICC Player of the Year award, arguably the highest accolade in cricket. He has achieved a great deal.

I think you’ll agree that Banerjee’s devilish use of the semi-colon is sprightly, inventive, percussive even, carrying far greater force than Dobell’s somewhat clichéd, mannered and torpid deployment. Far more difficult to write things second time around, wouldn’t you say, when people have become used to such formulaic syntax? (Incidentally, and in the spirit of this piece, I ought to point out that this gag is lifted – affectionately, to be sure – from the Jorge Luis Borges short story, ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, which concerns a man ‘re-writing’ the original book verbatim three centuries later, his work having “enriched, by means of a new technique, the halting and rudimentary art of reading”.)

I suppose one could find mitigation for it, excuses – you know, it’s only a blog, one that hardly anyone will read; or, the competitive pressures of the modern world compel us to do things in the name of survival (and we’ve already mentioned the ethically flexible leadership and general air of hypocrisy of the era), and so on. Maybe. However, what ought to preclude any mitigation, and any concomitant sympathy, is the shameless use of such turns of phrase as, “As I write this article…” No, as you copy-and-paste this article. “…I am reminded of his quote…” Yes, reminded by the article from which you are copy-and-pasting your entire argument.

Brazen.   

A cursory glance through the rest of the archive reveals much more of this light-fingered spin (“Whose fuckin’ words are they, anyway?” I can imagine Malcolm Tucker barking).

Take this piece from November 27 on Thriving Under Pressure – less the pressure of having to knock out a couple of blog posts on leadership per month, more that of steering Manchester United in the wakeof the most successful Gafferísimo in the history of British football – which takes its insights (takes in the sense of without asking permission, and without leaving a note to say you’ve borrowed them) from an article by Sudhakar Prabu on trainingzone.co.uk entitled ‘Leadership Effectiveness: Leadership under Pressure’, as well as a piece published on forbes.com by Mike Myatt, soi-disant “leadership advisor … widely regarded as America’s top CEO coach”. 


Now, as gurus go, Mike Myatt is not a revolutionary penseur, and this despite telling us: “I write about leadership myths and bust them one-by-one” (all the time shoring up the myth of his leadership of leadership expertise, no doubt). No Marx or Copernicus, he. Still – and notwithstanding William R (Dean) Inge’s observation that “originality is undetected plagiarism”, nor Voltaire’s remarkably similar aperçu of 150 years or so earlier, that “originality is nothing more than judicious imitation” – Myatt’s observations, if not entirely his own original idea, were still forged by his own hand and thus ought to be duly acknowledged as such.

Anyhow, given all this, we perhaps feel the irradiation of deeply hewn knowledge when Myatt tells us, apropos the six things good leadership does to transform pressure into an asset: “The best way to maintain focus is to make sure you’ve baked-in some whitespace into EVERY day. Any rubber band stretched too tightly will eventually snap – there are no exceptions to this rule. Leaders who don’t create time for quality thought and planning end-up taking unnecessary short cuts and risks. They let pressure force them into making bad decisions that a little whitespace could have prevented.”

The idiom – more Stewart Pearson than Malcolm Tucker, I’d say – has a certain Yankee pizzazz to it, plenty of swing and zing. If I were at carnival, and he were hawking me snakeoil, I’d be looking round for a suitcase (not his) in which to take the lubricants home.

However, when Banerjee informs us that “the best way to maintain focus is to make sure you’ve planned some whitespace into EVERY day. Any rubber band stretched too tightly will eventually snap – there are no exceptions to this rule. Leaders who don’t create time for quality thought and planning end-up taking unnecessary short cuts and risks. They let pressure force them into making bad decisions that a little whitespace could have prevented” one can’t help but feel that, although it’s probably judicious (from a plagiarism detection software angle, certainly) to change the word “baked-in” to the much more this-side-of-the-Pond and humdrum “planned”, there’s still a question mark over how often the word “whitespace” might be used (or even be comprehensible) over here.

Anyway, if you check the pinkspace baked into the image below, you’ll see just how much of it was borrowed from the unacknowledged sources.


