“Innovation without imitation is a complete waste of time.”

A rather bold statement but one that has resonated for me recently. To give credit where credit is due, the title quote comes from a TED talk by Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs (video embedded below) and is actually only one part of his entire talk (warning: some parts describing a few of the dirty jobs aren’t for the squeamish). He uses the iPhone as an example — it’s wonderfully innovative but would it matter much if only one iPhone existed? Correspondingly, would it matter much if there were a million iPhones with each one just a little bit different?

Given my life as an VAR engineer, the value of imitation when it comes to building out business practices has hit home for me over the last several years….specifically around delivering services and product integration. It doesn’t necessarily matter if I learn how to be incredible at delivering a VDI setup based around VMware View (to pick an area) if we don’t have people who can do the same thing either when I’m out (vacation is nice after all) or when we’re successful enough that there’s need for more projects than can be handled by one person.

Now, I was very encouraged to hear a focus on building repeatable services in defined business areas at Varrow’s quarterly company meeting last month. As a Technical Consultant, I’m now the one on the front lines now who’s responsible to know technology and help educate/excite/train people (with some implementation in there as well). It’s invaluable for me to have people standing behind me who can both innovate (i.e. still need good ideas and constant refinement of existing processes) but also recognize that we do need imitation — there’s an absolute need to provide consistency across multiple customers (otherwise one satisfied client doesn’t mean anything as a reference point for potential clients).

To be clear, this does not mean that we should deliver cookie-cutter services — i.e. take our canned offerings or else go somewhere else. We do a lot with custom Statements of Work (SoW)…but even a custom SoW is assembled from various core building blocks….items we use and refine over and over again (albeit combining them in different quantities and degrees depending on business needs).

So….just a little bit of what’s been running around in my mind….and not just applicable to an IT VAR I think but really a company of any type. Given that, here are Andrew’s extremely simple (and simplistic) 3 corporate steps for success.

  1. Innovate
  2. Imitate
  3. Go to #1.

I’ll admit there’s a good bit of art in deciding when to move from step 1 to step 2 and then on to step 3. 😉


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