Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

Maybe You Need A Copycat Strategy

One of the greatest mistakes when it comes to strategy and innovation is that these things are simply created from nothing. There's this false assumption that, because of the need for creativity and innovation, the only way to make our own way is to come up with something completely new and different. Always zig when others zag. Always do something new. While new innovation is wonderful and successful, it's not the only way to approach strategic growth and development. Sometimes we just need to copy.

Copy? Isn't that illegal or at least morally wrong? Won't people see right through imitation? In short, the answer to these questions is "no". When people think of innovative companies today, I imagine Apple would be at the top of the list. Apple has had a lot of successful innovations. There was iTunes, which came after Napster already invented that idea. There is the iPod, which was hardly the first MP3 player on the market. Apple computers are full of great technology, none of which is truly new. Apple was not the first personal computer. In fact, Apple is almost never first to market at all. What Apple manages to do better than anyone else is take a technology and repackage or deliver it in new ways. They remix, rematch, rethink, and redesign, a lot of existing ideas and technology.

Consider the words of poet and philosopher T.S. Eliot:
"One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest."
-T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. 1922.


Great innovators and strategists, like great artists, know how to build upon the success or failures of others.


I've since read much more of Eliot's work, but I first landed on his quote in the book, "Steal Like An Artist", written by Austin Kleon. Kleon has written an eloquent book exploring this very idea. Great artists steal, mashup, rework, and build upon, the work of others. Designing a business is no different than creating any other work of art and, thus, the rules apply to us all. Great strategy doesn't need to be some completely original concept nobody has ever thought of before. Often the greatest strategy is simply our ability to execute something more effectively or in new and different ways.

Great innovators and strategists, like great artists, know how to build upon the success or failures of others. They know how to pull in the right information, copy the right things, and mix it together into a strategy that works. Maybe you need a little less "innovation" and a little more copycatting.

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