All businesses are threatened by innovation. How do we respond to it? By seeing innovation as unfair competition and wasting resources in legal battles that inevitably fail? Or by accepting that the world changes and then deciding we are best served by finding our own innovations?

If someone creates a faster, cheaper, better or generally more efficient way to produce the same product as you, allowing them to sell their product at a price significantly less than yours, or securing a great market segment … are they cheating?

Before you answer the question, consider its flip side. If your company found a faster, cheaper … you get the general idea … are you guilty of cheating?

Source: GlobeTechnology.com, here.

4 comments

  1. I agree. Cheating – copying a successful idea – is easy, cheaper, less risk and more often than not, a cheater has a keen eye for the problem (= the application or the bottle neck of its application) an innovation solves. What is more, by copying you are bound to make mistakes, errors, flaws that – in the long run – improve the innovation.

    Here in The Netherlands there are some nice examples of successful “cheating innovators”: Philips didn’t invent the light bulb (they did invent the VCR, but the competition successfully copied that). Unilever didn’t invent margarine or washing powder and Shell didn’t standardise oil. Well, the Dutch even didn’t invent the windmill. The most innovative period in The Netherlands was when the copyright law ineffective – at the end of the nineteenth century.

    Also, there is a list of inventions that weren’t made in the U.S.: the car (but by copying the did invent the automobile industry. Years later the US had to steal their own ideas of continuous improvement (invented by Bell) that had been stolen – and improved – by the Japanese. So there is even justice in cheating ;-)), the jet engine (and even the first commercial airline was the Dutch KLM, but … the aviation industry), the television, the CD etc.

    Competition (just another manifestation of Schopenhauers blind “Will”, copied by Nietsche as “die Wille zum Macht”, copied by Freud as sexual drive, translated by Jung into the unconscious – see how copying improves even ideas) may be the driving force behind our behaviour and evolution will be the result. Or vice versa.

  2. Yes Jan, what usually happens is that since the “lead” developer of the idea has already tested the waters and the problemshave been identified, the “cheater” or copier is better equipped with information to make the copied idea a success.

    The example that you give of the car not being made in the US – it is so true for a lot of other stuff – ideas, management approaches, services, products – all of these evolve over a period of time and then spread to various parts of the world.

    Apart from blatant cheating/copying – one can never really say whether an idea is the “sole” property or produce of one person. There is always some “borrowing” – it could be in the form of a lightbulb moment during a discussion with friends, an inspiration from a movie (I have heard and read from quite a few places that lots of ideas have been taken from the Indian film industry or “Bollywood” – where absurd ideas have actually been translated into tangible outcomes because of the availability of technology elsewhere) – it could be anything – and it is tough to classify it as “cheating”.

    I believe our goal should be to make the life of the customer simpler and easier – developing better and more convenient products/services. Apart from labelling it as “cheating” – we could also call it “sharing”.

    Thank you so much for sharing your point of view on this – it is always great to have a disucssion!

  3. Reading your kind reply it dawned on me that the framing of the process is actually the subject. When you think of innovating / copying as unfair, as being guilty of cheating, your frame of reference suggest that you or your corporation own and / or control the idea. When you talk of sharing, you might imply that ideas are free, are shareware. The paradox is that in order to survive, you must be able to own, to control the idea (for how can you make money if others exploit “your” ideas) while in order to grow and develop you must set your ideas free. Paradox of innovation: innovating in order to control ideas inhibits innovating.

  4. Yes Jan – it’s all about making money in the end! Innovation is about value-creation. Usually first-movers are unable to create value either for themselves or for the customer – either the innovative products/service it ahead of its time or the first-mover misinterprets market-demand(for examle). Whereas the copier/cheater get to read the market carefully while the first-mover struggles – invariably the first-mover clears the path for the copier. In the end value is created – but it may not be for the first-mover but for the person/corporation that copied it. Most customers would say “The first-mover would have anyway charged more from the customer – atleast the copier charges less for the same products/service!”

    But I guess the copier would also not be able to replicate the product as-is from the firt-mover – the copy itself is never a carbon-copy – it includes small improvements that allow the copier to manufacture/produce the same prouct/service at a lower price and thus the cutomers get it cheaper! So that itself is an innovation – incremental – but innovation nonetheless!

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