A reader asked me this question after reading “Creativity sucks. Or does it?” last week:
QUESTION: I read your blog post on “Creativity sucks” and wondered whether you are for imitation rather than generating original ideas. What gives?
CHESNEY: First off, I don’t want to offer any stuffy definitions about original ideas and imitation. Let’s be clear: Imitation doesn’t mean wholesale or complete copying of someone else’s idea. You still need to generate ideas to come up with a product or service that is different from those already introduced or you will just be giving customers what they can buy elsewhere. You need a distinct point of differentiation.
What I tried to get across was that imitation can involve creativity. Duplication or direct copying is not. Let’s face it; imitation is not about mindless copying of others ideas, products and services. The fast follower needs creative imagination to come up with a product or service that is similar but different what’s already on the market.
Let’s take the example of the MPMan and the Apple iPod. The iPod, launched some years after the MPMan, was similar in concept but different beyond recognition. One, the player could store 100s, if not thousands, of songs, depending on the model’s memory size. Two, the business model was radically different. The players were sold for a high price while the songs were sold dirt cheap. The company flipped the old razor-blade business model. The money was not in the razor blades (songs) but in the shaver (player). The iPod made a major impact on the music industry to such an extent that it revolutionized the way that music was bought.
I still believe that starting your own business, generating your own idea for a business is the best option for those who want to start something of their own with minimal capital.
Coming up with your own ideas for new products and services is a strong option. Why? Because you own the rights to your ideas and you may generate a new business idea that is different from what is on the market to compete. Plus you control the value of capital that you need to invest in your new business idea for a product or service.
A second-hand business, a franchise, even a biz-op (although sometimes relatively inexpensive) will mean that you need to fund a fairly large amount of money to buy the business. You can do what you want with a second-hand business. But not with a franchise. You are locked into the franchise owner’s rules. You’re dependent on the franchise owner for marketing support, controlled where you can advertise and what you can sell. With a biz-op you are confined by someone else’s business model.
With your own business idea or concept you decide when and where you do business. And what you can sell and to whom. It can be a risky option when you go for an idea-driven startup, something that has not been tried out before. You must find a market. Don’t expect ready-made customers to beat a path to your store. You have to educate the customer which requires deep marketing pockets. Your product may be so new that only a tiny niche market understands its value. Low volumes keep your price high and out of the reach of larger market opportunities. A market-driven approach is less risky and may require less capital cost. If you can change the value offer in your imitation product or service you may have a product or service that the market wants, needs or desires. A knocked-down version of a more expensive product can also broaden the market for your business.
That’s my take on creativity and imitation. I hope it helps you make a better decision when you try to enter a market with a new product and service. By weighing up the options of introducing completely new business ideas or imitating with a competitive difference, you may save yourself a lot of wasted time and ill-invested money.
PS You can learn more about generating new business ideas and innovation at www.ideaaccelerator.co.za.