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3 (Doh!) Ways Imitation Is Killing Your Innovation

  • Name
    Carey Nieuwhof
If you’re like me, you like to track with people who are ahead of you in age and stage, and probably ahead of you in their level of "success." It’s a great way of learning and growing. I’ve definitely got a group of people I’m tracking with personally, and I’m so grateful for that. Our capacity to learn from others has expanded exponentially over the last 15 years with the explosion of the internet. In particular, the last five years have seen an even bigger spike as broadband has gone mobile. We are saturated with learning opportunities everywhere everyday. I love that. But one of the shadow sides of having more information is that it can lead to more imitation. Because you have constant access to people and organizations you admire, it’s easier than ever to imitate. Imitation isn’t all bad. There are instances when imitation is just wise and expedient. Here are a few: a. When someone else has done something better than you could and you are free to use their material or there is no compelling reason to create local variations. b. When someone has figured out a smarter, faster way to get things done. c. No one on your team has the creativity to create a better mouse trap. But imitation as a habit can be a big mistake, not to mention soul-killing. In fact, over a sustained period of time, imitation kills innovation. Imitate long enough, and imitate hard enough, and there won’t be much innovation left in you or your organization. And for those of us who are Christians, there may not be much of God’s voice left in you either. If you only listen to others, you can easily stop listening to God. So what does constant imitation kill? Plenty. But let’s look specifically at three ways innovation suffers at the hands of imitation. Constant imitation kills: 1. Your unique voice. If you are always trying to be someone else, you will never be yourself. And that’s a shame, because God actually created you. It’s not that you shouldn’t learn from others (you really can’t learn all by yourself anyway), it’s just that you should stop trying to be someone else. So just stop that. Develop your own voice. Learn from others, but be yourself. 2. Your creativity. Some of the best ideas you’ll ever have seem dumb when you first have them. And sometimes they stay dumb. But often they don’t ... what’s crazy to begin with can become powerfully effective. Five years ago, a group of us left an almost paid-for building to start a new non-denominational church that was 100% portable. A year after I sat down with a colleague I really respected and he told me he thought we were crazy when he first heard of the idea. Why leave what’s safe to move into the unknown? Truthfully, I hadn’t thought about it that way until he mentioned it. Glad I didn’t. We weren’t imitating anyone at the time ... we were just doing what we believed we were called to do. And five years later, I’m so glad we did it. 3. Your true potential. Imitators are always one or two steps behind. They have to wait for the next product, approach or strategy to be revealed. Then they madly copy. Your trajectory will never be greater than theirs. Ever. It will always be a shadow of theirs. Remember too, that the last thing the innovator you’re copying thought about when creating what you’re looking at was “Now what should I imitate next?” Innovation is messy, uncertain, scary and frought with failure. Which is why it’s so much easier to imitate. And so less rewarding. What are you imitating? How much time do you spend working on something brand new and untried?