A Note on Acquiring Talent Through Copying – You Are Not A Thief
In The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle, the author has put together a concise collection of practical tips on how to best identify and hone your skill in any given area. The third tip in this book, “Steal Without Apology”, makes use of a common misnomer which often causes the technologically literate to cringe. That is, the use of the verb “steal” to refer to the verb “copying”. While this is often applied to the act of copying data, the gross slander against copying is applied to much greater scope. As copying is such a necessary part of being a healthy, functioning human being, it is important to give credit to this great skill and abandon this practice of treating it as if it were taboo.
These two acts, theft and copying, are in complete contrast to one another. Stealing implies that there is a victim. One person gains at the expense of another.
Copying, on the other hand, results in a positive outcome without a negative impact. The individual who copies, gains. The individual copied from, retains. By definition, copying requires that the original remains unchanged. All is well.
The point the author makes is that people of exceptional talent gain their abilities by first copying the talent of others. The entire “Steal Without Apology” tip reinforces the idea that this an important skill to develop if you wish you improve other skills and talents. The only blatant fallacy that is consistently found throughout this tip is the repeated misuse of the word “steal” when actually referring to the act of copying.
Ironically, the word “copy” is not even used once in this tip, in spite of citing the example of Steve Jobs copying the computer mouse and drop-down menus from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Xerox of course being so well known for their copy machines that the “xerox” itself has made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary as being synonymous with the verb “copy” as it applies to documents.
Daniel Coyle’s apparent intention is to address the commonly held notion that copying the talents of others is a behavior that should be deterred. He advocates that you go ahead and “steal” those skills because that is an important part of developing them for yourself. So why does he use the word “steal” when he actually intends to portray copying as a positive trait to develop?
It is probably not because he fails to grasp the English language. The word “steal” word evokes an emotional response from most readers. Prompting them to go ahead and commit an act that is otherwise considered forbidden may very well be a good psychological call to action for guilt driven choir boys. It is certainly more sensationally captivating to most readers than, say, a blog post that attempts to expose the naked source of the matter by telling you that the act of copying is a normal, healthy behavior for all human beings. (Hmmm… maybe I should steal that.) This is exactly the kind of bullshitting that gets your book displayed nicely on the end cap at Barnes and Noble.
While the vulgar use of the word “steal” has no business being applied to the admirable and flattering act of copying, the author’s underlying point remains undisputed. The advantage is held by those who are adept at recognizing and copying the skills of others.
For those who sincerely wish to embrace the art of the kopimist, it may be helpful to purge any held misconceptions that copying is in any way an immoral or harmful act. After all, what kind of imbecile is unable to discern between copying and stealing, then goes on to perform what he believes to be a heinous act? The advantages of copying are not reserved for those of criminal mentality.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are not that type of jackass. Whatever type of jackass you are though, take pride that you hold the advantage of willfully copying.