Be yourself – instead of – parroting

Can’t help wondering why so many people on social media are just parroting others? Copying and pasting. And what’s worse that seems to account for part of what’s called creativity today.

A copy is never as good as the original. No parroting in the world will turn you into Marilyn Monroe. So be yourself.

What happened to creativity?

Have a section of humanity stopped being creative? Or is it just that too many people are lazy and hence just copy others? Don’t they realize that they will not impress the people they are trying to impress? Only ignorant people will buy what the parrots are doing. If you don’t have anything new to contribute, to say a discussion, don’t just re-write what someone else has already said. Coping and pasting from say, Harvard Business Review to make you look intellectual is not a great idea either. What’s wrong with saying that you agree or disagree?

Original ideas

If imitating others were just a social media phenomena it would be one thing. But unfortunately you have an abundance of people selling services online that haven’t got any ideas of their own. They just copy what others have done and charge for doing so. And we should not forget the copy and paste that’s becoming a problem in academia. A prominent European policician was caught having copied and pasted into his thesis.

But a copy is never as good as the original. No parroting in the world will change that. It may work short term but long term it will work against you. The European politician is a good example. He had to step down. Doubt that his future is as bright as it would have been if he hadn’t copied and pasted. Am sure he regrets what he did. But sincerely he should have thought through what he was doing before cheateing. Can’t help wondering if parrots, like him, have really stopped thinking for themselves?

One article I wrote was copied and pasted by a US woman who calls herself an expert on corporate communications. She has her own company and can be hired as a consultant. Sad that she has to steal content for her web site isn’t it?

Hard sell on social media

The amount of parroting on social media most likely boils down to people believing they have to sell themselves aggressively online. Can understand that to some degree. But don’t they understand that it’s obvious to others what they are doing? Am active on social media and almost every day someone re-writes what someone has already written to make it appear to be their new idea. One interesting phenomena are the people who are experts on all issues relating to all countries in the world, regardless of the fact that they have never even visited the countries in question. But copying and pasting they certainly know how to do. Nobody, including myself, knows everything so what’s the point in pretending you do? People only lose respect for you.

Current buzz words leader, expert, entrepreneurial & innovative

The fact that many people believe they have to portray themselves in what they consider to be the right way is a major reason for all the parroting. Wouldn’t it be much better to have an honest look at yourself and decide what your strengths are? If you are not say, innovative, describing yourself so will work against you since you will be found out. Read in The New York Times that 70% of high school graduates in the US believe they have more than average leadership skills. Only 2% considered themselves below average. Truly wish their assessments were correct, but unfortunately 70% of them are not leaders and will never be leading anything. If this applied to the United States only, i.e. approximately 5% of the world’s population, it wouldn’t be too bad. But unfortunately it applies to the remaining 95% of mankind as well.

Use social media to portray the real you

What’s wrong with having talents that are currently not in fashion? Whatever talents you have you can create a lucrative niche for yourself. Why does everyone feel they have to portray themselves as business tycoons? Looking at profiles on social media today you easily get the impression that the majority of people in this world are on par with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. It’s normal for children to imitate, but grown ups really should give up that habit.

Social media is a wonderful thing and I have met many fantastic people online, mainly thanks to my blog and Linkedin. If the parrots were just themselves and stopped pretending to be what they are not they would also start reaping positive benefits of social media. To start with they would gain respect. We are all unique and can contribute to society in different ways. That’s the beauty of humanity. Imagine how boring it would be if we were all parroting each other.

Photo: mseckington – Flickr

115 thoughts on “Be yourself – instead of – parroting

  1. Hi Catarina,

    Well done, excellent article, reminds me of the Hans Christian Andersen's fable "The Emperor’s New Clothes". Where the Emperor’s appearance is more important that the idiotic situation where he is fooled to walk naked in front of his subjects, showing clearly his inability to rule (metaphor for managing) and only one innocent child’s remark that brings the kingdom back down to normality “the Emperor is not wearing any clothes”.

    I guess by the slow responses/comments to your article a few people are soul searching like myself, reflecting whether we are victims or perpetrator of falling into the social trap of lacking creativity, we should sit up and be accountable.

    Again thanks for this and the others I have read, most enjoyable.

