This is the last post in the creative leadership series.
A lot of leaders are always looking out for the next big thing in their industry. They check out what the competition is successfully doing and copy it shamelessly. This copy-cat syndrome is prevalent in the business world.
There is nothing wrong with studying what your successful peers are doing and there is nothing wrong with benchmarking your organisation against successful peers. The problem arises when you copy everything extensively. The idea of adopting everything that works in one organisation and replicating them exactly in your organisation can be dangerous. Leaders who adopt extensively realise that they don’t always get exactly the same successful results enjoyed by the benchmarked organisation. This is because there are a lot of intangible variables that are unique to that organisation which do not exist in their own organisations. Leaders should, therefore, always seek to take the context into play when they copy the good ideas or approaches of other successful companies.
It is always better for a leader to adapt rather than to adopt. This is because adapting is customising while adopting is simply copying. You need some degree of creativity to adapt which is not necessarily needed to adopt. Adapting can be likened to reverse engineering which is the process of taking apart an object or a process in order to figure out how it works and then using that knowledge to build a better one.
King Solomon, in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, said that there is nothing new under the sun. Everything is an adaption of something that has previously existed. Google and Facebook were not the first search engine or social network platform in their industry, but their founders adapted what existed before and then created something better than the rest. Today, both companies dominate their industries. Steve Johnson argued, in his September Wall Street Journal essay, that “big new ideas more often result from recycling and combining old ideas than from eureka moments.” Creative leaders are lifelong learners. They expose themselves to a diverse range of old and new ideas in order to make connections that they can adapt to produce innovative solutions.