Innovate or Copy

HBR Blog on When you Can’t Innovate, Copy makes me question the Innovate Vs Copy debate. Innovate would mean innovating ab initio and copy can mean copy as such or adapt an innovation elsewhere to suit your needs. Now these two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In different situations you would need different approaches. So the question should be prased as when should you innovate and when should you look for success stories outside your eco-system and adapt them to your system.

More often than not, the so called game changing innovations should be done in house, from scratch and probably be used to change the paradigm in your favor. This kind of a project may even need confidentiality.

Copying or adapting outside innovations can have two drivers. First is environment driven, when you really do not have a choice. If the whole world is changing you have to change to remain competitive. For example a toll free number that works only with a national telecom operator will not work and must be changed to a mobile number given the relative tele-density of the two. This is not a change that you can ignore as the environment has changed, so you must adopt. Second is when you need to change and need ideas for that, or when you have a challenge that does not really seem unique and you want to see what others did to handle it or when you come face to face with an interesting idea and you think it can help you improve your system as well.

In the Ego system, yes, I mean Ego and not Eco, copying may seem down there and innovating the real thing that you can be proud of, but practically speaking, you need to be working on both and you may have more instances of copying than real innovations as there are so many innovations around that can simply be picked up for short to medium term business benefits. Copying or adapting is not always bad.  In fact the whole concept of intersectional innovation is based on picking up ideas from other eco-systems and adapting them to your systems.

Anuradha Goyal