Innovate when you can, imitate when should

In the time it takes to attempt to create something new and original, you can imitate five alternatives that would be suitable for your purpose.

There is always the desire to make something that’s never been seen before. At the very least, a new spin on an existing creation. The part that gets us is that we can see originality everywhere we look. When we consider the greats of artistry such as Michelangelo or Banksy, the titans of music like Bob Marley or the Beatles, or the revolutionaries of innovation like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, originality and exceptionalism are there in plain sight.

It’s hard not to be tempted towards this. There is a lot of encouragement to push boundaries and innovate everywhere we look. We are told that these figures are to be respected – that they are inspirations.

I think we get confused about what inspiration means though.

First of all, there’s nothing new under the sun. Each artist is really just an evolution of those that came before.

The inspirational aspect of this that gets confused is that people don’t know when it’s appropriate to innovate and when it’s much more efficient to imitate what’s already in the world.

The process of imitation shouldn’t be considered as stealing nor lazy. We obviously need to work to adapt existing creations to our exact needs. This isn’t the focus of imitation though.

The true value of imitation is threefold.

First, you gain experience through the process. This never seems as valuable as the experience gained through innovation, but it shouldn’t be underestimated. While there may be great experience learned from trying new things, this process can take huge amounts of time when there is great experience to be learned relative to the time it requires.

Imitation has good experience for time value.

Second, results for time is also much higher. The efficiency of imitation is much higher from a production standpoint, and you are always able to create a lot more than trying to create something new over and over again.

Finally, as a combination of these factors, imitation feels great – as long as you’re imitating something that is already good (you really should be). The feel-good factor of this is much more motivating that the doubt and restlessness of trying to innovate. You can use this motivation to innovate when the time is appropriate.

There is a place for innovation. However, you should know when and where. Imitation can help you get what needs to get done to a level of quality that is absolutely acceptable.

Innovate when you can, imitate when should.