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