I often use the quote “Never innovate to compete, innovate to change the rules of the game” to express the mindset of a true innovator. You see, I detest copycats. I pay attention to maverick companies, not the ones that merely implement some framework to put themselves in a position to innovate.
Then, our culture likes to pit companies against each other because it’s the type of stuff that grabs headlines; unfortunately most can’t see beyond the bias.
And though competition breeds innovation, sometimes it does bring out the best in everyone, most of the supposed “innovation” that copycats bring to the table is nothing more than mere superficial increments. Or in the case of Mexico; a tropicalized version of the original product or service.
For me, innovation makes competition irrelevant. Anywhere. Period.
To understand why being a true innovator is so hard, it is wise to understand what true innovators do and what non-innovators do. There are is an endless list of books, blog posts, articles, whitepapers and talks about the distinction between innovation and competition. Futurist Daniel Burrus has thought long and hard about the difference between competers and innovators, here’s a comparison:
|Copy what others are doing||Look for better ways of thinking and acting|
|Get locked into set patterns||Cultivate a creative mindset, create new patterns|
|Believe the future will take care of itself if they take care of the present||Focus on their future goals and building a path to get there|
|See scientific and technological developments as threats to their status quo||Focus on how they can apply new technologies to open up new opportunities|
|Collect and swim around massive amounts of raw data||Look for ways to translate raw data into actionable knowledge and insights|
|React to trends||Use Hard Trends (trends that will happen) to predict and even create new trends and profit from them|
|Have a short-range view of planning and consider it a necessary evil||Take a strategic view of planning and know the value of building change into the plan|
|Dread change and resist it as long as they can||Seek to remain adaptive and to use change to their advantage|
|Avoid anything that would cast them as being significantly different from their competitors||Maximize their differential advantage|
|Try to control and direct their people||Empower their people for positive action|
|Complain about how unproductive their people are||Realize that people are their most upgradable resource and look for ways to help them be more productive and innovative|
|Think about how they can use high-technology to cut their work forces and save money||Integrate strategy, technology, and people to create new products and services|
|Believe in standardized operations that force people to act in predictable ways||Encourage creativity in their people to rapidly solve problems and grow their business|
|Are annoyed by problems and see them as enemies to progress||Go looking for problems they can turn into opportunities|
When most businesses talk about innovation they are merely talking about it, for a quick look at the chart above will tell you if a particular business practices what it preaches. It’s also why very large organizations always seem to be playing from behind, you’ll rarely see them engage in creating new insights.
Innovators don’t see competitors in a linear way, such as competing on similar products, services and functions. Rather, they see competition in more broad terms. And when you ask them about how they think about competition, the question, what business are you really in?, quickly comes to mind.