The Story of Copycat Innovation

Posted by Dr. YKK in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
  1. Introduction

I help companies and the public sector to develop a measurable results-driven fast-track innovation for their organisations so that they could optimise their success by minimising risks, time and resources.


Have you ever have this challenge of wanting to introduce innovation to develop competitive products and services  yet fearful of the risks and uncertainty  involved?

For more than 10 years I have been speaking and doing consulting work on creativity and innovation for both the private and public sector. My clients who took action achieved excellent results but they were in the minority. The majority , over 90% were satisfied in learning something new and perceived that they have become more creative as a result. They talked about creativity but did not really apply it in the context of their work, at least not in a significant way with measurable results. They were stopped in their tracks by one word, “FEAR”.

Though I still get paid for my work, I was unsatisfied with the results. I introduced more features in my training such as getting the participants more involved. Music , dancing, brainteasers, group exercises, etc  but the results remained unchanged.

This problem has been troubling me for years without finding a solution. I read books, subscribed to innovation blogs, magazines and constantly update myself on new developments. But still the solution eludes me.

My story of finding a solution

Peter Drucker, the enduring business guru is one of my favourite authors and I have read many of his books, some of them which I had read over 20 years ago. Somehow his concept of Creative Imitation stuck in my mind. I did a lot of internet research on this topic and read all that I could on what was available. I found that some of the results achieved using this technique were amazing. However, as  a trainer, speaker and consultant on innovation, the term Creative Imitation made me feel very uneasy and uncomfortable.  I thought to myself , “ Why must we harness our creativity to come out with an imitation only and not an innovation?”

I pondered over this issue for months , read even more books and articles on the subject . Then an idea struck me like a bolt of lightning. Why not reverse Peter Drucker’s technique of Creative Imitation to Imitative Innovation?  I felt elated by this breakthrough and strived to develop this concept further.

Though I love the concept, the term “Imitative Innovation” is quite a mouthful and doesn’t sound right. I explored other possibilities and finally settled on “Copycat Innovation”. I did a search on Google and found very few results and none of them was connected to any technique. Nevertheless, I knew I was on the right track when I came across a newly published book by  Prof Oded Shenkar: Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge . His work on the subject of copycatting validated my approach to innovation. Two interesting facts emerged from my reading of his book. He coined the term “Imovation (imitation+innovation)” which basically validates my concept of Copycat Innovation. Secondly, and this really astounds me – that 97.8% of innovation value goes to the imitators! Wow! What a revelation!

I went on to develop a 7-step methodology for Copycat Innovation – the first in the world to do so Looking back at my research, I realised this to be absolutely true. Apple, acknowledged as the most innovative company in the world used copycat as its corporate strategy. This was admitted by none other than Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs himself. He said during one of his public presentations that ,
Good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”  Another example is :

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, the largest corporation in the world, too famously said, “Everything I do, I copied from others”. Samsung founder Lee Kun-hee’s formula of being the first in the market with a copycat product when there’s a new opportunity has helped turn Samsung into a top global brand over the past decade or so, boasting a market value of $143 billion, bigger than Intel and Hewlett Packard and equal to the combined value of Sony Corp, Nokia, Toshiba and Panasonic Corp. This is because being an original innovator and creating a new market requires lots of risk and takes a long time to achieve profitable results.

I have fine-tuned  this methodology and made it my signature program.

Results Achieved

I had the opportunity to gauge the response to my signature program when I was invited to present a 90 minute talk at a national innovation conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A major corporation sent its team of 11 senior executives headed by its General Manger to attend this conference. After this conference, t he GM sent me an email to request my services to conduct the Copycat Innovation program for his company. I proposed a 2+3 program (2 days of understanding the methodology and 3 days to apply this methodology to their ongoing projects). The GM readily accepted.

The results were simply amazing, exceeding even my own expectations. Each of the three groups, based on their own calculations ( they roped in the finance people to get accurate figures) saved millions on each of the three projects that could be perpetuated annually. What’s more, each group produced an Action Plan ready for submission for approval and implementation.

The Myths of Innovation

Practically no Head of Government or CEO would expound the merits of imitation nor champion it. The magic word for economic growth, technology advancement and competiveness has always been and still is  “Innovation”.  According to Prof Shenkar, imitation became a taboo and received negative connotation during the industrial revolution. But the truth is, every organisation practises it in one way or the other, though few will admit to it. For example, the US , then Japan and now China practise it in their early days of development.  In fact, every innovation is preceded by imitation.

Prof Shenkar went as far as saying that the US is losing is competitive edge because it has lost its capacity to imitate. The power of copycat innovation far exceeds that of just innovation. He cited the sharp economic growth contrast between the US and China as proof of his assertion. Most companies and other organisations that practice imitation do so on an ad-hoc basis and as a reaction to the development in the marketplace; very few use it as a corporate strategy.

The 7-Step Process to Copycat Innovation

With my over 30 years of a very diversified working experience plus my voracious appetite for learning, particularly in the field of innovation ,I have developed a 7-Step Methodology for Copycat Innovation.

My investments of tens of thousands of dollars on  internet marketing and IT updates help tremendously as the internet is the anchor tool for Copycat Innovation.

My philosophy is that whatever problem you have, someone somewhere out there in the world has already found a solution. The global brain,  if you know how to search  it, will offer you a winning formula as your starting point to innovation. In essence, you do not start with the unknown and uncertainly that carries high risk but begin your journey of innovation on a success footing.

My  7-step process for Copycat Innovation that delivers a measurable results-driven (KPIs) fast-track innovation by tapping into the awesome power of the global brain is as below:

1. Identifying the Core issue;
2. Taking the Michelangelo approach;
3. Searching globally for successful solutions;
4. Innovating the wheel;
5. Selling the Copycat Innovation;
6. Implementing the Copycat Innovation;
7. Recognition and Celebration.

Most common mistakes

The most common mistake made is that people think copycatting is easy  to jump straight into it. Let me make it clear that copycat Innovation is not about privacy or counterfeiting. It is an ethical process that respects intellectual property rights. Copycat Innovation requires intelligence and creativity.

Secondly , you cannot successfully copy without understanding the right context. Thirdly, there is a  tendency to look for immediate solution in your industry group. However, frequently the best solutions are found in a different industry or a different 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 do apply innovation to their ultimate products.

What you need to do

The first thing to do is to request for a copy of my report on Copycat Innovation by sending me an email to

7 Responses to The Story of Copycat Innovation

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  5. Dr. YKK says:

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  6. David says:

    Surely everyone does that. It’s how trdnes get started and how we all get new ideas in the first place, right? I am always utterly flattered on the rare occasions someone copies me!

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