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Jeff De Cagna

Kevin, I understand your point, but keep in mind that there is a big difference between perfecting (as with Google) or leveraging (as with Apple) the ideas of others and adopting the best practices of others. Innovation isn't always (or even often) about the "flash of lightning" breakthrough. It is mostly about the combination of existing ideas in new ways. Best practices, in contrast, are about applying the ideas of others in essentially the same way they were originally applied because, after all, the initial success is what made it a so-called "best practice" in the first place.

The original ideas the Apple took from Xerox PARC weren't being used, nor were they going to be used anytime soon. Apple took those unused ideas and ran with them to create an innovation platform for other products. Sure, they made huge mistakes along the way, but they never lack for originality in their efforts. And in the case of iTunes, the innovation is the business model, rather than the technology. What Napster did was a powerful illustration of the power of P2P technology, but it wasn't a best practice by any stretch of the imagination.

Overture created keyword advertising and yet it took Google's superior search algorithm to, as you put it, "make it work." Google's combination of high quality unpaid search and only relevant paid search is the innovation that has made the difference. Again, not based on anyone's best practice.

I completely agree that organizations should scan their environments, use competitive intelligence and other tools to understand what is happening in organizations around them. But the goal shouldn't be to copy what others are doing, or even to try to make it better, but to find ways to counter it with different strategic moves that permit innovation. Think Southwest, think Apple, think Google.

Thanks for your comment Kevin. I look forward to continuing the conversation!

Kevin Holland

Jeff, I'm pretty much on your side with the best practices thing. But it can't be totally cut and dried, can it?

Using some of your examples (and I'm no expert on them, as you obviously are with Google): Google's biggest revenue base comes from keyword advertising, which was actually introduced by Overture. (They were also widely derided and eventually absorbed by Yahoo.) But Google did come up with what was at the time a better search algorithm, used that to build (unpaid) market dominance among search engines, and then took Overture's idea and figured out how to make it work.

Apple got its biggest boost using ideas from Xerox and others in developing the Macintosh OS. Even its more recent innovations build on ideas from others: the iPod wasn't the first mp3 player, it was just more powerful, more stylish, and easier to use. (And iTunes is, arguably, simply converting the concept behind the original Napster file-sharing service into a business model.) (I would also suggest that Jobs may be repeating his classic Mac blunder by relying too much on proprietary file formats that tie content and hardware inextricably together, but that's a story for another day.)

I totally agree that "best practices" shouldn't be a matter of copying ideas from "market leaders." Certainly companies and organizations should focus on creating "the new." But shouldn't there also be a systematic way to look at other companies/organizations/whatever and what they're doing and seeing if there are ways you can do it better?

Actually, as I type and think about the examples just used, if you *are* looking for ideas, it may be more beneficial to adapt those, not of market leaders, but of smaller, more interesting fringe companies.

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