    Take care,
    Ruadhri Guilfoyle (a person who is creative but has lost his way from time to time!)

  2. Hi Catarina,

    Thanks for this post.

    The problem you describe has in it a singular quality that people tend to “loose” – attribution – If so and so said it; give him/her the credit.

    Funny thing is; people can actually tell original content from stuff you get somewhere else, because they can see that the linguistic style changes, specific word selection and other telling signs are pretty obvious.

    I re-tweet A LOT but I only re-tweet the things I think is worthy of re-tweeting. That makes my service offering to my followers worth it, as I apply myself to removing the junk (my perception).

    Quote that was posted by someone I follow on twitter – "Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing." – Abraham Lincoln (@vincentbass)

    Hope you have a happy day…
    Anton van den Berg

  3. It's an electronic case of "keeping up with the Joneses" – people online trying to boost themselves in the eyes of others, I'm afraid. Sad, but true…

  4. Emdadul, it's not about following others but for instance pretending that you are someone you are not and taking credit for someone else's idea.. That's going on a lot on social media. Or online, for that matter.

    Imagine if your articles are just copied and pasted into another site and someone else taking credit for them? Would you call that following you?

  5. Catarina, you hit the nail on the head here. Lack of creativity shows a lack of genuine interest and definitely does not help speak to your credibility. Great post! Will be RTing!

  6. Catarina, you raise excellent points.

    I recently saw an interview with Simon Cowell (formally of the reality show American Idol and currently on Britains Got Talent?) He spoke of a young singer. Cowell told the guy that he'd probably "make it big" in about 20 years. Though Cowell was being sincere, the young lad couldn't stomach the answer. Simon commented that the boy was expecting results in about 6 months. Clearly that isn't realistic.

    You point out "lazy". That is one reason we have parroting. Another is simply impatience and or blatant unwillingness to put in your dues. Like the young one I mention above, everyone wants overnight success and will go to any length to get it. It is sad.

    One area where I might disagree is that some topics are so common (within social media or even my niche in parent coaching) that it is all a blogger can do to re-invent the wheel with some twist. Hopefully that twist comes from inner passion and experience.

    great post!

  7. The world is in serious danger of losing creativity and innovation. This is all because the focus now is on instant gratification. How many persons are willing to stand up and put forward their views or ideas and defend them if they are not popular? Trying to blend in and be accepted is not the route to go. Think of inventers of the past who put forward their inventions but did not get instant acclaim. Some of the inventions were ahead of their time, but consider where we would be now if they gave up and tried to blend in, we would not be enjoying many of our modern conveniences. I say to each one, be yourself and let all views contend.

  8. Hi Catarina,

    I think part of the problem is that some want to be liked by others and not rock the boat with original thought.

    I must admit I do have a bit of a laugh when someone says what others say and call themselves marketing experts without any life or business experience. if you ask them a question they get defensive.

  9. Very good observations Catrina.
    I would like to add my impression, that quite a few people try to use social media, blogging in particular, for "quick bucks" only or 15 minutes of fame.
    I do not know how blogging works, I have wage idea that has to do with creating traffic, and can only imagine that not so talented and not -have -much-to-say will in that case use every mean possible , copy cat, parroting, you name it, to reach their goal.
    We live in instant (soup )world , and writing is taking consequences of it , as well.

  10. It seems in these times we hear it is a marketable thing to "mirror, channel, and model" ourselves after successful individuals. Anthony Robbins made millions on his first book telling people to "model" themselves after someone you admire or respect. Oprah gives away a car to all her audience members , now every talk show host gives something away. The sad part about this numbing cookie cutter mentality is that it has created a Stepford Wives complexion that spans all industries. They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. I disagree with that train of thought when you imitate the current flavour of the month. Good article and observations, C.

  11. Good for you Diana. Don't start parotting because it will work against you.

    Do google Be yourself – instead of – parroting and you will get several pages of results outlining how the article was syndicated by Forbes, Social Media Today and several other sites the minute I published it. All I did was post it online. That really is an indication of what people think of the parrots. Hopefully it will have an impact on the parrots and make them think before copying and pasting. They probably haven't realized that people are tired of what they are doing.

