Assuming we have no imitators

Once we've fallen in love with our idea for a new project or venture, we're usually scared to death that someone will steal our idea. We wish everyone would sign a non-disclosure agreement before we reveal any of our ingenious plans. We want no one to find out about it while also hoping the idea will take the world by storm. If we entertain these fears for long, we incapacitate our mental resources. Creative thinking is cancelled until further notice. We can conceive of acts of desperation and little else.

To avoid this state of mind, we fall into the pitfall of assuming we have no imitators. No one will copy our idea or surpass the improvements we're making. We imagine that we are so far ahead of others and superior to their approaches -- that they could not catch up to us or catch on to what we're doing. We're usually in for a big surprise when we become this arrogant in our estimation of others' capabilities, motivations and determination.

When we discover that someone has actually imitated our approach or stolen our idea, we typically become devastated. We perceive a certain danger, obvious threat and established enemy. There's no way to argue with those facts or change what has already happened. It's only a "valuable opportunity" or a "useful lesson" if we're kidding ourselves. What we presume to be "facing reality" fills our minds with panic, anxiety and nightmare scenarios.

We actually "face reality" when realize that ideas can be copied, but ecologies cannot be cloned. Imitators can only replicate simple facets of complex systems. Many portable MP3 players imitated Apple's iPod -- but none copied the deals with the music industry, the online iTunes store or the digital rights management encoding in downloaded files. If all we're offering is something that can be copied, it's a mere package, trinket or commodity. The value proposition is flawed. The benefits realized by users is superficial and easily substituted. 

The threat of imitators is an opportunity to grow our own complex ecology. The offer needs to serve lots of different use cases. The situations where our idea works need to include a range of variations. The kinds of combinations, mash-ups and pairings with our initial idea need to boggle our minds. The newcomer to our "total solution" will awed by how we "thought of everything" and "considered every angle". The value proposition has evolved into a robust and potentially viral complex ecology. 

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