Copying Works, Until It Doesn’t

When it comes to a lot of things, going by the status quo and not being too creative is a good thing. If you were about to have an operation and your surgeon said: “I’m feeling creative today”, then you have a pretty good reason to feel quite unnerved.

Copying others is a great hack in most cases. If you want to get better at a skill then it’s usually a great idea to learn and do what the greats in the field are doing.

Copying, of course does have some drawbacks. I have found that in most fields the majority of people in a profession are simply doing what they are told to do or are doing what they have seen others do, rather than having a deep understanding of why they are doing what they are doing.

Because copying has served most people well throughout their careers / school / college / university people are often lead to believe that copying will work in all fields, even in creative domains (it won’t).

Innovating by definition cannot be as a result of copying

Copying especially does not work when starting a new company. So often I have seen founders of new companies try to “fit in” with other founders, fit in with a new “technological wave” (currently everyone has an AI startup…) or fit in with what know-it-all bureaucrats who think they know how to create a company even though they have never done so themselves.

The thing with new companies is that it takes a good 5 years of work before you even know whether you are on the right tracks or not and often when you are 5 years ahead of the curve, what you are working on will look completely insane to someone who doesn’t have the understanding and knowledge you as the founder have.

For example Coinbase was started in 2012 by Brian Armstrong. In 2012 if you signed up to use his service you would get (you guessed it!) a FREE Bitcoin. As of today, a single Bitcoin is worth more than £10,000. When Brian initially launched Coinbase no one cared or signed up. I am sure that most people back in 2012 thought that a “new digital currency” sounded ridiculous.

But circa 2017 when it became obvious that cryptocurrencies are a real thing, loads of new cryptocurrency companies got started. But all these people were five years late. They were only doing a cryptocurrency company because they were trying to jump on the bandwagon or because they wanted to fit in.

The key to innovating and succeeding is to have firm, well founded convictions about what the future looks like. It may seem ridiculous to an outsider, but if your convictions are well reasoned and thought out, then you should have no need to copy others. Copying others in creative fields is a symptom of not having an opinion, of not having an understanding of the problem you are solving and of not having a firm conviction of what the future will look like.


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