  12. Hi Catarina,
    I agree and have often wondered why that is? I remember responding to a question on LinkedIn about the Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola law suit because of alleged similar packaging adopted by Pepsi- Cola from the Coca Cola brand……….. My initial thought was how a huge organisation can copy another instead of being original and creative with their packaging. But as we all know and may have seen in Super markets nowadays, they use similar packaging as established brands to confuse consumers. Also, everyone seems to be doing the same things and because I tend and like to be unique and different, I veer away from what others are doing or saying except if it is correct and factual. But I have seen so many people, rushing around and doing the same things. Even questions are often repeated and I have brought it to other’s attention. It's boring, smacks of indolence and lack of originality.

  13. Agree with you completely Michael. Great points. The imitators will one day wake up and realize that they have wasted the opportunites they had. And then it will be more difficult for them to stand out from the crowd because search engines remember everything for a long time.

  14. Catarina,
    Parroting is annoying. It's one thing to approach a topic that's been discussed before as long as you bring your own unique spin to it but to just regurgitate what's already been said is a waste of everyone's time. Sometimes, I think it comes down to quantity vs quality. Every article you write is original and is clearly your point of view and the amount of pride you take in your writing comes across. The parrots will eventually fade away.

  15. Hi Catarina,
    Did you ever play the children's game where all the children sit in a circle and one child whispers a message to the child beside her and that child whispers the same message to the child beside him…at the end of the circle the last child states the message and then the first child states the message. There is always a huge difference. This is what happens when people parrot and don't think for themselves. Not only does the message get watered down – it becomes a different message – an unintended message.

  16. Catarina:

    It is amazing on Twitter to see the same post go round and round. People then congratulate themselves on being on top of the latest and greatest. In reality, they are parroting as you point out. There are new ideas everyday but many people just want to share what a few "thought leaders" have to say. As you point out we are online to share our thoughts. We can comment on what others do and offer a pro or con point of view.

    My recent post Product Development- 9 Critical Lessons Learned

  17. Greetings Catarina:
    We live in a Pret-A-Porter world. Most persons eat at fast food gigs, can instantly connect with family and friends (and others), and get most of life's amenities without much investment in time and effort. This in turn has created a couple of generations of lazy people.
    Societies are divided by those who innovate and know and those who follow blindly. Information, real information; the kind that has been derived at via scientific observation and hypotheses takes time and insight that the majority of our societal co-habitants do not like to employ and are not willing to do so. Thus, as you point out, the end result is a radiograph of the precepts that led us here – A few will lead the masses…
    Following Darwinism, those adept to handle change will do so and in that respect will possibly innovate new things along the way. Those stuck in the habits of copying and pasting without creating or building on the ideas of others will eventually weed themselves out of the game and life itself.
    I see no problem with sharing great ideas as their permeation throughout a society will undoubtedly reap more benefits and greater penetration but as a rule, those who perform that service should give credit to those who created them.

  18. Hi Caterina,
    I've just been made redundant from a senior charity comms job. The job has been given to a junior, as a promotion, and he is delivering a comms plan based on social media. I've been dipping in to their twitter feed and website and it's not bad, but there is a significant amount of retweeting rather than sharing their own ideas/policy positions. I appreciate that in a busy world having an organisation that creates a network – and shares the intelligence – is really important to those working in that field. But where are the knowledge makers and opinion formers? In the minority it seems. If this is the case, can a social media strategy ever stand alone? I have a love/hate relationship with social media for this reason – individual and corporate parroting are a poor excuse for moving thinking forward, and this is often done best face to face.

  19. Great to read some criticism and reliable writing about social media once, I'm tired just reading and hearing all the hype around it. So thank you for fresh post.
    My recent post Liikelahjojen synty – Mistä kaikki sai alkunsa?

  20. A very interesting post. Parroting each other can also be dangerous, there would be no innovation. Further parroting can have another dimension, it would lead to herd think' which would also lead to the collapse of organisations. Imagine, in a board meeting, if everyone just parroted the leader's views, there was no dissent…… disastrous. Really liked this post.
    My recent post Take a Chance

  21. I do get your point. I believe the reason many do that (copy and past) is beacuse they feel the pressure to look or be perceived a certain way or they will not be accepted. That would include job hunting, acceptance to a certain group or club etc.

