Facebook, TikTok and the hack for innovation

In Om Malik’s recent post “Unicorns, Red Queen & Startup Reality” he talks about the kerfuffle regarding Facebook copying TikTok,

I was chatting with a friend about the increased frequency with which large technology companies copied their rivals. Microsoft was quick to imitate Slack with Teams. Instagram ripped off Snap Stories and even brazenly acknowledged it in its initial announcement. And today, Facebook-owned IG announced Reels, a competitor to the red hot creator platform, TikTok.

Of course, this is just one of the many times Facebook has copied its competitors. But more important is the broader waste of time spent bemoaning this mimicry when we really should be teaching it.

As Om notes, chefs in restaurants are constantly copying the latest craze, or even seasonal vegetables. I like the analogy to fashion crazes as it captures the fleeting nature of the opportunity and the relatively ephemeral nature of the appropriation. And cooking rarely involves patented techniques or products.

For the record, this is innovation. This is not another of the back-alley games played by amoral uber-geeks wielding their monopolistic power that we should be worried about.

Instagram copied FourSquare, then pivoted to copying hipstamatic, the camera filters app, finding their fortune in connecting those filter features to an easy means of posting to multiple social media platforms. Apple copied many of the Mac’s features from PARC’s Alto, and Microsoft copied those for Windows. Google borrowed the pay per click revenue model from GoTo.com. Don’t even get me started on music or movies (see Everything is a Remix).

If there’s a hack for innovation, it probably looks like “copy, save-as, open, edit.”

There are countless examples of copying in the early moments of what become long-standing products. It is how dominant designs and common standards emerge. Think of the automobile’s many features—four-wheel carriages, pneumatic tires, glass windshields, foot brakes, power-steering, electric starter motors, etc…

More noteworthy is the competitor who doesn’t copy the best parts of its rivals (i.e., the features those customers like best). Maybe that’s why we see so few of them surviving.

Thinking and Doing, Zuckerberg Style

I've talked earlier about something called the "Think/Do" cycle — the process of moving between thinking about what you should do and doing it. Most of the innovation literature has, to date, been focused on coming up with new ideas (thinking a lot; thinking better; thinking out of the box, etc…). Recently, thanks to design thinking, lean startups, lean launchpad, and other emerging conversations around innovation, popular advice is starting to emphasize words like doing, testing, experimentation, prototyping, and iterating. The challenge is finding the balance.

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EVs, Electric Lights, and iPhones

When new technologies compete, what tips the scale toward one or the other?  Maggie Koerth-Baker wrote a terrific article in the New York Times, Why Your Car Isn't Electric, which captures some of the social dimensions of technological innovation by looking at the dominance and demise of the electric vehicle in the first decade of the 20th century. If only inventors, entrepreneurs, and policy makers could spare the time to consider these dimensions before rushing off to change the world.

(to read more, jump to the post EV's, Electric Lights, and iPhones, at The Hargadon Files)


Apple v Google: It’s never pretty when parents fight

When the last tech blogger in the land has weighed in on the Apple iOS6 Maps debacle — which at this rate should be within the week — perhaps we can have a more interesting conversation about the tectonic shifts shaping the mobile market (and our driving experience). Here’s my take on those shifts and how they explain the sorry state of Apple Maps.

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Upcoming programs at the Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Out of the lab and into the world:
Upcoming Opportunities for Science and Engineering Researchers

Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy

June 25–27

The 5th annual GTEA is open to science and engineering senior undergrads, graduate students, postdocs and faculty working on research in green and sustainable technologies. The three-day intensive program integrates lecture, exercises and individual projects. You’ll learn to identify, design and validate new opportunities for your research. Sessions are taught by investors, entrepreneurs and industry executives in the green tech arena.
Apply by May 25 >>

Biomedical Engineering Entrepreneurship Academy

July 11–13

The 2nd annual BMEA is open to science and engineering senior undergrads, graduate students, postodcs and faculty working on biomedical engineering technologies and research. The three-day intensive program integrates lecture, exercises, and individual projects. Sessions are taught by investors, entrepreneurs and industry executives in the biomed arena.
Apply by June 8 >>

Business Development Fellows Program

The year-long Business Development Certificate program provides UC Davis science and engineering graduate and postdoctoral students hands-on experience in developing business skills for a career in industry and the opportunity to develop new business ventures.
Apply by June 30 >> 




Information Sessions

Want to learn more about our entrepreneurship academies and the Business Development Fellows certificate program? Join Program Manager Niki Davisson for an Information Session, held in the Innovation Lab/Room 3301, Gallagher Hall, on the UC Davis campus. RSVP today >>

May 24: noon–1 p.m