Its Ok to Copy

We learn by imitating what other people have done. Through copying, we can develop the mental structures of how things work. If you want to learn how to play music, the first thing to do is try to copy somebody else playing music. If you’re going to get better at drawing, you will inevitably try to copy a work that you admire. To write better code, you will find a well-written code and try to replicate its patterns. We pick up people that demonstrate excellence in the area of our interest and copy them to learn to do great things ourselves.

But—depending on the level of abstraction you’re dealing with—copying other people’s work clashes with the wrongdoing of plagiarism and with our culture of innovation. The more high-level the work, the least you can be seeing copying other people, and the more you need to prove your worth by innovating rather than by executing copies.

There’s a conundrum here; high-level projects on our society are currently valued by their novelty factor and despised if discovered to been based too much in other people’s work. Yet it’s impossible to do real innovation if you haven’t learned to execute well. And you will never execute well if you haven’t done a fair share of learning through copying.

The expectation is that people magically start innovating, as a stroke of genius, and any backstory of frantically copying others is hidden and suppressed. An adverse consequence of that is the rise of more bullshitters. If you haven’t learned by copying, and your exposition to successful people are to the ones who suddenly start innovating, your way to copy them will be through bullshitting.

Learning is potentialized by feedback cycles and by finalizing things. With copying being a bad thing in high-level work, people get suppressed from showing and completing the things they are doing, as its value is diminished or socially negative. That is a massive blow to learning and to be able to become an exceptional executioner.

Published 2020.04.05

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