Never Be Shameless About From Where An Idea Hails

I caught a South African rolling news show called Tech Report the other day. One segment had a countdown of the presenter’s favourite all-time geek quotes. Here’s her number one;

we’ve always been shameless about stealing great ideas

It was attributed to Apple’s Steve Jobs. Stifle that yawn please.

Well, first off, theft is theft, right. It is not to be condoned.

With all the patent wars going on in courtrooms across the globe, you sense no one vendor can claim the moral high ground.

The first time I consciously became aware of this kind of thing was when learning about Microsoft. A company that I struggle to think of ever having an original idea of their own. And yet made billions.

It was about how they started. Accurate or otherwise, they way it was taught me at b-school was thus;

IBM wanted an operating system for their new fangled small computer. Their engineers had developed something they named qdos. Fiendishly nicknamed by detractors, the ‘quick and dirty operating system’.

Yet it was considered a tad pricey. Bill Gates got wind of this. So he “copied” it and relabelled it as his ‘dos’. And cheaper.

Of course, he couldn’t ‘copy’ it, exactly. So the story ran that he looked at it, then handed out a brief, locked coders in a darkened room and waited to see what they came up with. This way, there was no ‘copying’.

And a billion dollar empire was on its way.

(You can read another view on this within Stephen Fry‘s excellent Apple Mac 30th birthday tribute essay.)

When I read the oft-referenced Good To Great; Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, I was struck by how many of the so-called ‘leaders’ were second into a market. They were not the original innovators. They built on the ‘inventor’s’ discoveries and outpaced them.

There’s even a whole web meme on ‘remixers’. Its disciples preach that, rather than think stuff up for yourself from scratch, the real fortunes are made taking what someone else has done and tweaking it.

Perhaps it is this approach that more correctly defines what Jobs meant?

In my academic days, this was termed “appropriation”. It is somewhere within the scale which at the poles has either slavish ‘imitation’ or pure ‘innovation’.

This applies to Sales too.

On a number of occasions, my customer has passed me the competition’s proposal. It’s happened both pre- and post-signup.

I can recall once or twice flicking through and seeing something presented really well.

So what did I do?

I ‘borrowed’ it.

That is to say, I took the idea, added or took away elements, and improved upon it for my own future use.

As individual sellers, we can’t be expected to come up with every great idea ourselves, can we? So there’s no harm in cheekily “standing on the shoulders” of others when the chance arises, is there?

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