    Portraying ourselves in an authentic way is hard work and carries with it a certain risk. I believe that risk is worth the reward of meeting like minded, authentic people such as yourself.

    The other more disturbing reason for coping and pasting an item is, out and out plagiarism. It is the quickest way, ie dishonest, to finish a report or written work. It is often mistaken for research. Researching a subject means to acquire information from various sources then interpret it into your words, beliefs and concepts. That interpretation my include a phrase or two that may appear the same but are not a wholesale copying and pasting someone else's hard work. Just my thoughts. 🙂
    My recent post Trip To France: Mouton Cadet Bordeaux 2009: Wine

  22. So true, so true!! I am often befuddled by all the "experts" that I see out there, especially in blogland. Sometimes I feel like, gee what do I have to offer in comparison, but at the same time, I know these people's profiles are blown out of proportion. Thanks for the reminder that it's great for all of us to be our unique selves and to be creative out of our unique selves.

  23. This a great post, every teenager should read it! They should read it, because they have the biggest chance to become a parrot. They all should know, without creativity they couldn't be succesful, and parrotin someone may kill creativity!
    My recent post Stay healthy, stay fit! Summer tips

  24. Thank you Pat. Good points you make.

    Laziness and group think definitely are part of this scenario. But who's going to believe that a 20 year old is an expert on sales or international relations. Naturally they have knowledge but still haven't got the experience that make a difference.

    My grandmother apparently used to say that it's the result that counts, not how long it has taken. And she's right. Not least on social media since search engines record everything and forget nothing. That's worth remembering when it comes to fast versus doing something innovative and creative.

  25. Hi Catarina,

    With so much information available, one's actual information forms just a wee bit part of the whole package. Also, one wants to have recognition of fellow associates for their own morale. Don't we all want to identify ourselves with a brand whereas the same thing may be available much cheaper at a local shop & probably, lasts the same!
    Like with clothes & food, same with opinions and content. Of course, learning stops or reduces.
    The whole problem with information explosion is that the discipline of garnering information is lost. One picks up from what the other has learnt and moves ahead from that point onward. It is the bane of this "intellectual" world. We have people with little self acquired knowledge & so many who have acquired it Virtually.
    Why criticise a person who has simply copied and pasted something when we use readymade milk, ready to eat food & ready to wear clothes. Similarly, we have ready to give opinions and ready to have information.

    Taral Vaidya

  26. I am so glad you wrote this post. It expresses my feelings perfectly. It really is tiring having to sift through all the parrots to find someone/something original.

  27. You know, I have been asking myself that question as well. Not in the context of social media, but more on blogs, specifically the ones here in the Philippines. In which case, I think they are trying to bank on the notion that "hey, this blogger has reached such and such results…if I do the same thing, and create a blog in the same manner, I might end up experiencing the same results." That may also be the case when it comes to social media.

    I agree that niches are so saturated right now that finding a fresh angle seems difficult, but as I continued on blogging, I start to see so many potential angles that haven't been tapped yet. Yes, it may not be something they are used to, but at least I can confidently say that my blog is no parrot.
    My recent post Common Restaurant Styles in the Philippines

  28. Imitation is not in the Internet only. Its in business also, for example.

    India copied from Switzerland some of the medical equations to sell the cure by cheap price. Egypt copied some american movies's stories to re-produce it middle east . GCC Countries copied technology & information from US and Europ by legal way after paid the purchase costs.
    copyright is not enough to protect the creatives from Imitators .

  29. Catarin, you are correct. Parroting is a problem. Now we can see many articles by different people about how be seen on social media. Mostly, they are saying/copying the same things. It is easy to be copying than creating. I remember seeing an article about copying paragraphs from a website article and pasting it on the Facebook page, to give the impression of the "Expert". Some people use the yahoo answers to promote their websites and blogs.
    Is this an age of "cutting and pasting"?
    My recent post A Story By Nadiyah Hussain

  30. Hi Catarina,

    This was an intresting post i would like to comment the untouched part of the discussion ‘Creativity’ , because lack of creativity has lead to parroting not only in social media but in evry sphere , business academics n evrywhr just because the world around you is so much result oriented that people cannot afford to be experimental and original . Today mass is much concerned about whats in and whats out , they are least concerned about the vital part of being human,” what is right and whats wrong ” this is the basic practice that the common mass is following evrywhere, because people find it easy to follow what they find is successfull around them , wthr its about business, social media or somewhere else , Because people today have very deep feeling tht , ‘Nobody remembers the second person who landed on moon. ‘ Thats why people dont afford to be creative today resulting in promoting parroting .

