Disruptors vs Imitators & Why The Difference Matters

5727964In most fields of endeavor, but especially in the field of technology, being the innovator gives one a nearly unbeatable natural advantage. You’re the thought leader, the trailblazer, the industry ‘go to’ – and have the corresponding credibility that comes with it.

This doesn’t mean that someone can’t come along and disrupt your space (far from it), but it does mean they’ll have to be VERY good to do so. Imitators, on the other hand, possess little true skill beyond the art of deception. And this is where the line is drawn between disruptors and imitators – and why you need to understand the distinction yourself.

There are many imitators out there seeking to ‘ride the wave’ created by others and offer their own versions, usually at a cheaper price point. Much like the street vendor offering that knock-off Gucci bag, they’re trying to sell you something that looks kind of like what you want – but ultimately isn’t.

Wearable tech is a field where that is certainly becoming the case. Lori Friedrich saw that very phenomenon at the 2014 Consumer Electronics show. She blogged about the proliferation of wearables, and didn’t see much in the way of innovation.

zune-30-2w9-800This is not something new. Whenever something breaks big with the public, other companies seek to profit from the original. Just look at Microsoft’s attempts at coming up with something to compete with Apple’s iPod. Despite a large marketing push, the Zune remained an afterthought (or for those early adopters who thought it would hit big…a regret).

The reason so many of these “others” fail is because they fail to recognize that reverse-engineering a device and coming up with your own version doesn’t give you the necessary experiential knowledge to improve and evolve that device. Nor to troubleshoot it. They haven’t taken the design from concept to demo to store shelves. They haven’t beta-tested and dealt with consumer complaints and learned what will work and what won’t through experience. And it becomes a poorly thought out get rich quick scheme, where the consumer ends up paying for an imitator’s learning curve.

“Imitation cannot go above its model.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Divinity School Address

As mentioned before, mimicking what someone else has already done is not a way to carve out market share. It’s finding that something extra or new that will bring consumers to your door. Look at the success of Google’s Android platform. At the time it was introduced, with its cute little green android logo, many didn’t see how it could possibly challenge Apple’s iOS. Even though iOS was still somewhat buggy and the interface wasn’t as smooth as it is now, it was still considered to be the market giant.

swype-t9-3But Android looked for ways that Apple wasn’t serving their customers and offered small things that lent them a different angle, a new appeal. One such angle was Swype, an app that allowed users to swipe their fingers across the keyboard and create words without typing. This and other features weren’t a huge technological leap – they didn’t necessarily disrupt the space, but they innovated and differentiated themselves enough that they weren’t just a clone of Apple’s platform.

Companies looking to make their mark need to see beyond what’s popular in the marketplace. The path to true greatness is finding the idea that hasn’t already been processed, packaged and parsed. Because while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it’s not going to pay the bills. And if it does, it will be on the backs of some understandably upset consumers!

So you want to go with the disruptors then, right? Well, not necessarily them either! It all comes down to experience (it matters) and whether they possess the expertise to meet your specific needs. Flipping an idea sideways might be edgy, but have little net value for your organization. Explore that – and compare it critically to the original.

Have you come across imitations – and did they live up to the original? Reach out with some examples for an (anonymized) upcoming roundup of “Imitators vs Originators” where we’ll explore this topic further! Conflicting viewpoints are always welcome too.

Questions? Thoughts?  Hit us up here now and let’s discuss!