I’ll start by saying one thing about copycats: I’ve been VERY lucky in this category throughout my career.
While I’ve had some BIG HMMMM experiences with my ideas being echoed elsewhere in my 12 years, it’s never been in a context that threatened my livelihood.
Meanwhile, I’ve seem some absolutely egregious forms of intellectual property theft where friends have had entire sales pages, even offers, stolen by experienced folks who knew better.
It can and DOES happen. Please keep yourself safe out there.
But what I want to talk about today is a little different.
Creative Industries Like Ours Can Be a Bit “Echo-y”
By its very nature, an industry like ours (in which sharing ideas in public, frequently and freely, is a MUST for showcasing our skills) is destined to be echo-y.
We take in SO much information, all day every day, that we’re all constantly contributing to and building from, the collective.
Because of that, the fear that our best, most unique ideas may be taken from us — by competitors or bad actors — in a way that stalls our options and growth is ever-present, and can be paralyzing.
Copycats and Competition — Six Points to Keep in Mind
Here are a few notes to help you think about it all without your brain breaking:
Copycats Are Most Likely Beginners
1) With some terrible exceptions, most copycats are beginners trying to find their way.
They’re echoing what they see work, without much discernment as to WHY it works (which means it simply won’t work as well for them.)
Not to say we should encourage that behavior. But, as a mentor once told me: all creatives emulate who we admire on our road to finding our voice.
How much grace you offer is up to you. But over the years, I’m less and less rattled by it — because newbies worth their salt
always grow out of it, and quickly.
There’s Always a New Angle to Explore
2) Uniqueness and creativity are UNLIMITED resources.
I spent many years worrying that some day, my flow of unique ideas would just turn off like a faucet, and I would primal scream to the heavens: “
OH NO! I gave it all away and now there’s nothing left for meeeeee...”
But the reality is: there is ALWAYS a new way to come at things, and ALWAYS a way to be more clear, more clever, more specific, even more kooky. The faucet never runs dry.
If I’m feeling threatened, it’s fuel to go within to make my ideas sharper, and more differentiated. And I’m ALWAYS grateful I did.
There’s Room for Everyone
3) Our industry operates in a global market. There is absolutely room for ALL of us.
Once you anchor into that, you realize: man, this ish is FUN.
It’s FUN to be inspired by “competitors” — especially when they’re friends and colleagues.
It’s FUN to turn “Aw shit, someone already made the thing I wanted to make…” into a beautiful constraint that pushes you to think further outside your own box.
It’s FUN to share high level with your peers. There are so many specialties and skills and gifts out there. There is pure magic in operating joyfully alongside other people shining.
Copycats Can’t Really Copy -YOU-
4) If someone seems to be “borrowing” your original ideas, rest easy: they can never do it like you.
Your process, a.k.a. the way your brain connects dots, is totally unique.
Aside from the strategic touch points of your work and needs of your audience, no one else is coming to the table with your exact blend of personality, power, and experience either.
So honestly? I’ve found it best to say: let ’em try.
And keep doing your thing.
9 times out of 10, they’re going to move onto something else pretty quickly.
Same Idea, Different Power Position
5) There’s nothing truly new under the sun.
Purely unique ideas are painfully rare. All of us are building on something that already existed, so of course unintentional overlap can happen!
That’s why, when I get asked questions like: “Can I use a primary color palette, too?”
“I wanna start talking about [positioning/ CD/ photoshoots]… would that feel weird for you?”
“I LOVE disco balls. Will you be upset if I use those in my branding?”
The answer is always: “DUDE, please go ahead!”
I didn’t invent any of these things. I just use ’em in my way, and you’ll use ’em in yours.
Bottom Line — You’re Your Only Competition
6) The most fearless creatives are the ones playing their own game.
This is the biggest reason competitors and copycats don’t worry me. It’s also why I’m comfy helping folks I share overlap with build out their businesses & brands in incredible ways.
Because my #1 concern isn’t who’s swagger-jacking me — it’s becoming a better strategist, coach, and creative director than I was yesterday.
There’s always a next idea, a different way, a fresh connection to be made that inherently makes me impossible to compete with, or copy.
And trust me when I say: the same is true for you.
And as always: write on,