Introduction

Innovation has been adopted a magic bullet, a cure-all panacea for the world’s problems. But does innovation offer the best path to personal development and business growth? The answer is “yes” and “no”. Yes, if you have the time, resources and the ability to absorb big risk. No if want to optimise your success by minimising risk, time and resources.

In our unyielding quest for innovation, we have ignored or neglected the power of imitation. This was well expressed in an article in the Boston Globe entitled, “The Imitation Economy” by Drake Bennett

“But invaluable though innovation may be our relentless focus on it may be obscuring the value of its much-maligned relative, imitation. Imitation has always had a faintly disreputable ring to it — presidents do not normally give speeches extolling the virtues of the copycat. But where innovation brings new things into the world, imitation spreads them; where innovators break the old mold, imitators perfect the new one; and while innovators can win big, imitators often win bigger. “

Prof Oded Shenkar in his much reviewed new book “Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge “published by the Harvard Business Publishing in June 2010, cited a study over a period from 1948 to 2001 which found that 97.8% of innovation value goes to the imitators!
It is not just imitation but a combination of imitation and innovation. That’s why Prof Shenkar coined the term “imovation (Imitation = Innovation)”

Copycat Innovation created by Dr.YKK , in essence is equivalent to Imovation. The difference is that Dr.YKK has developed a 7-Step process for it whereas Prof Shenkar nor any other writers on imitation or copycatting have come out with any system or process for its implementation.

What is Copycat Innovation?

Copycat Innovation is about adapting a proven solution to come out with an innovation, thereby minimizing risk and optimizing success. In short, it is about taking what works best and improving on it.

Copycat Innovation is not about a full-scale imitation of an existing product, service or process. Creativity and innovation are required. It has a structured methodology.
Copycat Innovation does not challenge copyright. Nor does it involve patent infringement. Copycat Innovation takes advantage of R&D carried out earlier and involves the borrowing and developing of existing products, services, marketing systems and technologies to carve a competitive niche in the marketplace.

Why Copycat Innovation?

Coming out with ‘breakthrough ideas’ and ‘completely new’ innovations is both tempting and glamorous. After all, success could mean market domination. However, such a strategy carries big risks. Moreover it usually demands massive efforts and resources. It is an activity that is complex, costly, and quite often shows very little promise of a return on investment. Work on the successor of the successful product has to start immediately. This means that the successive research budget must be increasingly higher than the original innovation. Examples of this approach are Intel, 3M and P&G.

With globalisation and the advent of the Internet, there is an easier, simpler and proven new path to minimising risk and optimising success. This path is termed “Copycat Innovation”. Examples of this approach are Apple in developing the iPod, iPhone and iPad series of products, the book series on Harry Potter, and the movie, Paranormal Activity.

The fact is this approach is not new. It has been carried out by countless successful companies and organisations. But no one had given it a generic name until now. Dr.YKK, ‘The Chief Mind Unzipper,’ has named this approach Copycat Innovation. He has developed a 7-step methodology for Copycat Innovation, a methodology that taps into the awesome power of the Global Brain via the Internet.
In short, Copycat Innovation offers probably the best approach for your organisation in sustaining and growing your competitiveness and strategic positioning in the market-place because:

• The results are measurable
• It is an ethical process that respects intellectual property rights
• It has a low risk, as you are adapting or refining a proven solution;
• It is low-cost, as the research and development work has already been done for you;
• It requires minimal efforts, as you generally don’t need massive efforts and resources;
• It provides a shorter route to commercialisation.
Examples of Copycat Innovation
• Apple iPad : Apple launched the iPad in 2010 by refining and adapting technologies from many sources . For example, the first Tablet computer was built by Microsoft in 2001. MIT created the Touch Screen technologies and the hand motion systems for flipping pages or moving screens. Of course, Apple introduces many innovations to the iPad too.

• Harry Potter : Are the stories of Harry Potter by J.K.Rowlings, a Copycat Innovation of Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien? It looks like Rowlings did, as there are so many similarities to the plot. Go to: http://baheyeldin.com/literature/jk-rowling-borrowing-from-jrr-tolkien.html to see the comparison for yourself. J.K. Rowling has a lot of original ideas of her own, such as the concept of Muggles, and the game of Quiddich. But by and large, there’s a lot of Tolkien in the main plot too.
• Conveyor Belts : First popularised by Henry Ford car production, now used as travelators and luggage conveyors in airports, escalators and food-conveyors in restaurants. Notice that it is not just about copying as each usage requires its own innovation.

• Facebook : Facebook did not invent social networking. Social networking took off in a big way with Friendster in 2001.This was followed by LinkedIn and MySpace in 2003. Facebook’s success lies in its memorable, descriptive and a multitude of easily-accessed features – all of which are innovations in their own right.

