Warning About Plagiarism

In today’s Information Age, plagiarism is rampant. Because it is a great temptation for both speakers and writers to plagiarize the work of others, I want to share a cautionary note on this topic. Believe me when I say that falling prey to this temptation can cost you big time. Executives, professionals, and students are summarily dismissed many times because of plagiarism. Do not do it! It is not worth it. Better to be an average presenter who is authentic, than a great speaker or writer who is a fraud.

I am reminded of the wonderful story in a book titled The Empty Pot by Demi (Henry Holt, 1996). (Children and adults are sure to enjoy this wonderfully illustrated little book, and I highly recommend its purchase.) The story, which has a strong moral message, is about a little boy in China named Ping who had a green thumb and a gift for growing beautiful flowers. When the Kingdom’s Emperor, who also loved flowers, decided it was time to find a successor to the throne, he arranged a test whereby he gave many children in the Kingdom flower seeds saying that the child who grew the most beautiful flowers from these seeds would be named the new Emperor.

Despite many months of trying first one thing and then another to get the seeds to grow, Ping was unsuccessful and heartbroken when nothing happened. At year’s end, when all the children returned to the palace with pots filled with beautiful flowers grown from seeds they had obtained elsewhere, Ping went with his empty pot, assured by his father that he had done the best he could.

As it turned out, the Emperor had tricked the children, giving them seeds that had been cooked. When they wouldn’t grow all the children, except Ping, substituted different seeds that filled their pots with beautiful flowers. But the Emperor chose Ping as his successor because he admired his courage to come to him with the truth and an empty pot.

Authenticity is one mark of good character, and this story is a reminder to presenters to consider issues of character as well as competence. Plagiarism negates authenticity and reveals flawed character. It also puts us in great jeopardy. So learn the lesson Ping’s story teaches us, that it is better to show up with an empty pot than to arrive with a pot full of flowers you did not grow.