Moving on down this Hall of Shame, next there’s a piece that appears actually to instruct David Moyes: How to Succeed under Pressure (October 8, 2013). This also lifts from forbes.com, partly from the aforementioned Myatt piece, but also, and extensively, from an article entitled ‘Why Leaders fail Under Pressure’ by Paul Sullivan, author of Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t (October 1, 2010). With a certain amount of salesman’s flair and deft product placement, Sullivan writes:

When it comes to pressure, every leader wants to be great in the clutch and many think they truly excel when it matters most. The reality, as I found when writing my new book, Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t is far different. Too many leaders fail under pressure, and not accepting responsibility is one of the three causes of it. The other two are growing overconfident or overthinking one’s importance to what one is doing. What the three qualities all have in common is that leaders who are likely to choke under pressure have demonstrated they possess these qualities long before the crucial moment

We can only congratulate Banerjee – under pressure or otherwise – on excelling when it mattered most, deleting the tell-tale phrase about “writing my new book” (although the copyediting grammar pedant in me would upbraid him for not removing the now superfluous comma). To wit:

When it comes to pressure, every leader wants to truly excel when it matters most. The reality, is far different. Too many leaders fail under pressure, and not accepting responsibility is one of the three causes of it. The other two are growing overconfident or overthinking one’s importance to what one is doing. What the three qualities all have in common is that leaders who are likely to choke under pressure have demonstrated they possess these qualities long before the crucial moment

Far less crassly self-promoting, no? Nowhere near as bumptious, would you not say? 

He will also go on to use the exact same examples of leaders wilting under pressure that Sullivan has selected. However, when Banerjee quotes Bryan Marsal, the co-founder of the restructuring firm winding up Lehman Brothers, he again has the sense to exclude the connecting phrase, “Marsal told me”, instead copy-pasting the quote unadulterated, as it were. (Well, actually, it cannot have been copy-pasted because it would appear that forbes.com – a company, it is hardly surprising to learn, that takes a butt-clenchingly dim view of having its property half-inched – has some software installed that precludes that operation. So, Banerjee’s input to this post was a good deal more laborious and hands on than might appear to be the case, something that doubtless comforted the Manchester United boss when he read it, perhaps urgently, in order to find out what exactly he was doing wrong.) 

The parade of insight on leadership and personal growth keeps on coming. Take the next archive piece, on The Rise and Rise of Rickie Lambert: Dreams Can Come True (September 19, 2013). The prime hidden sources here are three in number: Paarth Dubey’s Sportskeeda piece syndicated to Yahoo! India, ‘Dreams do Come True – the Tale of Rickie Lambert’ (September 9, 2013); Nabil Hassan’s piece for BBC Sport South, ‘Rickie Lambert: From a beetroot factory to the England squad’ (August 8, 2013); and John Richardson’s piece for the Express, ‘The stellar rise of Rickie Lambert – a ready made national treasure’.

As you can see from the image below – I’m assuming the blog posts won’t be long for this world (which is why I’ve screengrabbed as well as pasted them) – there is scarcely any of it that isn’t nicked. 


However, again the ‘author’ has the utter chutzpah to use that insidious figure of speech, “as I write this article...”  

There are a couple of moments in this festival of word-burglary that are ‘ideologically’ revealing, not so much of the devil-may-care attitude toward plagiarism as of the implicit uncritical endorsement of rampant capitalism – or, in what amounts to the same thing, the fetishisation of competition for its own sake, often under the spurious guise of social Darwinism. (I’ll stop there, Dear Reader; I don’t want to lose you over such a trifle.)

Thus, Paarth Dubey tells us:

He is of the same age as England’s ‘Golden Generation’. But while they were earning obnoxious amounts of money and playing for the top clubs in the world, Lambert was working hard to be better. He started off his career at Liverpool but was released at the age of 15. He then went on to try his luck at Blackpool.

Here is Banerjee’s ‘remix’. See if you can spot which sentence has been removed, and imagine why it has been removed, given the likely market for leadership tutoring (and if you’re struggling to imagine that, have a look at the image backdrop for the Footdown Twitter account, below; that should help):

He is of the same age as England’s ‘Golden Generation’. He started off his career at Liverpool but was released at the age of 15. He then went on to try his luck at Blackpool

Did you spot it? 

Still, both writers agree that what followed was a “torrid time” for Lambert – working in a factory?! Hell, no! One can feel the desperate scramble up the social strata. 


