The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I have, for a long time, been a proponent of stealing other people’s ideas and using them in my own business. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not breaking any copyright laws or anything like that. I am, however, taking what they did, adding my spin to it, and, if it works, taking credit. If it doesn’t, I totally blame them and their dumb idea.

When I first started in the industry, I was like a sponge soaking up, and swiping, the wisdom of people like Chris Smith, Jimmy Mackin, the 1000 Watt crew, Jay Thompson, and many others. Many of the things we do at my brokerage were adapted from things I saw at my dad’s company or at places I worked before opening my brokerage. Why reinvent the wheel, after all, right? We’ll get to that.

If you really think about it, we have all been stealing since childhood. We emulated other people to learn to walk and talk. We stole our “style” from the other kids at school or from pop culture stars. We styled our athletic performance around the great stars of the time. There is a long, proud history of stealing from others in your past. Whether or not you want to admit it, you are a thief.

Here’s the good news: being a thief might make you better than the original.

Copying others has been proven to create better versions of the original. From the Quintilian schools of Rome in AD 35 teaching rhetoric through repetition to modern medical students mimicking the symptoms of their patients to help better remember how to treat them, imitation has been more than a form of flattery. It has been a form of mastery. Taking what your predecessor has left for you, mastering it, and improving it has created expertise and advancement in nearly every application.

So, why the hell wouldn’t you steal?

In fact, there has been proven more times than not that the first to market often doesn’t do as well as those who come afterwards. I write this on my Mac, a product from a company who was not first, but instead copied and improved. In a study of “market pioneers” conducted by two marketing professors from USC and Dartmouth, the first to market had a failure rate of nearly 50% while the “fast seconds” have a minimal failure rate and achieve nearly triple the market share. Some of the most dominating and storied brands in America were not pioneers of their fields, despite what their marketing departments would have you believe.

If you’re a copycat, you get the distinct advantage of using other people as a filter. I’m sure you’ve heard the adage that a wise man learns from his mistakes while a wiser man learns from the mistakes of others. Yep! Use what others have already done, the reactions and feedback to it, to enhance your version. Do it right, because you don’t know who is waiting to see your mistakes as they copy you.

The second advantage of your thieving ways is that you can pull from various solutions instead of being tied to just one. For example, look at how Netflix and Amazon both attacked traditional retail versions of what they did. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer to go to a bookstore, but I still buy most of my books online these days. Bookstores weren’t novel, pun intended. Video rental wasn’t a new idea. Challenging the existing model was. Moreover, it wasn’t even challenging the whole model. It was just challenging part of it that changed the world for these two famous copycats.

So, my friends, on that note, I urge you to steal. I implore you to stop thinking that you are going to create that one new thing under the sun. It doesn’t mean don’t be clever or original in your thinking. Just do it in the context of what is there for you to use, master, and perfect. You are already doing it in other parts of your life, so why not do it in your business? Just do it better than everyone else.

Until they copy you.

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