A new twist on imitation

If imitation were that simple, small business owners could come up with knock-offs of other products and services and ring their cash registers.

Imitation crab
Imitation crab (Photo credit: DBduo Photography)

Imitation can be a more important source for new products and services than the original concept or innovation. In fact, researchers claim that copying ideas can be more valuable than inventing something new. Up to 98% of the value from innovation is realised by the imitators rather than the innovators.

But imitation is not mindless copying. How could it be? If it were that simple almost

anyone could quickly come up with their own cash machines. Everyone would be pumping money. Profitable imitation is hard. It needs imagination and skill.

Larger companies would tend to go for conservative, incremental change. It’s what shareholders want. No surprises. No big risks. They are more inclined to refine the bright shiny photocopier and make a faster model with higher quality copies.

Big companies would rather leave the innovation to small, hungry start-ups with larger appetites for risk. If things start to look promising, large companies will take a share. This way they place small bets on new products and services in the initial phases. When a product or service appears viable, they’ll gobble the small company and feed it with cash.

For the hungry, passionate start-ups or business person who wants to start something of their own, the whole approach is different. They are looking to start something with very little investment cash – and want to leverage their return.

Now, what they do? They’ll need to look at the market, research their local community and see what others are doing. They may pick up a product or service idea on their travels. Here they are looking to offer a low-cost version of a product or service, provide higher service that pulls in customers.

Listen up. Unless the small business owner or aspirant entrepreneur comes up with some new angle or twist on something out there in the marketplace, customers won’t be interested. The market is already flooded with look-alikes, me-too products and knock-offs.

Here’s the point: the new angle or twist requires imagination and innovative thinking.

If you don’t know how to do it yourself, get a consultant, mentor or business advisor.

Remember this: innovation isn’t something that can be reduced to a formula, turned into a formal process or simplified into fixed rules. You can’t just copy or imitate the methods of another company and expect the same results.

Look for the difference. Connect unrelated ideas and concepts. Ask “what-if?” and “why not?” questions.

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