Dear IEinV Followers,
I know that many of you are US and foreign higher education colleagues because of the feedback I receive. Included among the “others” are some government friends and competitors. The latter drop by to see what I’m up to and to see what (free) information they can glean from my posts for their own businesses.
So why do I occasionally provide information that can be classified as “market intelligence”? The reason is simple. It’s an opportunity to talk about two of my favorite topics, international education and Vietnam. It’s also a chance to assist those colleagues who have a personal and/or professional interest in Vietnam by sharing information and, occasionally, commentary about such information, with them. The others are along for the ride. The more the merrier, in my opinion!
Innovation Over Imitation
To those competitors who choose imitation over innovation, and that’s a fairly long and growing list, unfortunately, I have two reading recommendations. The first is an article I wrote last December for University World News (UWN) entitled Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment (Vietnamese translation) The second is an article to which I refer in the UWN piece, Why copycats are the best thing to happen to your company, written by Brian Wong, CEO and co-founder of Kiip, a mobile rewards network based in San Francisco.
Here’s one of the “money quotes” that I commend to you:
In Silicon Valley, the reward for trailblazing with true innovation is often a trail of “copycat” businesses following closely behind, seeking to profit from your idea. Sometimes the copycat is dead on arrival (see: too many examples to list here). Sometimes it pays to be the copycat (see: Germany’s infamous Samwer brothers). And sometimes the copycat goes to court (see: Samsung).
As someone who has had this happen multiple times to my company, I am no stranger to this form of “innovation.” But those experiences have helped me look at this much-maligned trend in a new light and shaped an opinion that many will likely disagree with – copycat businesses should be welcomed. Embraced, even. After all, what is a copycat business other than evidence that you’ve created a solution that taps into and services a real need?
Take Snapchat, the Valley’s darling du jour, which has set the precedent for disposable instant messaging. In late 2012, Facebook launched Facebook Poke, a messaging app possessing an eerily similar feature to Snapchat’s signature disappearing act. A year later, after Poke didn’t pan out, came the $3 billion offer. But Facebook actually ended up being its own worst enemy here. Their cloning attempt had the opposite effect on Snapchat – instead of feeling intimidated, it increased Snapchat’s confidence in what they’d built. They now knew that their DNA wasn’t just something others could transplant and call their own.
Only time will tell if they made the right move, but it underscores the importance of concentrating on the road ahead, not who’s lurking in your rear-view mirror. Copycats have no visibility into the inner workings of your company or what you have in store. No matter what, you’ll be ahead of the curve because they can only replicate what you show them. In this sense, objects in mirror are not closer than they appear – they’re months behind you. (my bold)
Keep Your Eyes on the Road Ahead
I’ve noticed this trend as it relates to Capstone Vietnam. Brian’s advice and mine? Keep your eyes firmly on the road ahead, ladies and gentlemen. Be a leader not a follower, an innovator not an imitator. Purge yourself of the copy/paste mentality that precludes creativity and will ultimately hold you back. Be a worthy competitor. Take your game to the next level – for the sake of your company, your clients, the industry and your country. It’s the right thing to do and it’s good business in the long run. Amen.
P.S.: Bonus – Jack Ma’s 3 tips to building a successful business (Vanessa Tan, Tech in Asia, 6.7.15), based on the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle.