For your information, I am going to post two time a week, on Mondays and Thursdays.
In a previous blog, I commented on a book that I had heard about entitled Copycat, by Oded Shenkar (Harvard Business School Press, 2011 – see the button to the right). The subtitle is How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge. I had not read it at the time, but the existence of this book pleased me, since I seem to be surrounded by people excited mostly about new things, different things, break throughs in technology, and revolutionary insights, and I am a bit of a contrarian.
I read the book, and am still pleased by it. Shenkar does not cover what might be called “illegal” imitation (patent violations, etc). He warns against imitating products of companies so strong that they can damage you through nuisance suits, and he promotes improving upon the original. In fact he (perhaps unfortunately) coins the word “imovation” (imitation plus innovation) to describe the hoped for approach to copying.
It is a practical book. He begins by pointing out the key role of imitation in product development and company success, how the majority of products owe a debt to products of other companies, and the many peripheral benefits of imitation (such as increased knowledge on how to protect products from other imitators}. He points out the now-recognized centrality of imitation in human learning and problem solving, and the neglect of copying in business books, even though it a subject of interest in the top layers of management in all successful companies.
He then goes into a business book approach to the topic, with cases, summaries, and take-aways at the end of the chapters. He includes many examples of successful companies, including many leaders in their fields, who have profited greatly from imitation, and points out that in general, the originators are sparsely rewarded compared to the imitators. He emphasizes the lack of attention paid to the strategy and tactics of successful imitation (or imovation), and emphasizes that there are right and wrong ways to copy, and little attention paid to them in most business schools.
Since I seem to live in an area (Stanford University and Silicon Valley) where innovation. breakthroughs, and entrepreneurship have the glamor, and since I have devoted a great deal of attention to creativity and innovation, I found the book to be an excellent reminder of where the money is. It is clear that the U.S. has a bias toward invention and innovation rather than towards copying others. We did so in our successful run on manufacturing quality in the late 20th century, especially in the automotive and electronic industries. The Toyota manufacturing system and other Japanese approaches were enthusiastically accepted, and we benefited from them a great deal. Hopefully our eyes are still open and we aren’t counting on our ability to ride on “the next big thing” forever.