Innovation Imitation

Oded Shenkar wrote a book called "Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge." In the book, he talks about how the companies that imitate innovations and technologies are usually the ones that are most successful and make the most impact on an economy.

Take China for example. The country is saturated with imitation gadgets and technologies. Yet they still happen to have a booming economy that runs properly and efficiently.

Shenkar uses the American example of Apple's iPod. You may not think that Apple is an imitator, but what they did was exactly that. They took a technology and products that already existed - the Mp3 player, enhanced the experience, and built an attractive brand and culture behind it.

Another great example of this model is grocery stores. Think about how much money stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and Publix make simply by replicating products, putting their brand image on it, and discounting it immensely from competitors. Not only do they sell a lot of these products, but they force the products they imitate to get better.

Of course, all of this talk should be first disclaimed by the obvious legal issues behind imitation. Shenkar only writes about "legal imitation" which is drastically different from "illegal imitation." Legal imitation takes a product or idea, puts a subtle twist or differentiation on it, and abides by all intellectual property laws. Illegal imitation doesn't, and can get businesses into a lot of legal trouble.