THE INNOVATOR’S IMITATION DILEMMA: TIKTOK AND FACEBOOK IN CONTEXT

Even with a backer like Microsoft, innovators must outrace copycats like Facebook and others who share the spoils of imitation among themselves. At first glance, TikTok is facing an existential threat. Not only is the wildly popular short video-sharing app banned in India and now forced to be spun off in the United States from its Chinese owner Bytedance, it also has to fend off copycats like Facebook’s Reels. But TikTok may have a secret sauce that allowed it to thwart Facebook’s earlier imitation attempt, and that may yet secure its future: the ability to recombine existing know-how in a market as complex and fast-moving as tech-based entertainment. In the game of digital innovation, imitators often outrace the original innovators. Spotify is another great example of a firm that has outsmarted copycats with complex continuous innovation. Its music streaming service manages to combine a dynamically changing user-interface, behavioral prediction algorithms and a bulging music catalog. Spotify learns its customers’ preferences and uses predictions to suggest content that will keep them coming back. Recombination is but one of three types of in-house knowledge mobilization that can facilitate innovation. The other two are transfer (employees teaching one another) and collaboration (employees working together). Whether to invest in innovation in the face of imitation continues to be one of the most important problems that companies face. It is recommended that firms grappling with the innovator’s imitation dilemma consider the sort of in-house knowledge mobilization they invest in; the nature of the technology and whether it may lead to knowledge spillover-sharing by rivals; and the pool of rivals itself. The solution to the dilemma requires a deep understanding of the complex interplay among these factors.  Read More >>

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