Copycat Innovation – A 7-Step Process That Minimises Risk and Optimises Success

Business surveys by reputable organisations such as IBM, Boston Consulting Group, PwC and others inevitably come to the same conclusion that innovation is critical for business growth and profits. Yet, only 4% of CEOs have actually put in place a system of innovation for their organisation. They are hesitant to embrace innovation out of failure and uncertainty.

In IBM’s last three global CEOs studies, CEOs consistently said that coping with change was their most pressing challenge. In the IBM CEO Study 2010, CEOs pronounced Creativity as the most important leadership attribute. The most creative business leaders have a system of innovation. However, innovation carries high risk and ties up the company’s resources like money, time, logistics and possibly expensive equipments.

These CEOs are constantly looking for a less risky way. Now, the look is over. The solution is Copycat Innovation.

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.

By applying a 7-step Copycat Innovation process, you could eliminate the fears and frustrations of that minimises risk and optimises success by making what works well even better.

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, Samsung’s business strategy and banking.

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. After doing extensive research, I named this approach Copycat Innovation and have 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 it is:

* Simple to implement
* Low risk, as you are adapting or refining a proven solution
* Low-cost, as the research and development work has already been done for you
* Requires much less resources including people, time,money and efforts
* A fast-track route to commercialisation
* It is legal and ethical

Examples of Copycat Innovation

* Apple: 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.

* Samsung: 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.

* Franchising: Franchising is a systematic form of Copycat Innovation. According to the United States Chamber of Commerce statistics, franchised businesses have a 97% success rate within 5 years of opening, whereas non-franchised businesses have a, comparatively low, success rate of 48% in their first 6 years.

* McDonalds: White Castle’s founders, Walt Anderson and Billy Ingram, are widely credited with inventing both the hamburger and the fast-food business. However, its copycat follower McDonalds, the world’s largest fast-food chain, through its marketing innovation makes a much greater success of its hamburger fast-food business.

The 7-Step Methodology to Copycat Innovation

The 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. Making the best better;
4. Innovating the wheel;
5. Selling the Copycat Innovation;
6. Implementing the Copycat Innovation;
7. Recognition and Celebration.


Fastcompany and Businessweek magazine have acknowledged Apple as the most innovative company in the world. It is also probably the world’s most proficient copycatter. Steve Jobs, Apple founder and CEO openly admitted as such during one of his presentations. He said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

In his much reviewed new book, “Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge “published by the Harvard Business Publishing, Prof Oded Shenkar cited a study over a period from 1948 to 2001 which found that 97.8% of innovation value goes to the imitators! He calls it imovation (Imitation+innovation) which is exactly what Copycat Innovation is all about.

You can get a headstart on this by requesting for a free copy of the report “Copycat Innovation- the unbeatable ethical route to profitable Innovation” by sending a request email to:

Top 50 Reasons Innovation Will Fail

I was eavesdropping on a conversation on one of my LinkedIn groups on the subject. All too often companies invest considerable time, cost and effort in ‘innovation’ without return. The CEO gets inspired by the idea of innovation, persuaded by an article, book, speaker, etc and suddenly there is budget to ‘do innovation’. All stops are pulled and things are go go. Only it doesn’t stick…

Here are Top 50 Barriers to Innovation identified for your peers who frequently found themselves trampled in the stampede.

Confusing Invention: turning cash into ideas, with Innovation, turning ideas into cash, thereby not treating each accordingly.
Cost of Innovation. Knowing that on average over 90% of innovative projects fail and never rich ROI, it’s obvious that top management will try to avoid “too much innovation”. This leads to playing safe and focusing on external acquisitions rather than pursuing innovation internally.
Culture. “Man” is a creature of habit -to innovate one has to break old habits – and that’s not easy.
Culture. Innovation is a mystery, not a way of life to the majority of organizations
Fear of change. Humans in their core don’t like change.
Fear of failure (9 out of 10 new ventures fail making leaders averse to betting on risky ventures… there is an Italian proverb, the dog who is burned in the bath first fears hot water; then cold. Everyone wants to emulate like the Japanese and let others do the R&D)
Fear of the new.
Focus on ideas not needs: Inventors/innovators get distracted by the cleverness of their idea(s), without caring enough about marketing realities and the value (of the innovation) to customers/clients.
Focus on output. Organizations are created to repeatedly produce outputs.
Focus on the beauty of the idea, product or service without thinking of how to monetize it
Intellectual laziness: Not everyone relishes all forms of ‘thinking’. Also, some ideas require technical competence.
Internal political agreements between corporate power brokers. Innovation once identified, must run through an internal vetting process, one that will either obtain a sponsor or not, funding or not, etc… Once through this vetting process, the established process-engines will work to minimize risk. Too much process can create a pathological state, where the innovation can become so laboured it is no longer sustainable/desirable. M&A allows circumvention of the status quo, but does it last?
Junior Management being too focused on the “rightness of their idea” instead of thinking how to build support with top management based on their needs
Lack of a balanced vision and systemic approach. (Will do it on the way there… )
Lack of activists to lead the innovation process: As someone noted innovation goes through an odyssey from ideation through diffusion. In many larger organizations it would seem that someone with the energy, insight, foresight, intelligence, persuasiveness to lead innovation projects is “promoted” to business management.
Lack of clear corporate vision
Lack of collaborative environment
Lack of commitment from all parties involved.
Lack of communication
Lack of criteria for selection, implementing and defining what the enterprise wants from outside world. What do we want to harvest? Which kind of ideas or projects? In which stage of development? We want ideas? Projects? Patents? Small Businesses?
Lack of diversity.
Lack of financial support for greater ideas from employees
Lack of focus for continuous innovation
Lack of funding: Always promised, never materialises, almost always gets re-allocated!
Lack of leadership of people: forming the right team, size and talent
Lack of leadership: Waiting for someone else to lead. So many “leaders” are really just “managers.” Leaders inspire, challenge, cast vision, empower, encourage and… lead. Managers manage resources and get things done. Both are needed, but there are not that many true leaders who see the future and then plant their dream in the hearts of others to grow into reality.
Lack of organisation culture to foster innovation to employees
Lack of passion, without passion you never give 99% of perspiration needed for the innovation, the other 1% come from inside you
Lack of priorities: Fast, Cheap and Quality. What defines acceptable timing, price points and quality expectations? The question is what are you chasing, market share or customer loyalty.
Lack of Process (lack method for innovating, refining and implementing)
Lack of reason (imperative, vision, mission, etc.) to innovate: Many organizations are quite successful as close-followers, me-too producers, or operating with market dominance. An innovation strategy is risky.
Lack of reward of innovation: Businesses may gain a reward for successful innovation, but it seems that individuals may not be rewarded either monetarily or non-monetarily in effective ways.
Lack of understanding of what innovation really is
Lack of understanding that innovation requires different set of skills than engineering or business skills. Thus many organizations believe that they already invest to top professionals, so why no innovation? Let’s paint walls all colors of rainbow and wait until our engineers will invent the next iPhone… Alas, it does not work.
Lip service: people talk about importance of innovation but their behaviours say the opposite.
Managers (and many executives) in large corporations are excessively focused on resource allocation, without also focusing on strategic planning – which requires innovative thinking for best results.
Missing Process for Innovation: Projects to be built in with priorities to be in place for developments and opportunities that can be leveraged towards excellence, which anyways missing in bright minds amidst bright pre existing thought process and achievements with limited corners defined relatively with a lot of fear factor mechanism and less space of motivation.
No portfolio balance vision. Enterprises practicing open innovation must see their portfolio of projects in different perspectives. Ideas, short- or long-term projects, M&A, and many other kinds of initiatives need to be seen and evaluated by different perspectives. Do we have different ways of evaluating such different things?
No RISK itself is a Big RISK Game: Taking no risk with Innovations itself is a BIG RISK for any entrepreneur or business house or let it be the individual itself.
Not knowing what you don’t know.
Number focus; Allocation of Cost/Resources for Innovation: Cost allocation fear which is negligible if success really turn out with innovation but creep in minds of the financial stake holders analyzing & predict with current financial trends transforming towards the unforeseen results and apply breaks at some times before start of a good innovative task.
Number focus; Strategic ambitions tempered by a quarterly number focus. The street will reward and punish, based on what they can de-risk and turn a profit, which at times will not be aligned to risk needed in pursuing innovation. This drives the internal measurement of value. How innovative can you be in a quarter or two?
Numbers focus: No one knows for sure how to calculate accurately how much time and money it will take to convert a good idea to a commercial success. Result: avoiding responsibility. It is safer to play with known and predictable things.
Organizational antibodies!
People (not understanding the key types: Innovators, Refiners, Implementers and Facilitators and their respective roles in the process)
Senior Management (or the relevant Manager) has invested serious moneys, time, emotions (even ego) in existing equipment, systems, processes and probably many were promoted on the strength of some of those initiatives.
Senior Management getting in the way: their role particularly in large organizations is usually on efficient resource allocation not deep understanding of unmet customer needs, the key driver of effective innovation.
Senior Management: Always under the impression that there is enough innovation in their company. Also suffer the dreaded disease of numbers myopia.
Short-term thinking – the way we do business today: To be innovative, you have to look to the future and consider possibilities. This implies you plan to be around for awhile. So many companies these days are purchased by investors with the intention of gutting and turning them in 3 to 5 years. Innovation isn’t even part of the plan. Because people want immediate results and aren’t thinking or planning for a long term future, being innovative isn’t even considered as a desired outcome. Rewards have to be fairly immediate for an option to be considered.
Silos and Cliques defending the Status Quo.

And, here are a couple of CEO Innovation bloopers:

“We haven’t enough time to think at the innovations! We have a lot of ideas but we cannot pass to the project and finalize it”.

“We usually don’t allow engineers to try new stuff, because then they feel confident, start trying more of new stuff for which regular work suffers, skills improve unnecessarily and chances of them leaving the job increase. ”

I’d like to know what you think and what experience you had with innovation. What made your efforts succeed? What made it fail?

Margaret Manson is a Knowledge broker – with a Mission to inspire, inform and connect businesses with focus on two things: marketing and innovation.