Don’t Just Innovate, Imitate

Don’t Just Innovate, Imitate


The late David Bowie was one of the greatest pop stars of all time. He was hailed as one of the most innovative artists ever, but he saw himself slightly differently. He spoke of his works as “…hybridising European and the American sensibilities… That’s what I do best. I’m a synthesist.”

We can all learn from this. None of us can fundamentally reinvent our industry, or rebuild the entire practice of customer service from the ground up. Just about everything has been done, somewhere, by someone.

We might invent something, come up with an idea of our own. But just about everything one does has been adopted from someone else. So don’t be shy to imitate, adopt, or copy other ideas that you think might work for your business.

Unless something is trademarked, or someone’s intellectual property, it’s fair game. Try to be the David Bowie of your industry. Be a synthesist. You can combine things in such a unique way, people will start calling you the Ziggy Stardust of the Port Elizabeth liquor trade. Just about everything that comes to be standard in customer services was once a massive innovation. Pizza delivery, for instance, was introduced and popularised by Domino’s pizza in the USA, starting in the 1960s.

Related: Demanding Customers Are The Ones Who Motivate Innovation

Today just about every pizzeria on earth does it. Music streaming and download platforms are amazing. They allow us to listen to any music we want, anywhere in the world. But they are all essentially the same, copies of each other.

They are imitations of ideas by Apple iTunes, Rhapsody and Spotify. But developers can still adopt the idea, tailor it and provide a great customer experience. Likewise ATMs or those vibrating restaurant buzzers. Or SMS reminders for your forthcoming chiropractor appointment. They’re all brilliant ideas that provide better customer service. I’m not sure who invented them, but everyone who can use them, should.

Look for ideas and innovations your competitors and people in other industries introduce, and fuse them with your own unique business.

Consider a self-service solution to improve your customer service. This might mean:

  1. An online form that allows customers to explain their problem before booking your company’s services
  2. A self-service coffee machine in your waiting area
  3. A cafeteria instead of a sit-down restaurant
  4. A vending machine in the pause area of your corporate headquarters
  5. Make-your-own pizza options for kids at a restaurant.

Consider The Handicapped


As you look for new ideas to improve and innovate your business, remember the needs of our handicapped brothers and sisters when you design your business premises. Here is an existing market that you should tap into.

If someone cannot actually get into your business because they’re in a wheelchair and you don’t offer wheelchair access, you may have a problem. They will find a competitor company that does have a wheelchair ramp. They will also tell their friends and family about you, as well as other members of the disabled community.

Not only are people with different abilities a respected part of our community, but their money is exactly the same colour as everybody else’s. By not being geared to the needs of the handicapped, you are shrinking your potential market.

Related: Howard Blake Stays Hungry With His Innovation Strategy

Besides a wheelchair ramp, engage a handicapped person or an architect to advise on what your premises requires to be more accessible to people with disabilities.

This might include:

  • A wide handicapped parking space near your entrance
  • Wider doors so people in wheelchairs can comfortably enter
  • Seats that are accessible to the handicapped
  • Wider bathrooms with grab bars
  • Level surfaces without steps.

Besides the practical considerations, staff should be trained to interact with disabled people. There are quite a few consulting firms offering these services around South Africa.