The Imitation Age
Today my June issue of Harvard Business Review came in on Zinio Reader. One of the articles was “The Perils of the Imitation Age.” By Eric Bonabeau. Here are a few of the nuggets from the article:
Word of mouth is putting traditional marketing to shame The information age has cast up more than its share of paradoxes, including this one: When information is plentiful, we often use it not to make better decisions based on the intrinsic characteristics of a situation but rather to imitate others – and their mistakes. The homogenizing nature of best practices can destroy value for corporations, which forget that strategy is, at its heart, all about differentiation. Best practices play to the human need to be similar. That need is exacerbated when the CEO’s compensation is tied to a company’s performance relative to its peers, driving him or her to blindly imitate the market leader. Three drivers of imitation: safety, conformity, and the belief that the other guy knows better.
I generally agree. For example, how many B2B enterprise software sites look, feel and read the same! In management, sites like Pointless mock and characterize corporate-speak that has become homogenized and meaningless.
Truth is, as Solomon said, there is no new knowledge under the sun. Simply different applications and articulations. So I do believe imitation can be good depending on how it’s used, and lead to creativity (quite a paradox!).
Here are three principles where I believe imitation is good…
Good imitation is looking for parallels. Parallelism is when you take a principle from elsewhere and apply it to a different situation, perhaps differently. Perhaps it can be called ‘inspired imitation’. Ex: Henry Ford applying the division of labor from slaughter houses to the car manufacturing. Roy H. Williams calls it Business Topology. Jay Abraham calls it something else. Good imitation is when being unique negatively impacts your customer. For example, there’s no need to get clever with standard navigation nomenclature (i.e. ‘Home’, ‘About Us’, etc.), checkout forms, etc. Copy the online leaders where the majority of shoppers have learned from. Good imitation is invisible to the customer but adds value to your proposition. For example, I think there are best practices in supply chain and manufacturing. Dell is recognized for this. That simply leads to lower costs for customers. What company would not want to lower costs so they could invest margin in other ways to differentiate, or pass savings along to the customer? Or investing in standards that save money and widen applicability – such as programming in .NET or JAVA.