Innovation vs Imitation

Dr Bob Buckman, a career changing mentor said to me, "don't worry about protecting you IP because you are worried your competitors will copy you. Keep innovating and they will always be playing catch up!"


Over many years I have woken in the middle of the night sweating about a competitor who

seems to be imitating us and then I remember Dr Bob's words. The thoughts quickly change from unease to creativity, as I am suddenly inspired to leave our old ideas to our competitors to pick the bones. We will come up with something ground breaking that our clients will be happy to support. 

Every market becomes more and more commoditized over time, and we make sure we are always just beyond that soul-destroying 'event horizon' of commoditization. There have been times when we realize that one of our great inventions has over a few years become a yawn, and we gladly hand this market to those who are desperately copying what they think we do.

True innovation is about a great idea, implemented. Every day I meet people who think they have a great idea, yet seldom do I meet someone who has implemented a simple idea, well. The value is not in the idea itself, it's in the faultless execution. We can look at a market offering and think "oh, I can do that easily" until we try. I always thought that Ernie Els had an easy job until I took up golf…the the better the player, the easier it looks. 

We've never ever been the cheapest, but we've always been the best value. Our value proposition varies from client to client like the cliché 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. This also makes us difficult to imitate as the value is the product of what 'value' means to the client and the innovation we reserve only for them….and the relationship between us. 

A commodities market is crowded by vendor bashers and discounting wheeler dealers. Value and pricing are perpetually eroded until no one wants to buy and fewer want to sell. If we find ourselves opposite a buyer who is only interested in price and not value, who throws the competitor's quote down in front of us, we respond "Be our guest! Take their offer". 

I know it's hard to walk away as small businesses always need the money, but sometimes we have to realised that with people who only think about price, we will be the ones 'paying the price' in the long run. This type of client will not provide sustainable business as we are only as good as our last price. 

Focus on innovating to stay one step ahead, and talk about value, not price.

Building a business is like becoming that professional golfer. Take the time that it needs, build the credibility and skill, grow from profit not promise, and sustainability will be your reward. 

Judi Sandrock is the co-founder of MEDO, the Meta Economic Development Organisation, and at the writing of this article is programme managing the Transformation Programme for Isuzu Trucks SA. Craig Uren of Isuzu demonstrates “Treppie”, the Isuzu sponsored Mobile Entrepreneurship Incubator, one of MEDO’s innovations. Treppie has been touring South Africa since 2011 and the team has recently acquired the latest in Isuzu Truck technology.

Read about our Socio-Economic Development Programme in partnership with ISUZU Trucks

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