Clearly, Footdown present Banerjee's work as original
and use it to add to the aura of expertise of their company
Lets play again. How about the difference between these two sentences? Here’s Mr Dubey’s:

The story of Rickie Lee Lambert teaches us a lot. I hate to sound like a motivational teacher, but it teaches us never to lose hope. It teaches us that hard work and perseverance are keys to success.

And Mr Banerjee’s:

The story of Rickie Lee Lambert teaches us a lot, more than anything it teaches us never to lose hope. It teaches us that hard work and perseverance are keys to success

I hate to sound like a sarcastic so-and-so, but did you spot the excision (and can you guess at a possible motive for him having done so)? I’ve underlined it in the screengrab below, just in case.


Next up – and we are nearly done here, I promise – there’s a piece entitled ‘The Need for Personal Profiles in Sports’ (August 21, 2013), a sexed-up version, I assume, of the earlier ‘You may or may not require us to point out some semi-obvious truisms to you, but (and let’s not talk about money just yet) better safe than sorry, no?’ Much more matter of fact, I’d say. Catchier.

The plagiarism here paddles into new waters, too, since it appears to purloin its wisdom from a competitor in the same market: Athlete Assessments. The article in question bears the title ‘The Importance of Profiling in Sport’ and once again the Banerjee parasite-piece shows considerable brassneck in passing off his (unwitting) host’s insights as his own. Thus, as a connector between two segments of text copy-pasted verbatim and coming in at over 200 words, Banerjee writes, authoritatively, “I can therefore suggest that…” (my italics .. and lest there is any confusion, they are intended to connote scorn). He’s entitled to do the suggesting, of course, but I think it would be a good sight more honest to drop in some kind of attribution here  for example, following his declaration of savoir-faire and savvy suggestion with something along the lines of “much as with the counsel offered by Athlete Assessments, yada, yada…”

But no. 

Instead, he will finish off by promoting Insights Discovery, presumably a profiling methodology Footdown have developed and, also presumably, used at the Bristol RUFC training day. In that piece, we learn from the subtitle, they are Using Colours to Bring Results On and Off theField. In other words, classic neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Only, one wonders whether the blog post is about NLP, or is NLP, hypnotising its readers into buying an Insights Discovery course. (On a completely unrelated note, is Brown really Derren Brown’s surname? Might it not have been chosen because it connotes earthiness, trustworthiness, yes, yes? And doesn’t he wear a lot of brown suits, yes?)


Finally – for this investigator, anyway (you can call me Baner-check rather than Banacek) – and returning to the cricket, the Darren Lehmann piece (‘England Beware of the Old School Saviour’) includes an unattributed grafting from ESPNcricinfo UK editor David Hopps’ piece of July 1 this year, ‘Lehmann euphoria leaves England wary’, as well as several copy-pasted segments from a BBC Sport article by Sam Sheringham, ‘Portly, bald, and partial to beer and cigarettes’. A hybrid, then, as the title suggests.

“He has the knack” Hopps-Banerjee writes, “of slipping into a player’s consciousness without them knowing”.
You will sign up for a Footdown Insight course, yes? And of course, where the words of humble journalists are not worthy of being cited, only stolen, those of Michael Vaughan are clearly shown to be a quote. At least, they are in one prominent instance. Later, in what amounts to a light-fingered pièce de resistance, there’s a double-plagiarism: signing off with an unattributed line of Michael Vaughan’s used (with citation marks) in the unacknowledged Sheringham piece (albeit with adjustments to the two numbers): “In the two-weeks before the Ashes, he might not be able to change them technically but he can change their mentality and give them an extra 10%.”

And so it goes on, back through the archive.

Not so heinous, right? A drop in the ocean, yeah? 

Well, maybe, although I’m not so sure the authors of the several pilfered pieces would feel quite the same about having their work grafted in this manner.

But the real rub of things is this: it probably wouldn’t appear quite so thoroughly dishonest were it not for the fact that the company, Footdown, are actually trading on their expertise in leadership – and irrespective of whether or not their ideas were inevitably a hodge-podge of other ideas that they simply re-package. We are all bricoleurs.

