Innovation : Don't Imitate, Innovate

Daniel Burrus is a leading technology forecaster and business strategist, and is the author of six books, including the highly acclaimed Technotrends, which has been translated into over a dozen languages. The New York Times has referred to him as one of America's top three business "gurus" in the highest demand as a speaker. He produces a number of audio and video learning systems and is the publisher of the Technotrends® Newsletter.

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Competition in all industries will intensify as we enter the new millennium. It is therefore more important than ever to focus on innovation and creatively applying technology to differentiate yourself from the competition.

There is a natural tendency to focus on what the competition is doing as competitive pressure increases. Although it is good to keep track of the competition, far too many organizations focus more attention on this activity than on internal innovation. Consider a few of the more obvious conditions that emerge when a company focuses attention primarily on its competition.

The Hidden Cost of Competition

  1. It causes a loss of identity. All the competitors in a given arena tend to copy each other's products, services and methods to the point where it's hard for customers and employees to distinguish one from the others.
  2. It causes individuals and firms to get so caught up in struggling with each other that they lose sight of their own customers and markets.
  3. It forces so much concern over minor cost-reduction measures that innovations which could create major savings get completely overlooked.
  4. It creates so much concern over short-term sales and profits that long-term profits, problems and opportunities consistently get overlooked.
  5. It so limits the resources available for innovation that change can only come about as a result of a crisis.
  6. It lulls companies into a complacency born of the belief that they are secure as long as they are currently maintaining their share of an identified market.

Perhaps there was a time when it made sense to play the one-upmanship game of keeping up with the competition. But the dramatic changes spawned by science and technology have made that a perilous game for the present and a formula for disaster for the future. Just the way technology has changed reality, making traditional war obsolete, technology and the rapid pace of change that it has generated have made competition, in the traditional sense, obsolete. It's too dangerous and too costly to compete. We have too much to lose to compete. I want a sure thing. And the only way to get it is to adopt a personal and business strategy for integrating technology and people for the purpose of achieving your ideal goals.

Historically, real successes have come when individuals and companies have focused on leadership in the marketplace and teamwork internally.

This article is designed to give you a jump-start in moving beyond your competition by nurturing, promoting and enhancing innovation and original thinking -- both individually and within your organization. My goal is to stimulate you to become an innovator and to show you how to constantly go beyond those whom I call the competers.

What's the difference between competers and innovators ? No, competers is not a misprint. I'm taking a liberty by creating a term for those who reflexively compete rather than seek to gain a strategic advantage through innovation. Here are some of the distinctions:

  • Competers tend to copy what others are doing; innovators are constantly looking for better ways of thinking and acting.
  • Competers get locked into set patterns; innovators constantly cultivate a creative mindset. 
  • Competers seem to believe the future will take care of itself if they take care of the present; innovators are focused on their future goals and building a path to get there.
  • Competers tend to see scientific and technological developments as threats to their status quo; innovators focus on how they can apply new technologies to open up new opportunities.
  • Competers tend to collect and swim around massive amounts of raw data; innovators look for ways to translate raw data into useful information and actionable knowledge.
  • Competers tend to only react to trends; innovators learn how to predict and even create trends and profit from them.
  • Competers take a short view of planning and consider it a necessary evil; innovators take a strategic view of planning and know the value of building change into the plan.
  • Competers dread change and resist it as long as they can; innovators seek to remain adaptive and to master change.
  • Competers often avoid anything that would cast them as being significantly different from their competitors; innovators seek to maximize their differential advantage.
  • Competers in management positions try to control and direct their people; innovators seek to empower their people for positive action.
  • Competers often complain about how unproductive their people are; innovators realize that people are their most upgradable resource and constantly look for ways to help their people to be more productive.
  • Competers often think about how they can use high-technology to cut their workforce and save money; innovators seek to integrate strategy, technology, and people.
  • Competers are often big on standardized operations which force people to act in predictable ways; innovators encourage creativity in their people.
  • Competers are annoyed by problems and see them as enemies to progress; innovators go looking for problems they can turn into opportunities.

In short, competers are usually so caught up in meeting their day-to-day challenges that they can only worry about the future, while innovators see the present only as a stepping stone they can use to get to a bigger and better future.

A new world is taking shape before our eyes, and we can't afford to hide out in the old familiar places. While it's important to meet new people, make connections, and keep your network growing, it's just as crucial to get out and shake the hand of the new technology that will turn tomorrow's opportunities into today's profits.

©1995-2003, Burrus Research Associates, Inc.

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