We've been arguing this for many years
, but a new research report (sent in by a bunch of you!) has provided some empirical support to the argument that you get more innovation from having copycats
rather than just a bunch of folks inventing from scratch.
"We thought at first it would be better to have innovators around you," said IU cognitive scientist Robert Goldstone, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. "But in our experiments, if people are surrounded by imitators, they actually do better."
The reasons that the research found, also agree with what we've been saying for many, many years: innovation is an ongoing process of improvements
, and it's the "copycats" who usually make the surprising, but necessary changes to make innovations really valuable.
The reason, said co-author Thomas Wisdom, is that "imitators often make their own improvements to the original solution, and these can, in turn, be adopted and improved upon by the originator and others."
The report's authors note that it appears that having a lot of imitators around is often most useful
in areas such as medicine and software development -- which are two areas where such copycat innovation is least allowed thanks to overaggressive patenting. The researchers point out that part of the reason why imitators and copycats are so important is because it's basically impossible for one person (or a small team) to think through all the possibilities. Opening things up so lots of others can add their input or (better yet) try their own variation, leads to much greater diversity in finding innovations that are truly useful. And that's actually better for everyone.
"You can't possibly explore an entire problem search space on your own, but if you recruit other people, it's to your advantage. They help you survey that area. You benefit when other people imitate you because they help you explore multiple variations around your solution that you couldn't possibly pursue on your own."
This has been true for years in the tech field, where many people realized that if the "big challenges" were achieved, it would open up vast new markets, and everyone could compete in those markets. But the way to get over those hurdles is to have lots of different people with different viewpoints working on those challenges.