* * *

A detour: Early in the film Flash of Genius – the story of the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, Doctor Robert Kearns, and his struggle against The Ford Motor Company for reparation – the protagonist addresses the banked rows of diffident undergraduates at the university at which he teaches. He has just chalked the word ETHICS on the board, underlining it. He tells them, convincingly, that engineers are important: they are responsible for both the aortic valve and for the gas chambers at Auschwitz. At some time or other the students will inevitably be confronted by ethical questions (and he himself will pursue his own ethical grievances to the pint of ruination).  


Now, permitting me a detour within a detour, it seems to me that if you’re a firm that explicitly advises organisations as to how they are to be led, then, at the very least, you need to have an interest in your own firm’s ethics, even if what the client does is their business. (This ethical indifference, touched upon at the outset, is the predominant attitude of neocon neocolonialism – “Have these guns, Commander Lpumba; and there’s more where they came from...” – and entirely in step with a barely rational capitalism that freewheels myopically into the future according to what Marx described as “a production for production’s sake”: pornography, plutonium, plimsolls, pineapples – it doesn’t matter, as long as there’s a profit.) 

There’s a tacit shrug of the shoulders toward the enterprise’s concrete concern – a word with its own capitalist genealogy, besides (or alongside) the empathic disposition it suggests – or, more broadly, toward the whole system of economic hypercompetitiveness that it foments. We’re simply here to teach leadership. It is technocratic knowledge: leadership, abstracted and taught in its own right. Ethics, meanwhile, means enquiring about the ultimate purpose of the abstract leadership being exercised, the techniques being taught (to touch on Professor Kearns’ example, imagine someone saying in 1933, “Ooh, Hitler – fantastic orator, firm leader, deft mobilisation of symbols; we taught him those skills”). It goes without saying, they seem to be saying, that the world is going in this technocratic, hypercompetitive direction. No point questioning that. Just grab the tools to surf the situation. And so, to the credulousness of the enterprises answers the cynicism of the consultants. 

So what, then, of the ethics of plagiarism? Presenting yourself as experts in leadership coaching when in fact you are engaged not merely in copying, in following, but in the blatant, bare-faced pilfering of other people’s ideas (and, given that you’re selling knowledge in an information economy, it would be thought that you have grasped the concept of intellectual property) is deeply dubious practice. And that’s being charitable.

Imagine you’re a client of Footdown. You read the blog, got inspired. It’s not a deal-breaker – you both know that – but it must have some ulterior purpose for the company, otherwise why bother? The simple answer is that it all adds to the intellectual ambience, to the sheen of knowledgeability and authority in the field of leadership (as indeed does a bio that states you were a professional cricketer for Gloucestershire and England Lions, when in fact you never played for the latter, nor went on any tours with them, instead simply being invited to Loughborough's National Cricket Performance Centre on a short-term, Category C basis. Not the first to have embellished a CV, of course...). 

Anyway, as an actual or prospective client of Footdown, it is implicit that (you believe) they have some understanding that can help you – either as a necessity or a desire. They’re going to whip you into shape. They are purveyors of expertise, much as were, say, astrologers in an earlier time. Or witch doctors. They embody knowledge (as opposed, that is, to know-how, which is too informal to flog, I’d hazard), and if there’s one sector that ought to be leaders in conjuring the trappings of authority into being, its one that sells leadership expertise. Witness the professional bodies in all sectors that clamour to rubber-stamp their members’ fitness, to proffer certificates and seals of approval, legitimising what might otherwise be thought of as cornflake-box credentials. 

We all know it is poor form. And we all know there is a very simple mechanism to prevent any misunderstanding over this textual light-fingeredness, one that doesn’t even require any words. Citation, people. Place the passages between quotation marks and acknowledge the original source of the idea. Simples (you can even merely italicize it when the provenance is obvious). 

As I say, we are all bricoleurs to a certain extent – and everyone knows the Wilson Mizner line: “If you steal from one author it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s research” – but, ethically speaking, people do know the difference between citation and plagiarism.

Copy-and-pasting is siphoning someone else’s intellectual labour and not merely attempting to pass it off as your own, but attempting to appropriate the value that its insights confer. Nebulous value, perhaps, but value all the same. And in the age of SEO, this might have a directly monetary value, too. (It is for this reason that, if you cut and paste articles from the Financial Times into Microsoft Word, there is an embedded injunction that appears: “High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut&paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail”.)

