Better Than the real Thing?

One of my research partners invited me along to a show last night called Elvis Meets Buddy. It was a great evening, with a lot of interesting discussion of innovation, New Zealand wine and other interesting topics over dinner. Then we went to see the show, which was also pretty fun. It was a guy that looked like Buddy Holly playing Buddy Holly songs during the first half, then a guy that looked like Elvis doing Elvis songs during the second. All good fun.

One thing struck me though as it was going on. The guy doing Buddy Holly songs is from Brisbane, but he talked with an American accent all the way through – and to be honest, to me he sounded a lot more like Elvis than like Buddy Holly when he spoke. Which got me thinking – when you’re imitating something, you end up getting judged on the accuracy of the imitation more than you are on the actual quality of what you’re doing.

This is an important innovation issue. It shows why it is very difficult to succeed with me-too type strategies. You have to be substantially better than whatever you’re copying to break through.

Innovation is all about finding new combinations of ideas. If you do it well, it gets around this problem. When you are doing something novel, you’re more likely to be judged on the value of what you’re doing, rather than on the quality of your copying. This is a much better place to be.

All in all, I’m more interested in hearing original songs, or interesting interpretations of old songs than I am in hearing copies. It’s the same in business – I’m a lot more interested in new ideas than copies of old ones.

That’s the point of innovation – finding new connections between ideas. It’s harder than copying, but a lot more interesting. More profitable too.

(Here’s Seth Godin saying something similar today, but with fewer words)

This idea must be in the air today – I wrote that and then read the Seth Godin piece, and now there’s this from an excellent piece by Tom Peters on social media:

Beware of learning too much from others. Michael Schrage: innovation from “serious play.” Gotta try your own combinations, not copy others.

(photo from the collection of the awesome Archie McPhee store – flickr/Archie McPhee Seattle under a Creative Commons License)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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4 thoughts on “Better Than the real Thing?

  1. Good points. Did you see the TED talk on copyright and the fashion industry?
    http://www.learcenter.org/html/projects/?cm=ccc/fashion

    Well worth 15 mins of your time IMO. The interesting thing about fashion is that the people being copied seem to benefit as much as the copiers, if that makes sense.

    I pulled out a couple of the images from the slides here (in a, frankly, rushed summary):
    http://tl81.net/2010/05/copyright-music-fashion-comedy-and-magic/

  2. Thanks for that Simon – I haven’t had a chance to watch that one yet – it’s on my list to see. I’ll respond more fully once I have…

  3. That’s an excellent talk Simon. I think it supports my points pretty well though – she talks about people borrowing and recombining parts, which is exactly what I’m saying is good & innovative. And she also points out that the most direct knockoffs are still different, and addressing different markets.

    Fascinating talk – I’ll definitely write more about it in the near future!