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.

2016: The Year of The Hype

For my 2016 Innovation of the Year—celebrating that innovation which most changed the game—one stood clearly in front of all others. Largely because it also stood clearly behind so many of the others: hype. Like all past IOTY winners, hyperbole wasn’t invented in 2016 but this was the year it demonstrated its truly disruptive potential. Continue reading

Better batteries or better Electric Vehicles

Tesla recently announced its plans to be as big as Apple within 10 years (a bold statement given the electric car company sold 35,000 cars last year, just beating out the 30,000 iPhones Apple sold each hour last quarter). Regardless of Tesla’s promises, the future of electric cars hinges on advances in batteries which, in turn, hinge on how companies—and the country—choose to pursue those advances. Continue reading

Cleantech entrepreneurs fighting the last war

Two articles give different views of the battlefield that is cleantech entrepreneurship these days: one from 1000’ and the other from the trenches. They offer a good lesson on the importance of having an innovation strategy informed by history more than hyperbole. Continue reading

A long view of disruption

The more dire the climate change predictions, the louder the calls for new and disruptive technologies. While it’s a great aspiration, as a theory disruptive innovation provides dangerous guidance on how disruption really happens. Continue reading

Disruptive Policy and Innovation

Disruptive Policy

The business world has embraced the notion of disruptive technologies and, in large part, so has the public sector, and yet so many of the most significant innovations have been tipped by disruptive policies, not technologies. Continue reading

Innovation, Strategy, and your Innovation Strategy

What’s your innovation strategy?

The question often stumps executives, who tend to think innovation is something outside the normal work routines, not something that can and should be directed. Yet how much of your company’s strategic plan depends on innovation — on the development of new products, new processes, or (often) both — that will provide tomorrow’s competitive advantage? Continue reading

Flying blind over the valley of death

The valley of death is an hackneyed term used to describe where startups run out of money. This can be solved, early earlier-stage investors and policy-makers contend, by giving them more money. I’ve argued before this is misguided. The reason why is a cautionary tale to anyone leading a new venture.

Continue reading