Friday, January 25, 2013

Imitation or Theft?

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery right? Heck – I even talk about the concept of “Rip off, expand and duplicate” in one of my books.

As an example TOMS shoes ( was one of the first companies to pioneer the “one for one” concept. For each of their pairs of shoes you purchase, they’ll also donate another to a child in need. TOM’s founder Blake Mycoskie has openly stated that he hopes others will copy the concept – and his wish has been granted, there have been numerous one for one organizations spawned world wide (I’ve even partnered to set up my own directly inspired by TOM’s – Baby Teresa –

BUT – there has to be a difference between being inspired and blatantly ripping another person’s idea off.

I walked into a Sketchers shoe store the other day and noticed a shoe design remarkably similar to the very distinctive “TOMS” shoe. The name of it: “BOBS” and the concept “one for one donation”. My first thought, given how identical the similarities were, was that Sketchers had partnered with TOMS which I loved, but then the closer I inspected the packaging the more I found no reference to TOMS. A little online searching and I found the scathing negative publicity Sketchers had received for so blatantly ripping off another, smaller organisation’s fabulous idea. To make it worse, Sketchers, one of the largest shoe companies in the world underpriced TOMS and then also initially launched with a two for one donation.

So, there’s inspiration and then there’s direct copying. One is flattering and aspirational, the other is blatantly uncool.

So what’s are some ways to be inspired, without stealing?

1.              My number one tip - look outside your own industry! Take inspiration from great service given to you at a hotel and work it into your hair dressing salon. See the poor service you receive at XYZ plumbing company and figure out how you can do the opposite in your retail store.
2.              When I wrote about Terry Watson’s R&D (Rip off and duplicate) concept – I wrote RED (Rip off, expand and duplicate). If you want to incorporate a great idea into what you do – EXPAND on it, take the brilliance and make it better, stronger, sharper, more efficient. In short, make it your own.
3.              Reference your inspiration or even go to them, where appropriate, and discuss how you’ve been inspired and get their go ahead to continue with the concept.

And how about how to stop yourself from being copied? That’s harder still. The only real answers here are to be clear and consistent with your innovations – in many cases like TOMS v BOBS the public support will lean towards the original innovator. Short of that – when it’s a smaller innovation and not your entire business concept – keep on innovating!

And in closing if your innovation is just a cheaper price,  remember the old “We fix $6 haircuts story” (google it if you don’t know it!) 

By Anonymous with 2 comments


Hey Kirsty, I completely agree that large companies ripping off ideas (as per Tom vs Bobs cited) but on the other hand - how amazing is it that a tiny little shoe company had the power to get a really BIG shoe company to start donating shoes to people in need. I think we need to find our victories wherever we can and hope Tom is smart enough and fast moving enough to come up with the next great idea to pick up the slack.

Paddy - I love that you've seen the light in this - thanks for your comment!!

I think however the inspiration could have been better utilised - maybe as a partnership with TOMs or in a way that didn't attempt to blatantly copy every aspect of their product (then it would have been more flattering and would have been much better PR for Sketchers!)

Thanks again for the comment!


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