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Imitation, under-publicized, yet more likely to succeed than innovation

We hear all the time praise for law departments that innovate. Do something new, General Counsel are told, to keep up in the competitive race and make the cover of a trade journal. In fact, it may be far more effective to copy what other law departments do and perhaps add your own wrinkle. This is the message of an essay in the Economist, May 12, 2012 at 76. It flat-out states that “history shows that imitators often end up winners.” According to a recent book on this subject, “studies show that imitators do at least as well and often better from any new product as innovators do.”

The media’s obsession with novelty shortchanges the effectiveness of borrowing ideas from others. The adoption of an idea that is borrowed – referred to often as a best practice – calls for its own competencies, and combinations of borrowed ideas can result in something we might deem to be innovative. Blatant copying of practices from other law departments should be welcomed and should be honored by those who give awards mostly to departments that pioneer (See my post of May 24, 2010: innovation and creativity with 6 metaposts.).