Deloittes has a nice new office building in Midrand, it is that subtle kind of beauty. To my surprise I saw a similar designed new building close to the OR Tambo international airport.

So I assumed it is the same developer/constructor who built both buildings and decided to use the same design. I recently learned that it’s actually not the same construction company, but rather someone who saw the Deloittes design and decided to copy it. Talk about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

This happens a lot today, cars today look very similar, smartphones look the same, lecture rooms looks the same, some townhouse complexes look very similar, airports are designed very similar, they have the same types of coffee shops, the same types of hotels, the same types of walk-about and look and feel.

Wired had an article while back about how China became a tech superpower by moving from imitation to innovation. Kai Fu Lee in his book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, And The New World Order reiterates the same notion. 

Many of the observations in the article and the book, especially that about the West being stuck in a perception that all China does is copy Western ideas, ring true.

But, this is not an article about technology.

Instead, it is to say that the process of moving from imitation to innovation is a principle that is widely applicable.

Jack Welch used to say that copying their competitor’s best ideas was a key part of GE’s ability to innovate.

GE’s innovation approach frequently involved copying the best ideas and tweaking them to suit their own style.

It works wonderfully well in personal development as well: Admire how someone stays organised, makes presentations or organises a team? Copy them. Over time, you will figure out your own style.

Art begins with imitation and ends in innovation.

Innovation is rarely a big leap we need to make. Instead, it is often a series of little steps we take that cause a cumulative step change in results, the first of which is generally imitation.

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