The importance of attribution in nascent fields and communities

In the rush to be original, innovative, provocative, or first-to-market, we often forget to acknowledge “prior art” or provide the context for the new ideas that we’re espousing.  The resulting lack of credibility is one of the most serious threats to emergent fields and their practitioner communities (such as devops or systems safety). Would devops exist without ITIL or the work of Deming? Would Agile exist without Waterfall? Would the all-electric Tesla Model S exist without the hybrid Prius and the gas-guzzling Hummer?

That is not to say that there’s nothing new under the sun. However, even the most groundbreaking ideas do not exist in a vacuum, but only in relation to previous ideas. They build on—or refute—what came before.  Humans suffer from a built-in resistance to change, and when new ideas are presented without proper context or attribution, they risk becoming just someone's brilliant ideas, too easy to dismiss or accept, depending on the person’s popularity, without full and critical evaluation.

In science, it’s simply not enough to receive new ideas in dreams or visions; ideas that stick must have solid foundations, and often come with bibliographies many pages long.

Want to build your or your idea's credibility? Want to strengthen your nascent field or emerging community? Emphasize their lineage, and give full attribution.