  31. Social media lives a childish period. Most people who walk into it just pop in, without even noticing its effects. Imitation- I think – in a way is a consequence of this "free entrance".
    Besides, the good side of parroting is sharing bulk of ideas, news and information which might be useful for someone else.
    In this early stage we will probably have to put up with parroting/gossip/non innovation for some years to come, but Social Media will develop, grow up and parrots will fly away some day.

  32. You are spot on Catarina and this is why I Love creativity and innovation. It is what we do when expressing our inner voice. It can be influenced from someone or something else but not copying . But as you say parroting is what most people do without feeling ashamed and they can continue as long as people buy it. I am thinking of the flies who like "shit" and a saying that it cannot be wrong since so many likes it.

    The nature of creativity is also that the more creative and innovative we are the more resistance we get since it goes against the known. Most people don't like to be questioned either since they take it personal. I was involved in some very interesting discussions about idea generation and innovation when working at IBM.

    One woman came up with an idea that the creator and the event or meeting should be tracked from the first conversation when the idea was expressed. I thought it was a great idea and we discussed about using a simple tool with a quick link to track it back to the source and who was involved in contributing. There are many meetings which is great for idea generation but most of the leaders who inspires and fight for having open creative meetings without a strict business agenda are seldom getting feedback on their impact in the organisations. The reason is that most of those informal meetings are not taken notes and action points from and the people are usually hesitating to go beyond their comfort zones. Their ideas are in best case popping again and in another forum or by someone who is "stealing" it.

    Thanks your article inspired me to contact my former IBM colleague 😀
    My recent post Social media measurement tools Klout Kred and Naymz

  33. Creativity is a beautiful thing. Parroting is not. It is pathetic when people copy others and then pass it off as their own expertise. Only be showing your individual self will you be able to hold your head high and know that you have taken the time to share your ideas and suggestions. Whether or not most people agree with you.

  34. There's little creativity online, in business and – in Hollywood USA. It's the same over and over again in so many cases. Thanks for this laugh – "Looking at profiles on social media today you easily get the impression that the majority of people in this world are on par with Warren Buffett and Bill Gates." You know, I've always wondered about this! Thanks Catarina.
    My recent post How Can We Make Life Less To Do About Performance?

  35. You are right…this isn't a new thing but it has become ubiquitous with social media in the forefront. I think I had a post a few weeks back about how so many people are making judgement and spouting what they think are facts when it's somebody else's feed that they are parroting. Some of it is pressure…that we think we have to know everything, and the other side is people who are too lazy to research a topic and find out the facts. Very good post!
    My recent post Hope…Where’s The Justice?

  36. Interesting post. Parroting is a bit of a "jump on the bandwagon" thing that the Internet has made so much easier to do. It may be the result of a need to belong or be validated or not recognizing the worth of one's own ideas. Plagiarism is more sinister and a deliberate attempt to deceive.
    My recent post Bucket Lists

  37. Catarina, Kurt Vonnegut has a quote, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be."

    I wonder if the parrots are desperately hoping that if they fake it long enough they will become as creative, innovative or as insightful as the people they are copying. It's an interesting theory, but when you are sitting across from your client and you don't have a clue how to deliver on the work they need… what then? I optimistically think that sooner or later the parrots will copy their way into a very tight and uncomfortable corner. 🙂
    My recent post Old Trucks and Nostalgia

  38. I have no problem with someone who retweets or shares a link of information. But that type of sharing should only be a supplement to whatever original content the person is adding to his or her account. And making it look as though it was their thought is like intellectual plagiarism. I guess social media has just made it too easy to do this.