• Banking: Commerce Bank is one of America's best-performing financial institutions, with a stock that grew more than two thousand percent in 10 years. Yes, 2,000 %! Commerce Bank’s strategy is to employ Copycat Innovation from the retail business. It is the most convenient bank, with a fanatical commitment to "wowing" its customers. Commerce Bank is famous for its “Penny Arcade” where kids have a lot of fun on an interactive screen while depositing their savings in coins.

• Groupon: Launched in 2008, Groupon (Group+coupon)is the fastest-growing company in business history. It is also the most copied model in the world, with over a 1000 clones. Groupon’s founder and CEO Andrew Mason got his inspiration from The Point, a social activist website. The idea behind The Point is that all campaigns have a “tipping point” — people pledge to give money or do something, but no one does a thing until the conditions are met to make contributions worthwhile. In June , Groupon announced an IPO (Initial Public Offer) value of $30 billion!

The 7-Step Methodology to Copycat Innovation

The 7-step Copycat Innovation process was first created by Dr.Yew Kam Keong (Dr.YKK) of Mindbloom Consulting in 2010 . It has been filed for trademark protection in Australia and Malaysia.

1. Identifying the Core issue
Copycat Innovation begins by asking questions to identify the core issue – identifying the causes and not just the symptoms. For example , if there is a drop in enrolment in science education , what is the underlying cause? Is it employability, teaching, facilities, perception, etc. We can do research on research that have been undertaken in this field as practically almost every issue has been researched before. Talk to the people on the ground who are the most affected. If necessary, do a confirmation research. The important thing to avoid is paralysis through analysis.

2. Taking the Michelangelo approach
The common approach is to start from where we are to where we want to go. A better way is that of Michelangelo approach where he visualized the image of David before he freed the figure by chipping away the unwanted pieces to create a master-piece marble sculpture. Thus this approach involves starting from the destination and removing current obstacles that could obstruct its path. It is about a vision that begins with the end in mind.

3. Searching globally for successful solutions
Before trying new ideas, first do a search on whether a similar problem has been solved before. Sometimes the same or similar problem had already been solved by individuals, companies, government or private organisations or a community . Many innovations have been featured in magazines, papers and e-publications. Even unrelated creative solutions could trigger new ideas for a viable and practical innovation. The key to this is the ability to use the right search terms and the appropriate search engines. This will save a lot of time and reduces risk.

4. Innovating the wheel
Once successful solutions have been found, the next step is to adapt the solution to the issue at hand. This progression is termed “ Innovating the wheel” as there’s no need to re-invent a new solution when you can creatively imitate a proven workable successful solution. The creativity lies with the refinement and the adaptation process.

5. Selling the Copycat Innovation
This is an important step to get involvement of all stakeholders in formulating a solution. Their involvement will ensure their support for implementation and to mitigate objections and protests. Moreover, it will cultivate a sense of ownership and the commitment of the stakeholders to the Copycat Innovation. Of course, it also requires the relevant approvals, budget and resource allocations.

6. Implementing the Copycat Innovation
The success of a project depends on its implementation details. It involves human resources, budget allocation, logistics, sales and marketing and compliance with regulations where relevant.

7. Recognizing & celebrating
There’s nothing like recognition and celebration at both the launching and celebration of the project to motivate your staff and stakeholders to support future projects. It will instil a sense of pride and ownership among your staff members.

Most common mistakes

The most common mistake made is in thinking that copycatting is easy to do. Copycat Innovation requires intelligence and creativity. It’s not about privacy or counterfeiting, but remains an ethical process which respects intellectual property rights.

Secondly, you cannot successfully copy without understanding the right context.

Thirdly, there is a tendency to look for immediate solutions in your industry group. However, frequently the best solutions are found in a different industry or application so knowing how to look is a crucial part of the process.

Finally, you cannot discard or ignore the principles of innovation. Apple, Samsung and other successful imitators successfully apply the practical innovation to their ultimate products. Apple for example applies simplicity, elegance and functionality to their designs.

What you need to do
The first thing to do is to request a copy of my Report on Copycat Innovation. Send an email to me at DrYKK@mindbloom.net .

Author's Bio: 

With a post-graduate education at the Imperial College( London), Dr YKK is an international speaker, trainer, and innovation consultant to governments, multinational corporations and SMEs. A member of the Creative Skills Training Council (CSTC), he is also best-selling author, masterful storyteller and a certified laughter guru. He has 12 books published and his best-selling book “You Are Creative” has been reprinted 15 times and published in 5 languages.

Originally from Malaysia, Dr. YKK moved to Australia in 2007 under the category of Distinguished Talent on Creativity & Innovation.

Dr.YKK was the only person from among the British Commonwealth countries to be selected to serve on the pioneer panel of 8 international creativity expert advisers to Lego on its global project “The Next Generation Forum”.
With wide international exposure, rich and diverse work experience and up-to-date general knowledge, Dr.YKK connects well with his audience.