Innovation > Replication

Why Copying the Competition Won’t Work

When starting out on uncertain, difficult road of a new venture, it’s easy to look for the competition for inspiration.

“If it works for them, it must work for us”, many founders will say.

And considering the psychological strain of the uncertainty of what you are doing, of promises to investors, of trying to stay afloat for as long as possible with minimal costs, this option seems to make sense.

Understand what other companies have spent a lot of time & effort experimenting with & validating, then take their learnings & build something similar.

Yet, as with far too many things in life, this short-term solution can lead you down a dangerous path, away from long-term success.

It’s a short cut that may work for a while, but won’t help you build a strong foundation for growth in future.

Consider the following research by Peter Roberts of the Strategy Management Journal,

“If two companies have equal profit in year 1, by year 5, the innovative company will have raced ahead and possess 75–80% more profit than its non-innovative competitor.”

In short, copying doesn’t work.

At some point, you’re left playing catchup. And when you’re left playing catchup, you’re losing market share & you’re falling ever further behind in developing your product.

Creating a culture of creativity, therefore, and ensuring creative thinking is allowed to flourish within your company, is vital to innovation and, ultimately, the success of your company.

Yet why do so many companies simply copy the competition in the hope that it will somehow work? That they will somehow discover a way to differentiate themselves from that competition?

Because it is hard.

It is really hard to create a culture of innovation.

It requires you to implement a structured, lean process for testing out hypotheses & learning from failure.

It requires you to be able to deal with the relentless failures that comes with innovation, persisting until you find something that works.

It requires you to think clearly, creatively and rationally, despite the usually frenetic, even frantic, pace that many startups seem to operate in.

It requires you to accept that everything you are doing is uncertain. That there are no clear answers. That, on top of the difficulty of building the structures of the business itself, you now need to accept that you don’t know what the team will be working on in the next few days, let alone the next few weeks.

Yet it is necessary. It is necessary for the long-term success of your company that you innovate & encourage creativity.

Because simply copying the competition doesn’t work.

Creating a framework for creativity, on the other hand, where we focus on testing a new idea quickly & understanding what impact it actually had on the customer, does.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we always try and reinvent the wheel, and come up with something entirely new.

We can — and should — leverage the learnings of other companies.

We can take an idea, a feature they have, understand what impact it may have, adapt it to our own context, then test it & see what impact it had in delivering value to our users.

Be inspired, but don’t copy.

Learn, never just blindly build.

Create, don’t replicate.

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