We have all heard it said that necessity is the mother of invention. It is also said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That is probably enough on the trite homilies for now. I want to look here at the latest events in the news on the macro-level and relate them to our businesses on a more individual level. It seems that one company created (invented) some industry leading applications for their product, and another company apparently copied these applications for their competing products. In the ensuing legal battle the inventors of the capabilities won a judgment against the imitators. All of the articles and documentation that I have read regarding this legal decision seems to be capable of being summed up in a single line:

The decision was good for the inventor, bad for the imitator, worse for the consumer.

The idea here is that the inventor won so they are happy (and richer due to the awards associated with the judgment), the imitator is unhappy due to the penalties they must pay (and the fact that their products may not be able to utilize the desirable applications going forward), and the consumer’s will be worse off in the market because they will have fewer choices for products with these desirable applications, and they may be faced with higher product prices.

I don’t think this is bad. I think this is commerce. I also think that the company that was imitating its competitor is now faced with the necessity of changing and creating its own new innovations and products if they wish to continue forward in their chosen markets. This isn’t bad, this is good. The process will obviously be painful and could probably have been avoided with timely business decisions when they were necessary.

In the macro-level consumers will also benefit from the reduction in imitation and the increase in new products and innovation in that by necessity if the imitating company wants to stay in the market, they will have to invent and create new applications and new ways to bring them to market. Will they be better? Hopefully, but they will certainly be different because they have to be. They can no longer comfortably continue to do things the way they have been doing them.

We are seeing here on the very high level is how an entire company is being forced out of its comfort zone, where it imitates what another company has been doing. We can telescope this type of event down to just about any level of almost any organization. What I am getting at here is that creative companies focus on and want to protect their creativity up and down their management levels, not just at the corporate level. Profitable companies focus on and protect their profitability. These ideas seem to permeate the corporate fabrics of these types of companies. You can’t copy that. You have to decide to do it yourself.

Now there are several directions that we can go here. Is there a uniformity of goals in these focused and successful organizations? I think the answer is obviously yes. Is there an alignment of incentives associated with attaining these goals? I would say that as well. Is there a necessity of performance? Yes there is. I Think this is where we, like the previously mentioned imitating company can all learn. There is a focus on and culture for doing what is necessary, when it is necessary to maintain the corporate focus and achieve the corporate goals. These decisions and actions may not be pleasant or welcome at the time, but they are recognized as a necessity of the business.

On our own business levels, we are constantly faced with competition that as a response to our capabilities must change the way they conduct their business. This is the reality of the business environment. There usually is not a legal decree involved that makes them do this. This is being done out of necessity. No one wants to be second best. (This may not be entirely true. Those that are actually third best or lower strive to be second best, but this is normally only as a step toward being the best.) If nothing changes, there will be no way to improve.

We rarely get presented with the stark necessity of change the way that the imitating company did. We always find that it is easier to imitate what we have been doing in the past than it is to change and do something else. Our creativity or profitability rarely comes to an abrupt halt. It usually declines in such a way that can be easily explained or rationalized for some period of time. Even then it can be bandaged or milked for a while longer. Eventually however, necessity will arrive and with it the requirement to act.

What we have seen here in a generalized form is that those companies that have recognized what is necessary to their ongoing success (be it innovation, profitability, service, etc.), and pursue it with an ongoing focus are usually the most successful. Their approach is not to imitate others, or to imitate their own past success, but to recognize what is necessary today and to make the appropriate business decisions and to take the appropriate actions. Those companies that do not recognize what is necessary on an ongoing basis and continue to try and live off their own past (or other company’s) successes are eventually confronted with the very abrupt, somewhat expensive and usually painful realization of the new necessities that they are facing.

It seems to me that this is an excellent case for continuing to make the daily difficult decisions on what is best for your business while the decisions are still yours to make. Don’t allow a “wrong decision” or worse, a “no decision / no action” to be made because it is easier or perceived to be more palatable at the time.  Avoiding the current necessity or delaying it will not make it any easier or less unpleasant either now or in the future. As we saw in the news, waiting to go your own way can result in facing a much more public, painful and expensive set of new business criteria than you might have ever considered.

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