Is Imitation Really The Highest Form of Flattery?

Charles Caleb Colton coined the phrase that “imitation is the highest form of flattery.” But is it really?

My mother, who I lost two years ago, would always tell my brothers and I that when values are clear, decisions are easy. She went on to add that you must be able to look yourself in the mirror and like what you see, because then you will be able to walk with your head held high.

But can you like what you see in the mirror if the image reflects someone other than yourself?

In this context, there is a kind of irony regarding today’s post given that I was recently involved in a discussion in a National Speakers Association group about using the same seminar title as someone else.

The person posing the question to the general group asked if there would be a problem if she called her seminar Bringing Your “A Game” To Your Career. The reason she asked is that she had discovered that a well known speaker offered a seminar under the banner “Bring Your A Game To Work.”

It was a lively exchange to say the least, in which many different points of view were offered including violation of trademarks and proof of first use, concerns regarding plagiarism, as well as the similarities and differences in each seminar’s content.

While some expressed the opinion that it should not present a problem in terms of the speaker using a similar title, others were resolute in their protestation that such use would be wrong.

What was most surprising, however, is that despite the diversity of opinions, the general consensus was that the real issue was one of originality and authenticity as opposed to rights. Specifically, and in a demonstration of unanimous solidarity amongst all speakers, everyone wondered why someone would choose to use a seminar title that was clearly associated with another individual. In other words, why not blaze your own trail in terms of establishing your own unique brand, as opposed to risk confusion with someone else’s.

It was a great revelation, a kind of seeing the forest despite the trees perspective.

Why would anyone want to risk being seen as a facsimile of someone else, as opposed to being a unique and powerful brand in their own right?

I found myself asking this question the other day, when several long-time clients contacted me to tell me that they received information for a seminar they thought that I would be delivering. Upon closer review, they discovered that I was not involved with the program at all, and that it was being offered by someone else. The source of the confusion each repeated, was that this other seminar had an almost identical title, with the same focus in terms of audience. It did not help that within the list of topics to be covered, several were either identical or close to those I have been delivering to audiences around the world since 2001.

Putting aside the necessary action I must now take to address this matter, and thus avoid any future confusion, I can only hope that this individual’s encroachment on my established brand was unintentional.

Regardless of motive, this experience underlines the importance of creating and building your own unique and authentic brand.

In my case, having established my brand in this area of expertise, I was able to find out about the other conference from loyal clients who cared about my track record and values. I felt very fortunate to learn that people associate me with the subject matter being presented.

For the other person, it raises a red flag in that the many points of similarity between my established seminar and the new one, suggests that they may not be an original thinker and therefore have little to offer relative to additional insight.

I believe you should always seek ways in which you can both differentiate and distinguish yourself as a unique brand in your own right. By the way, the title of the seminar I have been offering since 2001 is The Art of WOW Conference. Accept no imitations.


This brings us back to the group discussion, or for that matter any situation in which someone positions themselves to claim credit for your accomplishments? Is it flattering? How should you deal with someone who imitates you or, attempts to capitalize on your hard earned intellectual property. Should they be ignored or confronted?

2015 Guide Cover



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