Innovation Versus Imitation

If innovation is such a potent competitive weapon, why doesn't it translate into profitability? A recent Economist article explores the "fast followers" that have bested the innovators in their product categories.

Innovation versus imitation is a big strategic challenge for many large firms. A recent Schumpeter column in the Economist examined “legal imitation” – being a fast follower with a product or service that improves upon the ground-breaking original idea.

“In the real world, companies copy and succeed. The iPod was not the first digital-music player; nor was the iPhone the first smartphone or the iPad the first tablet. Apple imitated others’ products but made them far more appealing. The pharmaceutical industry is split between inventors and imitators. Some innovators, such as Pfizer, have joined the copycats, starting generic-drugs businesses themselves. The multi-billion-dollar category of supermarket own-label products is based on copying well-known brands, sometimes down to details of the packaging. Fast-fashion firms have built empires copying innovations from the catwalk.”

Apparently, copying has accelerated in recent years and even Pinterest is not immune – brothers Alexander, Oliver and Mark Samwer have created its copy Pinspire. Such noted copiers as Ray Croc (McDonald’s), Playboy magazine and Pampers have made a bigger mark than the originals products/businesses.

“Some businesspeople are willing to talk about the limitations of innovation. Kevin Rollins, a former chief executive of Dell, a computer-maker, asked, ‘If innovation is such a competitive weapon, why doesn’t it translate into profitability?’” Good question!

It’s probably safe to say that both innovation and imitation, expecially fast or timely copying, are enablers for success.

In addition to your innovation efforts, how are you on the watch for ways to capitalize on new ideas that you can improve upon?

By Chuck Frey

About the author

Chuck Frey Senior Editor, founded and served as its publisher from its launch in 2002 until the partnership with Innovation Management in 2012. He is the publisher of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the definitive souce for news, trends, tips and best practices for visual mapping tools. A journalist by trade, Chuck has over 14 years of experience in online marketing, and over 10 years experience in business-to-business public relations. His interests include creative problem solving, visual thinking, photography, business strategy and technology. His unique combination of experience and influences enables him to envision new possibilities and opportunities.