Yes, we are all bricoleurs, remixers, but we don’t all seek to cover our tracks (or, in this case, hide them in plain sight). 


At the end of Flash of Genius (and I suppose I should issue a spoiler alert here), Ford’s attorney calls a witness to the stand, a man with a PhD in electronics, in an effort to persuade the jury that Kearns’ invention wasn’t really new. “Dr. Kearns’ basic unit consists of a capacitor, a variable resistor and a transistor”, the expert witness says. “Now, these are basic building blocks in electronics. You can find them in any catalog. All Mr. Kearns did was to arrange them in a new pattern, you might say”. Fords lawyer looks pleased. 

Just before it’s his turn to cross-examine the witness, Kearns has his son run out and buy a copy of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. He then proceeds to read out that most famous of opening sentences – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness” (mots justes, non?) – before asking whether each of the words was created by Dickens. “It?” Silence. Was? Silence. The?” Silence. And so on and so forth, ad absurdum. He then delivers his coup de grâce:

KEARNS: Look. I got a dictionary here. I haven't checked, but I would guess that every word that’s in this book can be found in this dictionary.

WITNESS: Well, I suspect that’s probably true.

KEARNS: Okay, so then you agree that there’s probably not a single new word in this book.

WITNESS: Well, I don’t know, but that’s probably true.

KEARNS: All Charles Dickens did was arrange them into a new pattern, isn’t that right?

WITNESS: Well, I admit I haven’t, thought about it in that way.

KEARNS: But Dickens did create something new, didn’t he? By using words. The only tools that were available to him. Just as almost all inventors in history have had to use the tools that were available to them. Telephones, space satellites – all of these were made from parts that already existed, correct, Professor? Parts that you might buy out of a catalog.

WITNESS: Technically that’s true, yes, but that does...

KEARNS: No further questions.

I imagine the authors of the pieces so requisitioned for the Footdown blog might feel similarly protective of their arrangement of words into a new pattern...   

* * *

Bristol Rugby were “all taught to be leaders”, we’re told. Some personal responsibility has to be assumed at all times, right? But then, as I said right at the outset of this piece, the example we are set by our current leaders, in many fields, is not exactly shining and beyond reproach.

And what examples of leadership – what role models – might Mr Banerjee have encountered on his journey through professional cricket and into this burgeoning sector of leadership coaching? Do successful leaders cut corners? (I imagine this could just as convincingly be answered with a ‘yes’ as with a ‘no’.)

Well, cursory research tells me that his first-class debut, for Cambridge University at The Parks in 2004, was played under the singular captaincy of one AdrianShankar, esq. Read into that what you will. But make sure your conclusions cite the appropriate sources. 



Let’s finish, then  and apropos of nothing in particular  with a sage piece of advice taken from Mr Banerjees piece on The Need for Personal Profiles in Sport, all the while bearing in mind that this is not a character assassination but simply a (rather long-winded) highlighting of what amounts to charlatanism: “No matter what level in the organisation you are,” he instructs, performance starts from the same foundation – self-awareness. The bottom line is people perform in their chosen fields to a higher level if they have greater levels of self-awareness. When we develop self-awareness we can begin to choose the types of behaviours that create great and consistent performances.

Thanks, Vikram, for that. And thank you, too, Liz Hanson, Client Director at Athletes Assessments, for the original, verbatim, and somewhat outré (at the time) formulation  a piece that does indeed acknowledge its sources.  

ADDENDUM [18-12-2013]: Two days after this post appeared, Mr Banerjee published an explanation, a sort of quasi-apology in which he appears to suggest he wasn't aware of what he had been doing, instead attributing his repeat cut-and-pasting to his own subconscious: "Though I wasn't aware at the time my fellow blogger pointed out that I hadn't taken more than just inspiration from his article. I had copied his content and not given him the credit he is due. This was done subconsciously and with no intent or desire to take away from his work. When I considered this blogger's comments it was a moment of reflection and development for me. I always enjoy reading other people's writing on the subject of sport and leadership but I had picked up the bad habit of not giving myself the reflection time to truly digest what was said. I am sorry to say to my readers that I was lazy in my work" Well, I'm not sure that's exactly the bad habit he's picked up, subconsciously or otherwise... Anyway, remarkably he turns this peccadillo into even more reason to engage leadership mentoring. Truly, a cult. 

 



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