Is Being a Copy Cat Innovative?

Interesting piece in a recent issue of The Economist on “Pretty profitable parrots” where columnist Schumpeter notes that “For businesses, being good at copying is at least as important as being innovative.” Is his heresy? Is being good at copying others’ ideas and doing a better job, a form of innovation in itself?

The author cites numerous examples, from the iPAD to McDonald’s, where early innovations were improved upon and dominated their markets. He references a book by Oded Shenkar, of Ohio State University, “Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge.”  According to “Copycats,” studies show that imitators do at least as well and often better from any new product than innovators do. A study by Peter Golder and Gerard Tellis, “Pioneer Advantage: Marketing Logic or Marketing Legend,” found that “innovators captured only 7% of the market for their product over time.

I was interested to note that Panasonic’s former parent Matsushita was nicknamed “maneshita denki” which translates to “electronics that have been copied.”