Thursday, December 20, 2007

The sincerest form of flattery

As everyone knows, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But where innovation is concerned, imitation just means that your firm is adopting a strategy of at best a fast follower. If the idea already exists in your industry, you've missed the innovation window and are now playing catchup.

Over at Endless Innovation, a blog site I visit frequently, Dominic has a post discussing a presentation that was given by the founder of Geek Squad. Dominic focuses on the price an unremarkable firm pays when attempting to differentiate. We call that "advertising". I like more what the gentleman said about innovation. "If you look for ideas in your industry, you are stealing. If you steal ideas from other industries, that's innovative." Now, I have no problem with stealing a good idea or concept and applying it in a way that differentiates me or helps me make more money. However, what I wish he had said was:

  • If you are copying ideas in your industry, you're a follower
  • If you adopt ideas from other industries and apply them in new ways in your industry, you're an innovator
  • If you package your capabilities and dramatically change another market, your a disrupter
So, what's your strategy? Are you comfortable being a (hopefully) fast follower? If so, your copy and replace capabilities had better be well honed, cause there's a lot of people who intend to compete for this position. If you intend to innovate or disrupt, then the question is - what are you doing to scan other markets for great ideas that can be implemented in your market, or to identify unmet needs that you can satisfy to disrupt another market?

Imitation is a simple but dangerous approach, because it places your organization on a passive footing. Simply waiting for someone else to create a good idea then rapidly copying it assumes your copy capability is the best in the industry. Actively scanning the adjoining and adjacent markets for ideas that you can adopt, and seeking opportunities for your firm to act as a disrupter, require an active footing and investment in people and resources. It will require you to enter markets quickly, without a complete risk assessment. Yet, as my military friends like to say, fortune favors the bold.

So, what's it going to be? A relatively safe and simple fast follower strategy, with little risk and little reward, or an active, aggressive strategy to seek out the best ideas from any source, and identify opportunities for your firm to act as a disrupter? Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but few leaders ever get where they are by imitating others. Rather, they create their own unique reality. Innovators aren't imitators.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:18 PM

7 Comments:

Anonymous Graham Horton said...

A nice twist on the aphorism "if you copy from one person, it's called plagiarism, if you copy from many people, it's called science."

2:55 AM  
Anonymous Drew said...

http://innovationinpractice.typepad.com/innovation_in_practice/2007/12/tempting-innova.html

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post. I hadn't thought of it quite like that but the basic concepts of it were strikingly apparent to me after my first few years of managing a development team. I didn't have names for it (copying, innovating, disrupting), but those three terms pretty much break it down. One trick I have found is to play games in my head and use devices like the Whack Pack and Triz to take an idea (such as a business model like Priceline or Fedex) and say, "let's turn it upside down, work it inversely, or remove a component of it" and see what happens to it...then apply it to my industry. Amazing things seem to happen because we fill in the blanks with our own industry solutions and suddenly new business models and products emerge. It takes effort and weeks of working out the kinks, but it can be very rewarding for not just me, but my staff when they get to be part of a new launch!

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