Replicating bits and pieces of successful companies is tempting because it’s easy; it is unlikely to render good results.
Imagine visiting a friend’s house and being very impressed with the lighting and ambiance in all the rooms and we decide that we want the same outcome in our house. Would we just go to a home restoration store, buy exactly the same switches and bulbs, and expect the same result?
We shouldn’t! Each house has a unique combination of wiring configuration, room layout, room sizes, wall colors, and other similar aspects, all of which ensure that the result will be very different. In other words, the outcome we are seeking is high quality lighting and ambiance; but just replicating couple of components of a friend’s house will not help improve lighting and ambiance in our house; we might even end up being worse off after putting money into it.
Although this might seem obvious, such ideation and problem-solving is fairly common in corporate settings. Lines of arguments like “our competitor has adopted this tactic; if we don’t do the same thing, we will fall behind” can make ideas tempting to adopt. However, such tactics usually don’t align with other plans and tactics at the company. Eventually, the copied tactics are abandoned or forgotten after consuming organizational resources without delivering desired outcomes.
Rinse-and-repeat doesn’t work
There are two fundamental reasons for us to internalize this philosophy and be mindful when looking for ideas around us.
Reason 1: The layers of details behind each idea make their impact fundamentally different even though the idea itself appears the same on the surface
I will explain this using a practical example: I was once responsible for development of a Sales Operations function and owned all the analyses, processes, and technology to help grow sales. The sales leadership had experience working with a specific sales prospecting technology platform at a previous employer and recommended its purchase. The assessment that the technology platform that worked well for another company would work well at our company was an incorrect one. Our company already had a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform that was being used across the organization (which negated the need for a new platform) and there were significant differences in roles and responsibilities of the individuals (even though they had similar job titles) between the two companies.
In this case, we avoided the mistake of taking on an expensive new technology that would have been ineffective. It would also have set the company behind with implementation time and limitations in data flow to the existing CRM platform. The key takeaway is that the organization considered this idea very seriously for a long period of time before accepting that it didn’t fit our needs.
Reason 2: The interplay of two or more ideas will be so vastly different depending on the details behind the ideas and the environment in which they are used in
Many companies attempt to borrow organization structure, compensation design, operational playbooks, and similar concepts from other companies. Predictably, they rarely have positive results:
- Organization structure design is heavily dependent on the type of product being sold and the effectiveness of various channels used by buyers
- Compensation should be designed based on a practical balance of new business vs. cross-sell for the specific product and market, the maturity and market position of the company, roles of all contributors to day-to-day operations, etc.
- Similarly, operations playbooks should be entirely tailored to the activities within an organization, considering all the roles and responsibilities because no two companies are identical despite resemblances in industry or product offering
In summary, “it worked there, so it should work here” problem solving should be avoided at all costs. At best, it serves as hypotheses to test. Start with the assumption that ideas will not work and work towards proving that an idea would render desired results by diving into the details and constantly reassessing the interplay with other new or existing ideas. Failure is a significantly more likely outcome than success – the only way to counter such odds is to invest some time upfront to design a solution that works in each unique environment.