Selective Plagiarism

By | Building a Company, Culture, Free Career Advice | 2 Comments

“Selective plagiarism” — do you understand what it means?

It means taking ideas from others, then tweaking and twisting them to fit our needs. And by “others,” I mean more than just those at other software companies. You may be amazed at what we can learn and put into practice from the retail industry, design firms, architects, stodgy Fortune 500 companies, even the airline industry.

Don’t confuse this “borrowing of ideas” with a lack of innovation. Selective plagiarism is clearly part of the innovation process. Many “innovative” companies can fall victim to a “not invented here” syndrome feeling that only their original ideas and thoughts should be considered. This is a recipe for staying small and failing often.

“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”  ~ Theodore Levitt, former editor of the Harvard Business Review

Another common misperception is that selective plagiarism is for the small, not-well-funded companies that have no other options. That is simply not true. Some of the world’s largest, most successful and innovative companies depend on learning from others. For example…

  • Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, would go into competitors’ stores with a small notebook and pen in hand to document what he saw – both good and bad. He’d then take this on-the-ground intelligence to build a better retail operation of his own – in fact, not just better, but the world’s largest.

“[Sam Walton was] notorious for looking at what everybody else does, taking the best of it, and then making it better.”  ~ Sol Price, founder of Price Club (a Wal-Mart competitor)

  • Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, wrote in his latest book, Winning “…companies that win do two things: they imitate and improve.”
  • Commerce Bank, with assets in excess of $50 billion and touted as “America’s most convenient bank,” has long looked at others outside its industry such as Target, Gap, and Home Depot to create “wow” customer experiences.
  • Procter & Gamble, an $83 billion company, directly copies the way in which IDEO conducts brainstorms. Even more importantly, P&G’s CEO, A.G. Lafley, has established a mandate that half of new product and technology innovations come from outside the company – a goal they have already exceeded!

So along these lines, what could we be doing to learn from those outside the walls of our companies? What could we do to create deeper connections with customers? To develop new product innovations? To strengthen our internal culture? To implement new and effective processes?

When you meet other professionals and hear an interesting comment or idea, are you taking the time to ask the follow-up “why” and “how” questions?

Of course, these conversations won’t always lead to the golden nugget your mining for, but keep pushing. It will be well worth the effort – and not just to your company, but also to you in your own professional development.

Further, the nuggets you do uncover are rarely something you’ll want to blindly duplicate in whole. Instead, you must use your understanding of your unique situation to customize the ideas to meet our needs and those of our customers. You’ll get better at this through practice and experience.

Reading compelling business books is a good place to start, but it is no substitute for hearing from others face-to-face. Invite a peer to lunch. Attend a local user group or luncheon. Join a professional organization. Subscribe to a blog of interest. For that matter, author your own blog.

Believe it or not, you all have time to do this, and it will be well worth it. You just have to make it a priority.

So get out there and start plagiarizing…

I Would Have Never Learned this at School

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DAXKO’s internship and co-op experiences are different than most.  You won’t make copies or coffee… well, for anyone except yourself.  You won’t be sitting on the sidelines twiddling your thumbs and counting the days until semester’s end.  You’ll actually be in the game… and you’ll be expected to contribute.  Here’s the ‘unsolicited’ experience of one of our favorite software engineering co-ops.  Good luck, Shane!

Two years ago, I sat nervously across the interview table explaining how I loved working with computers and would love to work at DAXKO. At that time, I didn’t realize just how much I would love my work at DAXKO. Neither did I imagine how great of a learning experience it would actually be. I’ve been at DAXKO and college for the same number of semesters, and I’ve discovered some invaluable lessons here that I don’t think I would have ever learned at college:

Sometimes you have to work with technology that your uncomfortable with.  Eventually, you’ll become comfortable with it.
Spring, Hibernate, Java, JasperReports, Ext, JSP. These are technologies that I knew nothing about when I first stepped through the doors of DAXKO. They are also technologies that play an integral role in how DAXKO’s newest product works. (Yes I, a co-op, was working on DAXKO’s latest and greatest.) I had no clue where to start, but I was here and I had to dive in somewhere, so I learned. Over time, what started as uncomfortable became comfortable. I’d even go as far to say that I’ve become more comfortable working with technologies that I’m uncomfortable with – if that makes any sense.

You don’t have to understand every single piece of the software to be able to work on it.
On all my school projects, I knew what every line of every function of every class did. My projects were small, understandable, and I felt comfortable working with them. When I got to DAXKO and took one look at the code base, I was… well, overwhelmed. Despite feeling lost, I jumped in.  And with the help of my peers, I was able to put my fears aside and start making a real impact.

Unlike in class, when someone asks you to solve a problem, it’s because they don’t know how to solve it.
School can spoil you. Not only does the teacher already know the answer, but so do the 18 other people in your class who are working on the same problem. You always have a fall back – just in case you can’t figure it out, there’s someone that can help you.

After a short time at DAXKO, I was given a list of issues to solve.  Some of them proved to be difficult (in my mind, even impossible) to solve, and it dawned on me that I couldn’t just give up and ask the teacher or a classmate. I realized that the only reason anyone would ask you to figure something out is if they didn’t already know how.  School is just a funny exception. After that sunk in, I began to think much harder and more creatively about the issues I was facing.  And what do you know… they turned out to be not so impossible after all.

