Although the pursuit of innovation is admirable, sometimes the best idea is to scrap the search for the next big “new idea”, and instead focus on looking for what already works well.
Drake Bennett, writing for the Boston Globe explores the idea of imitation, and how in many cases, it’s a better idea than innovation.
But invaluable though innovation may be, our relentless focus on it may be obscuring the value of its much-maligned relative, imitation. Imitation has always had a faintly disreputable ring to it — presidents do not normally give speeches extolling the virtues of the copycat. But where innovation brings new things into the world, imitation spreads them; where innovators break the old mold, imitators perfect the new one; and while innovators can win big, imitators often win bigger. Indeed, what looks like innovation is often actually artful imitation — tech-savvy observers see Apple’s real genius not in how it creates new technologies (which it rarely does) but in how it synthesizes and packages existing ones.
What some are finding is that it is a strategy that works much better than we think — whether for businesses, people, or animals competing in the wild. At its best, copying spreads knowledge and speeds the process by which insights and inventions are honed, eliminating dead-end approaches and saving time, effort, and money.