There’s something good to be said about mimicry. When artists learned their trade in the way old days (and often today), they were pushed by their teachers to emulate the great masters, to understand their choices, to learn their brush strokes. Sometimes, it would be years of emulation and copying before a student was set free to try her own hand at a creative work. In marketing (and in business innovation overall), I’ve made quite a habit of absorbing other ideas that make sense from other industries or verticals, emulating key elements of their methodology, and then innovating to make them make sense for me.
Make Curiosity a Habit
People who observe me doing this often laugh. Ask Justin Levy. I quite often see something (a visual detail) and snap a photo, and turn it into a blog post later. I have several other photos on my phone that aren’t for blog posts but for business ideas. They’re reminders to me to dig deeper on something, to understand why someone did something a certain way, to see what makes it work.
I was at a club in Las Vegas last night, and I noticed those “table service” women, the kind who dress provocatively and attempt to convince you why spending $450 on a bottle of vodka for you and your friends is a good idea. I realized that they had zero buyers (it was a bit early in the night), but instead of mingling with the crowd and finding prospective buyers, they were all clumped up and talking to each other. My retail mind went off and I realized that it was a management problem, and an opportunity to improve their odds for the night, if only someone would guide them to mingle and mix it up. (I didn’t suggest it, because I sure didn’t want a $450 bottle of vodka.)
Curiosity, however, kept that scene in my head long enough to write it down and to make sure my own business ideas aren’t hanging out instead of “mingling.”
See the Structure of Things
Someone recently came up to me and said, “I know exactly how you blog!” He then laid out exactly how I blog. I smiled, because it’s not exactly rocket science, but no one’s ever given me a point-by-point (including the nuances) explanation of it back to me. He saw the structure under what I do, and he realized he knew how to emulate it. A few days later I went by his blog, and he’s taking what I know how to do to new levels. Good on ya, person-I-won’t-name. You have learned how to absorb, emulate, and innovate.
Seeing the model we created for Third Tribe Marketing gave me the structure I needed to build Human Business Works, only with some new innovations in place. I love what we do on Third Tribe. I also wanted to make a different kind of membership community experience for some other verticals, so I learned by understanding the structure, and then adapted.
Understand Which Part to Emulate
Sometimes people think they have the kernel of an idea figured out, but they latch onto the wrong part. Often, the “wrong part” is whatever is flashy or obvious or directly observable. Most times, the part of the idea that you can’t immediately see is the golden part.
For example, let’s look at iPhone and iPod. The gold is in the distribution model of the app store. The simplicity of buying is one thing to emulate. The system of having buyers willingly install a “storefront” on their devices so that they can impulse buy is another. (B2B people have learned this with Salesforce and the Appforce project, for instance). How could you emulate that mindset and methodology?
Knowing which part is the gold.
Emulate, Not Copy Outright
Just to be clear, I don’t mean “steal and copy.” I think that there are plenty of people who rip people off outright. Sometimes, it’s that whole “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” line, and other times, it’s just plain jerky. Emulation is the art of extrapolating the parts of someone’s idea that make sense to adapt and adopt, but not copying it outright. Make sense?
Quite simply, if you don’t add anything new, then you’re an “also-ran” and you’re not really adding to the potential excellence your product or service or idea can have. Don’t make another app store. Make an app store that knows what people just like Dave bought, so that you can send Dave the best possible results. Don’t write a blog with five tidbits and a question at the close. Write a blog with five tidbits, a question at the close, and a powerful lead generation system built into it.
Growth and innovation is the name of the game.
Beware Feature Barnacles
In software or writing or many things, it’s amazing how many “feature barnacles” come along and muck up an otherwise good offering. How do they get there? Well, accidentally, they come from the exact process above that I’ve mentioned. You see something cool on one blog so you add it to yours. You see something cool on another blog, so you add it. You do this eleven times. Suddenly, your blog’s load time is up to 3 minutes before anyone sees any text. Is that helping anyone?
I was talking with the president of a pretty large software company (super large, let’s say). He said to me that one thing he really liked about the iPad was that it reminded him to go back and look at his own products with an eye for simplicity, that iPad apps require you to boil things down to the simple necessities. (Sounds like Rework talk, to me.) I loved this talk.
Look at your newfound ideas and see how they integrate. And then trim where appropriate. That’s another whole art altogether.
So, who do you want to emulate? Where are you finding your new ideas to absorb? And how have you innovated on them?