One thing I get asked a lot ( although not nearly as often as I’m asked about my age-given I’m trapped inside the body of a 17 year old girl ), is whether I’m worried about people stealing my ideas.
Well, I feel something when this happens, but it’s not quite worry I’m feeling.
I feel pity, mixed with what I assume my Dad must have felt when I was young when he’d like to warn me against doing something, but knew I wasn’t gonna listen- so instead told me to do whatever it was I shouldn’t do just so I’d learn the harsh lesson for myself. This of course is followed by the ‘I told you so’ satisfaction. Some would call it karma- not that I believe in that.
In this case, the sense of satisfaction comes from knowing that if someone tries to copy what I’ve done, then it’s likely to not work for them.
But I know why some people do it, and I truly feel for them.
The seed may have been planted a while ago. Before the idea of starting a business was even ideated. Because we live in a culture where we hear stories through the media on a daily basis about others’ rapid success, and a quick scroll through Facebook may echo this with a collection of snippets your friends life wins and highlights.
Then there’s the daily stories and advertisements about the new thing or technique (whatever it happens to be at the time)that’ll cure all your business woes in a flash. It kinda reminds me of the fad diet industry.
Feeling like your own achievements aren’t living up to the reality everyone else seems to be experiencing, you may be tempted to pop one of those miracle diet pills- which in the case of your business means copying someone else.
I’m guessing that most people would feel pretty icky about doing this, and would rather not have to feel like they’ve stooped so low. But sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures- or so the justification goes.
It’s a bit sad really.
On the other hand, as a creative, you sometimes can’t help feeling sometimes that justice has been served when someone tries to steal your ideas. Cause if you bring your original flair to the party, often you’ll face a bit of backlash and resistance in getting your ideas accepted. Sometimes hate. And mean words.
You’ll be told you’re not doing things properly, and feeling like you’re battling everyone around you in order to create the change you want to see.
But then you get there. And you find your former critics, and other voyeurs showing up to try and emulate what you’ve done. And it can feel goood.
But the best revenge happens when you see what happens when they try to rip off your ideas- most of the time it falls completely flat. That’s right- it doesn’t work at all.
Because you can give people a car, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to drive it.
Or how it works for that matter.
There may be things that are going on under the hood so to speak that may not be visible to others.
So whilst some may attempt to rip off some of the more visible elements of what you’re doing, they often aren’t able to grasp the context, or the ‘why’ behind it, and mis-apply things that on the surface look like a carbon copy of what you’re doing.
Back in the day, I used to run a couple of bars. It was just after the recession hit, and almost overnight the punters in the area more than halved.
But this was okay. We didn’t need to have our business halved. We just had to make sure that people came to us instead of going anywhere else.
It wasn’t too tricky. Once the level of street traffic plummeted, most of the venues shat their pants and relaxed their standards to widen their potential customer base. This was a great opportunity for us to do the opposite- which was a no brainer given that the whole experience of going to a bar is about the other people in the bar. It’s a social thing.
Anyway, one of the bars had quite an old crowd (average age of around 40) compared to the surrounding areas, and we worked out that they were coming to shake off their feeling of responsibility by indulging in a bit of childish stupidity- which they normally wouldn’t in day to day life.
So we just doubled down on it.
One night, we got a giant mechanical bull. We drew quite a crowd, and also drew the attention of the nearby bars who came to grab the details of the bull hire people.
A few weeks later we saw another bar doing their own bull night (surprise surprise).
But it all it did was draw people out of the bar to outside, made those who’d drank too much to throw up, and attracted the unwanted attention of the police.
It didn’t work for them as they had a different audience. They had a younger audience, who frequently pre-loaded, and often had issues with drunken behaviour anyway, and this only served to make things worse.
On top of that, it made it into a juvenile raucous fest, which only served to turn the best customers off.
Same action, different result.
Are you sure they’re not faking it?
