Don’t Imitate, Innovate

These days, it’s tempting to think that everything new has been done before. In fact, re-purposing old habits or practices or even picking up new ones at trade conferences is acceptable and encouraged. But (or so) when you’ve got a great original idea, how infuriating is it to see it ripped off?

"Made in China," Courtesy  Michael Mandiberg , CC
“Made in China,” Courtesy Michael Mandiberg , CC

Not long ago I was driving down a road near the funeral home where I work. That’s odd, I thought, I didn’t think we took out a billboard ad. But plastered up on a billboard was an ad we post each year in local publication: a lighthouse, a message about trusting professionals, and a funeral home log…

Wait a minute! “Second-Rate Funeral Home”?! (Of course, I changed the name of our competitor…to be fair.) Rather than our logo, there was a competitor’s name on our ad next to our funeral home.

Imitation and competitor rip-offs are nothing new. While it’s infuriating that our competitor is trying to tap into our brand, the ad company that created the campaign for us could really care less who buys the ads. Even in my volunteer work and writing, I sometimes see my own ideas being put to use. When these ideas are used to make progress or by a team member of mine, it’s no big deal. But when the competition starts benefiting from it…

I’ve learned to stop worrying. Not because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (which is sometimes true) or some flowery nicety like that. Rather, because it means:

  • We’re Doing Something Right: Not only is our own strategy working, it threatens our largest competitor. While we spend virtually nothing on local advertising, our competitor has rented multiple billboards and run several ineffective mailing campaigns just to keep a marginal share of the market. The continued dominance of our business despite this gauntlet-throwing almost literally in our back yard is encouraging and affirming.
  • We Lead the Pack: Our ideas are imitated constantly. Really, it isn’t hard. Funeral Directors who did not last at our establishment attempt to replicate our practices wherever they go! The challenge comes in that unique advantage that no one can teach: each member of our team puts his or her heart into the work we are doing. When families end up at other funeral homes, they are unimpressed, going through the motions of an acceptable service experience. But just attending a service in our funeral home shows them that services– that the people here are extraordinary.
  • Our Competition is Failing to Innovate: Innovators don’t imitate. They might improve on existing practices or mold an idea to their needs, but they don’t blindly copy the industry norm– or their competitors. Businesses who fail to innovate stagnate. The most popular lie/misconception about our industry is that it’s recession-proof. The fact is that these businesses might continue to scrape out operating expenses, but their costs will rise and their prices will shrink as they grow increasingly desperate to compete.

There are some great ideas out there on leadership, service, and building value. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t incorporate those into your business, organization, or personal life. But fit those innovations or trends to the needs of your business and allow them to fuel authentic, home-grown innovation.

If you’re riding someone else’s coat-tails, you only pick up what he drops. And if she’s a work-horse like most innovators, the droppings are pretty…well, you get the picture.

 

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

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One thought on “Don’t Imitate, Innovate

  1. Innovators are always moving outside of their comfort zone and moving toward the future. Great thoughts!

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