Why Imitation is the Secret Weapon of Creatives

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Inspiration is overrated. There I said it. Not carelessly, but intentionally. Many people spend their lives wishing and praying for a novel idea to drop into their minds. The Eureka moment if you care to give a name to it.

However, we need to remind ourselves that creativity thrives not on inspiration alone but on imitation too. It combines with inspiration to bring the best of innovation to our world.

Unfortunately, we have mocked imitation. Nobody wants to be guilty of copying. David Perrell calls it the Originality Disease. Those who hold originality as a virtue will either get stuck or create nothing substantial. Think about it.

Imitation Gives Leverage

Einstein invented general relativity by building on the idea of classical physicists who he studied for decades. Isaac Newton on his part said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Instead of starting all over, imitation gives you a pedestal to build from. Thus, the more we imitate others, the faster we can discover our unique style. If we don’t first learn the rules, how can we surpass them?

In the words of C.S. Lewis, author of Chronicles of Narnia:

“No man who cares about originality will ever be original. It’s the man who’s only thinking about doing a good job or telling the truth who becomes really original—and doesn’t notice it.”

Of course, this is not an attempt to encourage laziness and complacency.  There is a way to imitate and there are limits to it. What we look out for in imitation are models and principles that can be utilized and improved upon to create something better. When we find these models, we adapt them.

Imitation Breeds Success

To be successful, you have to learn how to first imitate and from there, innovate. Harvard Professor, Theodore Levitt, wrote in 1966: “Imitation is not only more abundant than innovation but a more prevalent road to business growth and profits.” I couldn’t agree more.

White Castle may have invented the first fast-food company in 1921, but it was McDonald’s that maximized the benefits. The U.S. may very well be the world’s largest innovator but China is quickly surpassing her. How? By imitation.

Doesn’t it seem like it is better to imitate than innovate? When creativity is concerned, imitation seems to be the key to innovation.

What do you think? Has imitation ever helped you create something unique? Pls, have your say in the comment section.

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10 thoughts on “Why Imitation is the Secret Weapon of Creatives”

  1. Woosh! This was a good read. Loved it… And learnt from it too. Most significant part of it for me was taking care not to imitate blindly, but to imitate principles and then innovate them.

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