Software is important to a lot of people’s lives.
When I was in high school, computer programming was a hobby of mine. Because it was something I did for fun, I spent my time making things I liked – websites and games, for example. I worked on what I wanted to when I wanted to, and no one really wanted or needed anything I was making, so I wasn’t in a rush. After programming so many websites, games, and school projects, it took me by suprise when I realized just how important DAXKO’s software is to our customers.  Soon after, I discovered that…

Making meaningful software feels good.
As fun as projects like command line blackjack and recursive factorial multipiers are, they just don’t feel all that important. Even my very first (and relatively small) contribution at DAXKO gave me a greater sense of accomplishment than entire projects had in the past. Knowing that the CEO of a multi-million dollar organization will someday look at my work is quite exhilarating. Also, solving the issues of our customers is inspiring because you’re helping real people solve real problems.

All in all, working at DAXKO has been an amazing experience in so many ways!

Put Your Strengths to Work… But Do You Know What They Are?

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I know everyone has been asked during an interview, “What is your greatest strength?” Of course you have an answer to the question right then. However once you get on a team, are you actually playing to that strength and is it really a strength of yours?

One of the DAXKO Reading Groups available this summer is Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham. For those of you that were part of the last DAXKO Reading Group and read Now Discover Your Strengths, this is a great follow up book. Here’s a teaser to peak your interest…

Buckingham’s main concept is to always play to your strengths. If you are trying to improve on a weakness, it is going to take a lot of work to get really good at that one thing. In contrast if you try to improve something you are already good at, then you will grow exponentially in that area because it is already a strength and probably something you enjoy doing.

Go Put Your Strengths to Work focuses a large section of the book on working with a team. If everyone on a team plays to their strengths, then the team will be much more successful. This is much easier said than done. It is really hard to tell a team mate that you can’t do something, because that is not one of your strengths. Or you should do this other task because you are really good at it. In the long run it is better for the team to work together than everyone doing individual tasks that may be challenging for them.

What if you don’t know the strengths to focus on? Buckingham gives a great tip in this book to identify your strengths. As you are going throughout your week and you finish a task that you absolutely loved doing, then write it down. At the end of the week or several weeks, take that list and review the tasks that you enjoyed doing. Most likely you’ll see a theme in those tasks and can closely relate it to a strength. How do you determine if you “loved” it? Be on the watch for tasks that simply make you happy. Or tasks that you get so caught up in that several hours have passed and you haven’t even realized it.

I would recommend this book to anyone that needs reminded of their strengths and how to maximize those strengths for the greater good of your team and your company.

Sabbatical Is DAXKO’s Best Benefit Ever

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DAXKO’s always on the lookout for team members’ health and wellbeing.  Whether it’s nutritious snacks around the office, friendly (or not so friendly) fitness competitions, or free flu shots, DAXKO’s got our back when it comes to living healthier.  That includes our mental health, too.

Everyone needs a break every now and again.  DAXKO understands that and offers a 4-week paid sabbatical for team members who’ve put in 7 years with the company.  Jealous, huh?  The intent… unplug from work and recharge your battery.  The rule… NO WORK!  That means no email and no phone calls into the office.  We don’t want to hear from you for one whole month.  Period.

Here’s the experience of our Marketing VP, who recently returned from her first sabbatical…

It has taken me nearly three weeks to dig out from under the emails, pick up the relay, and get back on track after my sabbatical. I can say with confidence, however, that it’s definitely worth sticking around DAXKO for seven years to do it!  After all, DAXKO is a great place to work and build your career. So a sabbatical at the seven-year mark is like the icing on the proverbial cake in the kitchen that we’d run over each other to get to.

An entire month incommunicado with work is a good time to step back, reevaluate life, see new things, and get priorities back in order. Lots of you didn’t think I could completely unplug. You’d be surprised at what a wall of separation builds up with keeping two young kids full-time, a house in the middle of nowhere France, a seven-hour time difference, and great difficulty getting Internet access.  OK, the wine helped a little bit too.

Here’s the mini-chronology of our trip:

  • Depart Atlanta
  • 1 week with in-laws at their house in the Loire Valley where we ate ourselves silly with the good cooking of Mama B
  • 1 week in Paris to catch up with friends, take the kids to the Eiffel tower, and eat more good stuff
  • Five days in Belgium with sister-in-law and her family, accompanied by beer, mussels and fries
  • Five days exploring Normandy sans enfants (no kids!)—fabulous dinners, cider, and calvados
  • 1 week renting a house in the lower Loire valley, seeing lots of castles, markets, and of course plenty of food and wine
  • Return to Atlanta where we rented a car and ate Arby’s drive-thru on the way home!!
  • Back to the office (where Barry was so kind to have a chicken biscuit with cheese waiting for me)

We had only a few rules when we set out:

  1. No working.
  2. No fighting.
  3. No planning (or no more than necessary).
  4. If you can’t eat it or drink it, don’t buy it (the dollar is at an all-time low).
  5. No complaining (this was the only rule that got broken!)

So what did I learn?

  • I need to make more “tranquil moments” to enjoy my family.
  • I love to travel, meet new people, see foreign landscapes, and of course, eat.
  • There’s a big world out there beyond the borders of the good ole USA. We lose sight, and understanding, of that.
  • My own bed feels really good.
  • I’m not ready to retire.

While there are things that need adjusting in my life, all in all I’m at a really good place. Birmingham has been good for us. My children are healthy and relatively well-adjusted. Our families love us. I work for a great company with fantastic people in a market that is doing really good things for communities across the country.  There’s far too much in my sabbatical experience to put in a blog posting, but let it suffice to say we had a most excellent trip, and it’s also really good to be home.

As benefits go, I’d trade my health insurance for another sabbatical.