Why Just Copying Isn't Enough: Cargo Cult Science And Copycats

from the gotta-leapfrog dept

We've talked about cargo cults in the past around here, and Boing Boing points us to a great video of a talk by Jeff Veen, which argues that copycat innovators are a form of a cargo cult:
The point he's making is one that we've tried to make here many times in the past -- though his analogy is much better than most we've used. Basically, it's easy to just copy what you think is cool about a product, but that's rarely (if ever) enough to actually get people to buy. This is an issue we see all the time when people get upset about our position on patents. They say that, without patents, someone would just come in and "steal" the idea, and then where would you be? But, the fact is, just being able to "copy" the product isn't enough to get it sold.

If you're truly innovative, then you not only understand your product better than some random copycat, but you also understand what makes your market want your product.

That can't be copied. Not easily. Yes, the copycat may win over some customers, but it's not the same. And, by knowing the product and the market better than anyone else, you should also be able to stay ahead of the curve and keep innovating. The copycat just has to catch up -- they're running towards where they think you were, when you may already be well past that.

But the comparison to a cargo cult is quite accurate. The cargo cultists built up their faux airports, thinking that it would bring in the same wonders as the real wartime airports did. Companies make copycat iPhones because they think that people will suddenly rush to buy them like they bought the iPhone. But it doesn't work that way.
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Filed Under: cargo cult, copycats, copying, design, innovation, iphone, jeff veen, patents

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  1. icon
    Adam Wasserman (profile), 27 Aug 2009 @ 5:13pm


    True innovation?

    Is that like the One True Brace Style?

    It seems you are saying that since True Innovation learns from the past, something that was a complete break from the past - let us consider quantum theory compared to Newtonian physics - could not be considered innovation.

    As for your comments about copycats "stealing away" "the profits" it sounds to me (and it could just be me) as if you would like a sinecure.

    Well, that is just not the way the world usually works, and when some artificial mechanism is put into place to provide a sinecure, the historical reality has been that it disappears (along with the regime that instituted it) when the inequities inherent in the system become intolerable for the common people who shoulder the burden.

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