Did Google Plagiarize Its 'Desert Survival' Team-Building Exercise?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 02, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Google is often cited as an innovator in the tech industry, and most entrepreneurs and small business owners would love to know how the company trains its staff. And copycats were in luck, until recently.

Google created resource materials for its management training and development program, including a New Manager Program Participant Workbook, New Manager Program Facilitator Guide, and New Manager Presentation Slides, and then posted them to the internet and made them available for download, free of charge.

The only problem? The tech giant illegally appropriated those training techniques from a 50-year-old manual on Saharan survival techniques. The "Desert Survival Situation" has been used as a training and team-building tool for almost half a century by a company named Human Synergistics. That company is now claiming that Google stole their system and turned it into training materials without permission or payment. Here's a look at that lawsuit.

Business Time

Interestingly, googling those training materials doesn't yield too many results. But as the federal complaint filed by Human Synergistics explains:

Desert Survival is one of HS's first and, over the past 45 years, most popular and successful products. This exercise requires a team of individuals to place themselves in a precarious situation - their plane has crashed in the Sonoran Desert and they are left with just 15 items. Members of each team are asked, on an individual basis, to rank the items in order of their importance to their survival. With their teams, participants are then asked to discuss and analyze the situation and agree on a new team ranking of the items in their order of their importance for survival.

The exercise is designed to demonstrate how teams work better than individual members alone, how certain decision-making processes work better than others, and encourages members and teams to develop the most effective and efficient working relationships.

Team-Building Exercise (Not Tonight)

Human Synergistics claims Google obtained Desert Survival via former client and current competitor, Catalyst Consulting Team, and that Google's unauthorized internal use and external release of the materials "seriously compromis[ed] the value of one of HS's most popular and lucrative products." They are accusing Google of direct, contributory, and vicarious copyright infringement, violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and false advertising, unfair competition, and deceptive trade practices.

Here's the lawsuit:

Human Synergistics v Google by FindLaw on Scribd

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