What it is: Looking to the past for clues to the future will cause you to miss opportunities every time.
The human mind isn’t comfortable thinking because thinking takes time and effort. That’s why far too many people make snap judgements and rely on pre-judging (prejudice) to make any decisions. Then once someone makes a decision, they identify with that decision as if it were part of their personality, which means they defend that idea without using logic of any kind.
If you’re thinking of starting a business, the worst thing you can do is copy someone else. It may look like an easy route to success, but it too often leads to failure simply because by the time you copy someone else, the market has shifted to another field altogether. As long as you keep trying to copy someone else, you’ll always miss out on the future.
Using the Wayne Gretzky’s sports analogy, if you’re always skating to where the puck has been, you’ll never get to the puck so you can score.
In the computer world, look at how Microsoft has relied on copying others that has gotten them nowhere. Back in the days of online services, Microsoft tried to copy CompuServe with their own online service called The Microsoft Network. That lasted just long enough to become obsolete immediately when the Internet took off and online services faded away.
Microsoft tried to copy Turbo Pascal by releasing a similar Pascal compiler called QuickPascal. That lasted just long enough for the world to shift from MS-DOS to Windows, which killed both Turbo Pascal and QuickPascal.
Microsoft tried to copy the iPod by releasing the Zune, just in time for the digital music player market to crumble with the introduction of the iPhone and smartphones that could duplicate the features of an iPod.
Then Microsoft tried to copy the iPhone with Windows Phone, just in time to miss the shifting trend towards tablets. Apple had originally created the iOS operating system to run on tablets, then modified it to run on a smartphone. Microsoft didn’t have such foresight and created Windows Phone to run only on smartphones, so when tablets became popular, they were left behind once more.
When Microsoft tried to copy the iPad with Windows RT and Surface tablets, they were just in time to capture the declining market in tablets. Now that Apple has released the Apple Watch to herald in the wearable computer market, Microsoft has released a version of Windows that can run on smartphones, tablets, and PCs, which is what they should have done when they first came up with the idea for Windows Phone.
Microsoft tried to copy Adobe Flash with Silverlight, just in time for the mobile market to take off where Flash couldn’t run efficiently. When Adobe Flash started to fade in popularity, it took Microsoft’s Silverlight down with it.
By constantly copying and following Apple and other companies, Microsoft wastes time and money while also missing major shifts in the market. Copying is a failed strategy that Microsoft and others (such as Samsung) can’t seem to understand.
Rather than copy a leader, the better idea is to see what the leaders are missing, and then solve those problems with your own innovative ideas.
The past is a guide, not a prediction of the future. Many people assumed that since Windows dominated the personal computer market, Android would do the same in the mobile market. They were right, but what they didn’t realize was that Android might dominate the mobile market, but the majority of the profits (and innovation) still appears with Apple’s iPhone and iPad.
Blindly applying the lessons of the past as an accurate prediction of the future is like driving by looking in your rear view mirror. Eventually you’re going to crash into something you didn’t see because you didn’t bother to look.
If you want to see the next failure in the corporate market, look for the products and companies trying to copy the leader (Motorola Xoom tablet, Hewlett-Packard Slate PC, Microsoft Zune, etc.). If you want to succeed in your own work or business, look for a problem that current technology isn’t solving and find a way to solve it creatively.
Before Uber, taxi cabs were expensive ways to get a ride and buses were inconvenient. Uber took advantage of smartphones and apps to create a new way to transport people around. They didn’t create anything physical. They just applied creativity to use existing technology in a different way by eliminating the major pain point of a current problem that others were ignoring.
Look for the status quo that isn’t working and find a way to kill it. That’s a far better strategy for success than simply copying others.