Come on? We’ve all seen that annoying couple on Facebook who post daily snaps gushing all about how happy they are, only to find out later their relationship is on the rocks.
Or that person who humble brags about their exercise routine, and how healthy they eat- with daily photos of their running route, and meal pics. All the while their friends are politely offering support by the way of ‘likes’, which only serves to prop up their fragile self esteem by way of validation.
And if you spend enough time online, you may see thousands of ‘I’m perfect, & my life is awesome’ messages every day, and feel defective by comparison.
But the truth is that many people (especially online) are full of it.
Most of us experience daily frustrations and disappointments, but rarely do we want to broadcast these to the world.
This effect is probably worse when it comes to business where we could worry that admitting to screwing up could affect our professional credibility.
So if you see someone who appears to be doing really well, before rushing in to emulate what they appear to be doing; just bear in mind that they might be faking it.
Knowing the difference between ‘because of’ vs ‘in spite of’.
I’m rather fond of treating myself to KFC every once in a while (I’ve even taken a couple of boys on dates there- just to lighten the mood and make things a little less serious).
With Just 3 little letters everyone knows I’m talking about the place with the delicious greasy chicken.
Given there’s over 15, 000 KFC outlets, in 118 countries, you could say they’re not doing too badly.
But do their 3 letters help them?
Sure, everyone seems to know what these letters mean, but is it because this letter combo is somehow intrinsically mouth watering or memorable? Why not say HNP?
Yes, I know. KFC stands for ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’. But if they initially named their business HNP (or KFC off the bat for that matter), would anyone be able to remember the name?
I’m writing this, and I’ve already forgotten what the 3 letters I suggested were just a second ago.
If you were to start a business tomorrow, and you had to come up with a name for it, would you look to large successful companies for inspiration? Companies who often have random letter combination names?
If you did, not only would it not help you- it’d probably hurt you.
Imagine someone came into your new store to buy something, and had the best experience of their lives. So much so that they want to tell everyone about it.
“Hey everybody!!!!…I had the best day ever, of my life, all because I went to HD..T, er, HTD?, or is the an ‘N’ in there somewhere? HN..T?…”
You get the idea- letter combination names just aren’t very memorable.
So why do the successful established companies use them?
For a start, many of these companies were famous with meaningful names before changing to their 3 letter initialled names. Kentucky Fried Chicken, International Business Machines, etc.
There could have been many reasons why they decided to change to a 3 letter name such as they may no longer do what is described in their full name (if KFC stopped selling chicken for example), people may have called them by the letter name anyway, and just decided to make it the official name, or maybe they just saw someone else doing it and decided to follow suit.
It may not be something that helps them, but with their level of recognition they’re built up over the years it’s probably not going to hurt them too much.
They’re successful in spite of their names- not because of them.
If you’re green-eyeing someone else’s name, ads, website…whatever, can you be sure that it is even a good exemplar to model yourself after in the first place?
Chances are, it may not be.
What about not reinventing the wheel and all that?
Yeah, good point.
Why make mistakes yourself when you’re able to learn from others- and not make them yourself?
Hmmm, learning. I think that’s the key word here.
If you’re attempting to learn from others successes with a learning mindset, you’ll likely break things down a bit to identify why something someone else has done was a hit. You may find that certain aspects apply to your situation, and other don’t. You may also decide that certain things don’t quite fit what you’re looking to achieve- maybe once you get a feel for why something is working for someone else, you may realise that it isn’t going to fit with your goals, or that you may apply a few principles but modify a few bits and pieces to better suit your audience, business type, or situation.
As a result, you’ll naturally be able to make use of the inspiration you’ve gained from others in the right way.
But if you’re reacting to what others are doing in haste, and wanting to directly lift what someone else has done, you’ll likely find you’re doing so with a mindset of jealousy, fear, or insecurity.
And I think we can all agree that a business strategy based on your emotions in the moment is not likely to be cohesive or effective.