Monkeys see, Monkeys do – but Monkeys will always be one step behind

innovationCopying others is a business reality.  Always has been.  You see someone doing something successful, you want some of that success for yourself so you look at what they’re doing and imitate.  But you will struggle to become and remain an industry leader by simply following the “Monkey see, Monkey do” philosophy because without an understanding of why, you’ll forever be one step behind.

When we started our business in 2011, we were in a land of our own.  Fiona and I were people with a need.  A need we validated with others and supported with statistical analysis of labor market trends globally that showed the need would grow substantially in coming years as the workforce evolved.  Armed with a strong business case, we went to market.

But in that first year, we made a fatal flaw – we copied an existing model.  We tried to force-fit the online classified approach to the flexible workforce.

A year in and only marginally profitable, we were scratching our heads as to what was holding us back?  It took a thought-provoking global tech conference in Silicon Valley to wake us up.  Why were we limiting ourselves by re-purposing a model?  And not just any model, but a dying one that’s becoming less and less effective by the day.

Liberated from “the way it’s always been done’, we were free to call on our creativity and design a new way custom-built to cater for the idiosyncrasies of our market.  It allowed us to innovate, not imitate.  So, after months of research and development, we put HireMeUp out to pasture and launched Workible.  And as a testament to the success of our brave new model, Workible surpassed HireMeUp’s revenue by 1400% in it’s first year.

This experience taught us an important lesson that remains core to our business… Never be content with the obvious answer.  Or the first few solutions or the way it’s already been done.  Clear the deck.  Start fresh.  Challenge the status quo and approach the question or problem from a place where there are no rules.  That is where innovation happens.

Apple's 1981 "Welcome, IBM" Ad
Apple’s 1981 advertisement published two weeks after the debut of IBM’s first personal computer. The playful ad was Apple’s way of “welcoming” IBM into the PC marketplace.

Now, like I said, copying is ingrained in the business world.  And,  it’s even more prevalent today when technology businesses are sprouting up like weeds.  It’s becoming harder and harder to defend against copycats.  There are vocal advocates who commend imitation over innovation as a better way to make money because it’s more of a sure bet.

It was frustrating when we first started speaking to investors about the untapped market of flexible workers because they couldn’t see it being viable.  Fast forward a year or two when copycats and competitors started popping up and suddenly not only did more investors agree it was viable but then pointed to the newcomers and thought they had come first.

The majority of our competitors have profiles on Workible hidden amongst our job seekers and employers.  One in particular has been infiltrating our user bases since our pre-Workible days as HireMeUp.  We often find our exact language used in website copy and ads (what’s that saying… “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”)

But, it really doesn’t bother us (okay, we may make a few not-so-nice remarks and have a laugh when we find one – we’re only human!)  At the end of the day, you can’t hide and you can’t stop people from replicating what they can find.  You just have to keep moving.

So, when it comes to innovation versus imitation, for those of us at Workible, we prefer to stay one step ahead.

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Monkeys see, Monkeys do – but Monkeys will always be one step behind

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