The limitation of imitation


Most young people of this generation had the privilege, I would say, of experiencing formal education in classrooms, where students are arrayed in rows and columns with an instructor standing before them.

In this system of education, you do exactly as you are told. You listen to instructions and whatever the teacher says was law. Some people say this system modeled the style of work that evolved in the early 1900s – factory-like settings where people are arrayed and each churning out a particular component of a product — the way assembly line manufacturing system works.

But things have changed a lot now.

It’s a new world altogether — a world that is battling with new complexities and even the academia is beginning to adjust its pedagogy to align with this new reality. In this new world, there is really no right and wrong answer and what may appear as wrong today is often a yet to be discovered truth. ‘Wrong’ whose correctness can only be seen when it is viewed from another plane. It’s in fact proving to be a matter of perspectives now. Very common these days to hear instructors tell students that, ‘there is no wrong answer’ because within some of these answers lies the world’s next big discovery or invention.

In the orthodox school setting, it is okay to tell students, ‘face your work’…. ‘don’t copy your neighbour’ because the answer can be as simple as, X=5; but it’s not the same outside the four walls of the classroom. The 21st century worker knows that, X and Y do not exist in real life because nobody cares about those figures as much as they care about their application.

In real life, science alone is not sufficient to give you the edge in whatever field you ply your trade. Business people know that to gain monopolistic market positioning and grab a chunk of the value is in fact both a science as well as an art – the kind that makes sense to people everywhere and solves demonstrable societal problems. That’s what they are doing in Silicon Valley and most of the innovation hubs around the world. They are adding Art to Science to bring technological solutions to our world in an unprecedented way.

The problem is that many people are still stuck with the old system. They try to copy the science behind a new thing and forget that it is almost impossible to copy the art alongside, because the art in itself is a dynamic capability that is very hard to pin down – it is not something one can codify and copy and then paste and that’s where companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon operate from. It is superior positioning and organizations who show this quality are the market leaders in their various industries. They have got a firm and unique business process that is even more important than the product in a sense. Their strength is in their process just as much as their product. And when you try to copy them, you often stand the risk of copying their errors and weaknesses alongside and more often than not miss out on their ingenuity and real trade secret.

The Art we are talking of is about application…it’s about not doing things according to the existing algorithm in a bid to build something that may raise the conversation a bit higher and bring our world to a new level altogether. It’s how Leonardo da Vinci crafted the Monalisa painting. It is how Steve jobs weaved the UX of Apple computer that shot its value to be one of the biggest in the world.

The truth is, imitating your peers might take you through school and maybe get you a job or start you off as a local entrepreneur but until you decide to be original, you may not find a place on the global scene. And we all need you to be original so we can reward you.

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