  39. I recently encountered this. Someone sent me "A sample" of what they had written and are thinking of publishing it too… When I read it I was taken a back, then I thought maybe it was just me but I read it aloud to my husband and he was surprised too. It was word for word in most parts!
    This was felt strange because it was the first time it has happened to me. I didn't know whether it was to be taken as a compliment… But it is straight up plagiarism. Normally, I would go to them and say "What the hell do you think you're doing?" but this person is a Domestic Violence survivor and is shaky already…
    Re-tweets are fine with me and I've found useful in many ways, along with Facebook, it helps to get messages out there… But plagiarism is a whole new bag for me!

  40. Hi Catarina – this is another one of your thought-provoking posts, which I love. I had no idea about all this cut and paste stuff happening on social media. I thought that would be illegal, unless the original person is credited for the information. Everyday I find there is more to learn and more to guard against. I am sorry though that someone hijacked your information – wonder what will happen if she needs to back it up?
    My recent post MICROGREENS: Superfoods You Grow Indoors

  41. I agree so much about what you said about creativity. It seems like there is nothing new today. The music is a remix or remade, movies are remade or are just a movie version of a tv show, or worse yet a video game. We have NEW technology, but it seems like with this technology we have lost some of the creativity we had in the past.
    I hope people will become more creative, and take more chances.

  42. Completely agree with the copy and paste troops out there that find an article and regurgitate it everywhere else. When I am researching something it amazes me how often I will read the same information; and not just the same ideas or solutions but the exact same phrasing. I agree that a certain amount of creativity has been diluted.

  43. In his essay “Corn-Pone Opinions” Mark Twain discusses how unique thought doesn’t really exist, and I think that has been compounded in the digital age. Everyone’s trying to earnestly to look at what spin they can give to something they forget to embrace who they are and let others see what makes them unique (or as unique as one can be…). We spend so much time trying to align ourselves to the masses while not even knowing that’s what we’re doing. It’s the herd mentality.

  44. I absolutely agree!! The more we use social media to portray the real you (or us), the more original, thoughtful and valuable content there will be for everyone! Not only that, but how much more FUN would it be to use social platforms for just that: FUN? People respond to things that feel good, are original and interesting. Why not give them that creativity?! Let THAT speak for us.

    I don't honestly believe it's possible to have an original thought at this point in history but I DO believe we all have our own original and unique ways of interpreting, experiencing and expressing those ideas and THAT is what makes my online (as well as real life) relationships worthwhile.
    My recent post What You Should Put in a Newsletter that Doesn’t Suck (And What Not To)

  45. How true this is. I often wonder if these so called experts are hoping against hope that they will be noticed. the funny part is, they don't realized how foolish they look when people realize they have plagiarized or copied someone else work or creation. I've actually had that happen to me… long story. It's my thought, or belief, that they simply don't know what else to do and do it anyway, knowing the risks… sigh!
    My recent post Milk Can Lesson: #Story

  46. It takes courage to invent something new, that and time to sit down and really think about it. We’ve become too impatient to do that? Too lazy? Too scared of ridicule?
    Copy-paste, that’s easy.

  47. Im sorry the woman you mentioned felt the need to steal your content to make herself look good. That’s pretty shameless and unfortunately much too frequent. I couldn’t agree more that what makes interacting with other people interesting is the fact that we are all unique and though we may agree on some topics, we may not agree on all of them.. and God knows we’ve all had different experiences… I love finding inspiration from what I read, see, and share with my peers but I’d hate to merely be a copy of someone else! Variety gives life flavor and sparks creativity.

  48. We are told that children learn by example. They will copy what their parents do and say. As adults our lives can also be enriched by the example of others. Is that copying?
    I believe a better word to discribe the copy/paste is plagiarism.
    Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "stealing and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions" and the representation …
    Regardless of the label it is very sad to see adults incapable of original thought.

  49. Catarina- I am sorry you hear that someone copied your information. I have had people actually download my site. There is a website Copyscape where you can check to see if someone has copied your site. There was a company in Malaysia that was copying my site. I just made changes to my site and eventually they stopped. There will always be people out there that copy because it is easier. Some things are out of our control. On the other side of this it is a form of flattery even though it is not one you want. So it says something about your writing.
    My recent post How the Ice Bucket Challenge Increases Awareness for ALS

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