Copycat Innovation and the Ethical Innovator S14 Ep12

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This year at South by Southwest (SXSW), I facilitated a discussion on neurodiversity hiring.  This is part of my work with Hacking Autism.  SXSW is a multi-week event, part music festival, part innovation reveal.  It’s where big names like Twitter first launched. However, I noticed at this year’s SXSW, as with CES, a shocking lack of originality.  The trend towards identical look, feel, and function is unsettling. This prompted me to ponder the copycat innovation and the ethical innovator.

Copycat Innovation

First or So They Claim…

As I observed hundreds of nearly identical products, the degree of copycat innovation was mind-boggling.  Everyone is copying everyone else. I am bothered by the claims made on copycat innovation. Companies claim to be the originator or the first in their category even when they clearly are not.  There is a dearth of acknowledgment for those that came before.

Is all copycat innovation bad?  No. There’s nothing wrong with taking a product or service and improving on it. There are many cases of borrowing an idea from another source to create an innovation.  Biomimicry is a good example of copycat innovation.  Innovators look to nature and replicate its creative solutions.  The very name biomimicry indicates the source of inspiration.

The problem comes when the innovator lays claims to being the first to create or innovate when that is not the case.  Being first doesn’t always mean being the best. The ethical innovator would steer clear of making such claims. Innovations and innovative ideas are process of building on what you observe and know.  Innovation is not creating in isolation. Great innovators make unique connections from inspirations.  They may look to others and improve on existing products or services.  Be an ethical innovator. Don’t get caught up on staking a claim as the “first.”

Credit: Is it Better to Give or Take?

Another issue is the failure to acknowledge or give credit to the true originator of an idea.  Rather than making shaky claims, the innovator who improves on someone else’s idea should give credit where it’s due.  Giving credit to others will not discredit your product or service if it’s a worthwhile innovation. Strive to be an ethical innovator, giving credit for the source of your inspiration.

Innovators should consider a way to acknowledge their inspiration.  Just as academics provide detailed footnotes in their papers, innovators could create a means to credit those who’ve come before.  On that note, I’d like to credit Earl Nightingale with being the inspiration for this podcast.  I’ve been on air now for fourteen years. My inspiration for the Killer Innovations show was the Nightingale-Conant audio series Insight, which I subscribed to in the 80s.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic of copycat innovation and the ethical innovator.  Drop me a note. Share your thoughts, contributions, and experiences in acknowledging others or being acknowledged.

Continue this and other conversations around innovation.  Join The Innovators Community on Slack. This is a private community of vetted innovators helping each other succeed.

Five Minutes to New Ideas

Understanding the life cycle of your industry is essential to continued success. A big part of business is responding to life cycles of industry and its customers. By challenging yourself and your team to think about your customer’s future, you stand a great chance of staying ahead of those inevitable changes.

Listen to this week’s Five Minutes to New Ideas to learn more about staying connected to your customer through the life cycle.

The Killer Innovations podcast is produced by The Innovators Network.


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