Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

5 October 2011

Dropping names

Clark @ 6:25 AM

Not irregularly, when I do presentations or workshops, I get a few accusations of “dropping names”. I know what they are talking about (I regularly throw in references to theorists or practitioners), but I think they misunderstand why I do it. And I think it is important to understand why it is a ‘good thing’.

First, I was trained in an academic environment, where you don’t claim credit for ideas that aren’t yours. Instead, what you do is point to who you are drawing on. This acknowledges that you know who has done what. It’s important that you show you have done the research to know who’s done what, because it shows what you’re unique contribution is.   

I admit I get a wee bit bent when I see folks present other’s thoughts as their own. Or, worse, presenting stuff wrong. Usually it’s innocent, but sometimes these folks have barrows to push or goods to sell. There are also folks who will take on others’s thoughts, communicate them without attributions, and imply by omission that they have ownership of intellectual property (and, yes, I am being diplomatic). Caveat emptor.

Moving on, a second reason I share names is to provide an access path for those who want to know more about a particular area. In the long run, while I like it if people trust me, I want them to have a channel to buttress their understanding. They can either check my credibility, or go to greater depth.

What I don’t get is folks thinking I’m burnishing my own image. If I am citing the relevant sources, yes I am showing I know the field. But isn’t that better than claiming the ideas of others? I’ve seen too much of the latter, and I’m sorry if the audience doesn’t know enough to call out the speaker on it.

I’m comfortable with my knowledge of what others have done and what my unique combinations and contributions are. I just want you to know who else you really *should* know, and that I know what’s known and what still are areas for intriguing exploration. And, yes, in many cases I *do* know these folks, but because I *have* been doing this for so bloody long, not because I’m superficially looking for facile props.

I guess some may view it as showing off, but I believe it’s only appropriate to give credit where credit is due, and I will counter that those who don’t are falsely implying undue credit. This is my life; I’ve been doing this now for 30 years. I continue to seek out what’s right, hype, wrong, etc. You don’t *have* to trust me, but you’ll certainly have the evidence to check me out.

I welcome your opinion, yea or nay. 


  1. This is not just being honest, it’s also a genuine service.

    When someone tweets a #ff or notes “some great insights from @ about “, it exposes me to a wider and deeper range of professionals. Or, with more traditional media, it points me to great research and resources in print.

    It’s the right thing to do-not just for giving credit-but sharing valuable resources.

    Comment by David Glow — 5 October 2011 @ 6:55 AM

  2. Yea from me Clark. I have come to believe (from folks like you) that real knowledge is not within people but between us…in the conversations and relationships we form. We owe it to the community to live what we preach – collaboration, community, sharing are what is important today and going forward – our connections and ability to connect are critical to success. If we don’t acknowledge that the ideas we share are not solely are own but are built upon or influenced by others we are being hypocrites.

    Comment by Mark Britz — 5 October 2011 @ 9:13 AM

  3. I agree, it adds to your credibility and clearly acknowledges that you’re not representing the thought or ideas as your own. If done too frequently, it can appear as though the entire idea was someone elses, though I doubt that’s what’s happening here.

    As someone who both speaks often and is in the audience as well, I also “drop names”… though I try to do it not with any false sense of familiarity. In other words, I don’t speak in terms of, “well, the other day when Bill Gates and I were having coffee…”. Though I will say something, such as, “when Jane Bozarth was presenting at our meeting a while back”, because that indeed happened.

    I say, go for it… tone and temperament matter, and you can’t control how other people will interpret the message. Deliver it with pure intent and let the chips fall where they may.

    In fact, when I talk about “name dropping” and the concerns around it, I’ll mention your blog as a source.

    Comment by Steve Maul — 5 October 2011 @ 12:18 PM

  4. I completely agree with you Clark

    Comment by Francisca Ocón — 6 October 2011 @ 2:50 AM

  5. Clark:

    There is nothing more intellectually insulting than passing off someone else’s work as your own, it frays the very fabric of science. Attribution is fundamental to any profession – for exactly the reason you state above – but even more alarming is that ‘stealing’ the ideas of others undermines progress. Think of it this way…when someone passes themselves off as the expert and they con people into seeing them as responsible for a theory or practice that arose elsewhere…then that theory or practice is now damned and the field loses fidelity (understanding of who ‘owns’ it and from where it came). Yes the original ‘thought-leader’ may be pushing forward with his or her science, but the impostor is simultaneously corrupting or abusing the branch of theory & science…and the community may not be certain which to believe.

    So keep on name-dropping…I will take over-attribution over omission any day of the year…


    Comment by Brian McGowan — 6 October 2011 @ 4:15 AM

  6. Definitely YEA! By sharing what you know, and “dropping the names” of those who helped you to get where you are today, you are helping others to build their own understanding. I’ll be audacious and say that information sharing and collaboration are some of the principles for the 21 century. So, keep sharing and “dropping the names” – the circle of those who appreciate, is growing =)

    Comment by Lilianna Taylor — 6 October 2011 @ 9:09 AM

  7. Name your sources, but if they’re not genuinely a source, don’t name them. Do that, and you have nothing to explain to anyone, either way.

    Comment by Stephen Downes — 6 October 2011 @ 4:53 PM

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