The Walmart CEO’s Confession: “let’s copy and paste when we should and when we can”

The Walmart CEO’s Confession: “let’s copy and paste when we should and when we can”

Few years ago, I wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “When you can’t innovate, copy”. The feedback was interesting as many company executives wrote me with confession statements: “I tell my people but they do not listen, I have forwarded your article. And thanks for adding ‘legally’ as I want to stay out of trouble”.

People, if you cannot innovate, copy legally. If you do not, you will not thrive in commerce. Yes, few things are really new in this world. The people that created most of these things died poor. The people that created most of the fundamental things these technologies rely are past gone. We are just combing and recombining at scale.

I recalled when in secondary school, and we were mapping the school football field for an inter-school game. We needed 90 –degree angle at the edges of the field. The problem was there was no available compass or long measuring tape. Then, in the midst of that scarcity, we simply used Pythagoras theorem, knowing we could get right-angles at the edges with simple efforts. Any modern technology doing that may be relying on that same theorem irrespective of the complexity.

For all the zen-followership we give to Apple, in the last 20 years, Apple has not pioneered any hardware category. But it has copied masterfully and won market territories. Apple took down Blackberry on smartphones, Pebble on smart watches, Sony on music players; the list is long. But it added a new level of competition, disrupting along the way.

Walmart CEO agrees, and wants to take it to Amazon:

At the conference, which coincided with Amazon’s Prime Day sale, McMillon admitted he admired the rival company’s focus on “speed innovation customer centricity convenience.”

“We’re not proud, we’re not egotistical. If someone is doing something better than we are, let’s copy and paste when we should and when we can,” he told Brainstorm Tech.

Of course, copying is not that easy. Yes, do not think it is easier than innovating!

CEO of Walmart, Doug McMillon

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4 thoughts on “The Walmart CEO’s Confession: “let’s copy and paste when we should and when we can”

  1. Humans rarely create things, we mostly discover, and then combine and recombine in countless ways.

    Just like what you come across in speeches and writings, the words are already there, and once the content is valid, the rest is all about style and structure.

    Copying is innovation on its own, because you can only copy what you understand, and for you to go on and make a case for why anyone should look in the direction of what copied – means you must tell a different story; that on its own is innovation.

    The age-long saying of ‘no need to reinvent the wheel’ always holds true. As long as someone has done, or is doing it better; you should be intelligent enough to copy and then go on and tell your own story.

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  2. i smiled with joy when i saw this headline. it reminds me of what i always tell every new employee at first day at work in our organization.
    i always say, ” there are two types of game, Finite and Infinite game. Finite game is govern by rules, always involves two or more players and it’s time bound, a typical example is a football match, and most times, someone must win. On the other hand, Infinite game has no rule, no limit, no time bound, involves as many players as possible, nobody wins: you can only stay ahead or behind, and you only quit when you run out of resources or power. You see, as a business, we are in an Infinite game, with our competitors, and you must do everything you can to stay ahead and to stay in the game. you must be innovative and be strategic, and most importantly always watch out for your competitors. Part of been innovative is knowing when and how to copy your competitors and implement what you’ve copied. Copying is one thing that is so peculiar in a competitive market. That’s why when Snapchat introduced status updates, whatssap, facebook, instagram copied it, when Opera introduced news on it browser, Chrome copied it, and we can go on and on…”

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    1. “That’s why when Snapchat introduced status updates, whatssap, facebook, instagram copied it, when Opera introduced news on it browser, Chrome copied it, and we can go on and on…” You have said it all, even great brands copy and they do not care.

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