Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

Is Originality Overrated? The Race for Second Place

In the quest for competitive advantages, we often strive to find the novel idea that will set us apart, thus propelling us to the top of the food chain. While this is a worthy endeavor, is success bequeathed upon innovators? Internality it may feel rewarding to create something new, but is originality actually rewarded?

Last week, Facebook announced a new function, Facebook Camera. This “innovative” feature will allow users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Users will also have the ability to add filters and fun overlays to the pics. If this sounds familiar, it may be because Facebook introduced something similar on Facebook Messenger (Messenger Day), WhatsApp (Status), and Instagram (Stories), not to mention there’s another social networking site, Snapchat, which does exactly what these four Facebook-owned products do. In fact, Mike Murray, a reporter at Quartz, points out that Facebook’s five most recent product announcements are eerily similar to designs from other companies.

  • Facebook Camera = Snapchat
  • “Live location” in Messenger = “Sharing your location” in Apple’s Messages
  • Reactions and Mentions in Messenger = Reactions and @-mentions on Slack
  • Streaming videogames live = Twitch
  • Messenger Day = Snapchat

We can judge Facebook for repackaging past ideas, but considering they have two billion monthly users and generated $9 billion in revenue last quarter, maybe we need to judge ourselves for being so reliant on uniqueness. Just look at the movie industry.

Movie studios have grown resistant to new concepts that require a large investment. Instead, they are opting for sequels, remakes, and reboots that already have brand recognition. Why gamble with unknown actors playing unknown characters in an unknown story when you can develop a live action Beauty and the Beast, a re-imagined Spider-Man, or a continuation of Pitch Perfect (all of which I intend to see).

The plethora of movie sequels clogging the multiplex can make you feel as though your life were stuck on spin cycle. But if the movies don’t change, we do, and that’s a blessing.—Joshua David Stein

It’s a simple sales theory: Selling something original is much more difficult than selling something that’s familiar. Different, in itself, is not a selling point. People need to be able to relate what you are peddling to what they already know; otherwise you are in the defensive position of convincing, not promoting.

As much as we need new ideas, in Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen makes note that the “new and exciting” companies that disrupt their industry are founded by ex-employees of the “traditional” companies. These individuals did not attain success by creating something from scratch; their “originality” emerged from the idea that they could do it better, not brand new. They did the groundwork at the previous company—experiencing the necessary trial and error, thought experiments, and systems planning—and were able to implement in the new environment.

We all want to be innovators, and I’m not suggesting we abandon this endeavor. However, innovation does not require re-invention. There is something to be said for not consistently creating the wheel. It’s why we study best practices and scrutinize over our competition’s lessons learned. Plus, it lowers risk and is cheaper than paying for mistakes. Let others discover the potholes; we can follow their lead, enhance it, and make it our own.

In the end, there may be self-satisfaction in saying we thought of it first, but think of how self-satisfied you can feel by thinking of it second while enjoying the riches of victory? After all, you are trying to lead your team to long-term success, not win a first-place ribbon.

Weekender: Billy Crystal on the Internally-Induced Rewards

billy-crystalWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a marvelous schpeck of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a schpeck? Because it’s the weekend!

After a failed endeavor, I can be hard on myself. There tends to be a flurry of such overly critical reflections as “If only I had…” or “Why didn’t I think of…”. These lessons learned can be productive to a point, but there comes a time when you have to move on. That’s why I enjoyed Billy Crystal’s second-hand advice.

On WTF Podcast with Marc Maron, Billy Crystal was discussing an incident last year when he was visiting his long-time friend, legendary Hollywood manager Jack Rollins. Crystal’s new series Comedians was premiering that night and he was anxiously excited.

[Jack Rollins] grabbed my hand and says, ‘Are you happy with your work on the show? Do you feel good about what you did on the show?’ And I said ‘Yes, very much so.’ He says, ‘That’s most important because they can never take that away from you.’ I carry that around with me.

This guidance may not seem particularly novel, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary. As leaders, there are few people who are going to congratulate you for your efforts. Most don’t see the struggle you put into your projects, while others simply don’t consider offering a boss the same support they would offer a co-worker. That leaves you to feel proud of yourself.

We need to get into the habit of discerning how we feel about the work we put into an accomplishment before knowing the outcome. That way, the self-accolades can seep into our psyche and help us brace for the subsequent result. It will ease the blow of defeat knowing we did all we could or, preferably, give us all the more reason to celebrate after the win. Either way, it seems healthier than tormenting ourselves on what should have been.

Weekender: Dana Carvey on Prolific Creativity

dana carveyWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a girlie man of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a girlie man? Because it’s the weekend…and we need to pump [clap] you up!

Leadership involves a healthy dose of creativity. We create strategies with creativity, solve employee issues with creativity, and make decisions with creativity. So what happens when our managerial responsibilities are sidetracked with a lull in innovation? Comedian Dana Carvey has seen this happen way too often.

In an interview on the podcast You Made it Weird, Carvey discussed the self-induced pressures young comedians put on themselves.

They’ve got Louis C.K. and all these superstars on YouTube and they’re three months in. ‘Well, its gotta be meta and its gotta be coming from me.’ Do everything, I always tell them. Originality is the death of creativity, especially in the early days. The mindf–k of ‘I can’t do that, I can’t do that, that’s been done, that’s been done.’… Don’t think someone else must of thought of this so I can’t do it.

Creating solutions that work demands a spice of creativity, but don’t confuse “creative” with “new” or “original.” Benchmarking, examining points of reference, and utilizing others’ past experiences are all necessary managerial tools that do not lessen or damage your reputation as an innovative leader. If anything, they improve your reputation because you’re learning from the past experiences of others, thereby helping you and your team capitalize on someone else’s wins and avoid their mistakes.

Before you feel the need to recreate the wheel, consider that there’s nothing wrong with standardization, so long as it allows for the ability to modify based upon current needs. When you find that a solution works, lock it down. Capture the process so you don’t have to start from scratch whenever its needed. It may not feel original, but it will be once you make it your own.