Why imitation beats innovation

Fascinating research from Oded Shenkar of Ohio State University, published in the HBR. This shows that it pays to be an imitator, not an innovator. According to this study, 98% of the value of a given innovation goes to the company who imitates it, not the one who launches it.

Here is some of Oded's key learning:

1. Don't wait, look for ideas: Oded says that imitators pro-actively search out ideas worth copying. As part of our branding projects we like to use a "treasure hunt" for
ideas in other parts of the world, that can be re-applied in the market
we're working in. After all, it worked for Magnum, who basically copied
Mars' Dove bar from the USA. And easyJet copied Southwest Airlines budget airline business model.

2. Don't copy, improve: its not enough just to copy the idea. That's a me-too. The trick is in improving on the idea, by either selling it at a better price and/or improving performance. This includes taking a small idea and making it much bigger, getting scale advantages. Examples quoted include:

Screen shot 2010-05-27 at 06.52.59
3. Lose the "not invented here" syndrome:
one of the barriers to more companies using imitation is that it is less sexy that being an innovator. It even has a stigma which is wired into our brains from an early age: "Don't copy, its bad!" In fact, Oded suggests that imitation and improvement is an essential way to survive and evolve, in business as it is in human and animal life.

In conclusion, don't rely on breakthrough and brand new innovation for growth. Have a pro-active "treasure hunt" programme to search out ideas, improve on them and bring them to market.