The allure of copying in service sings like the siren’s song . . . but like the siren’s song it leads the ship to the rocks. – Tripp Babbitt, 2011

So ,what is copying?

Besides the stuff that mediocrity is made of, it has many faces.  A short list might be:

  • Tools – Lean and many improvement methods promote this approach.  It is an attempt to capture lightening in a bottle.
  • Best Practices – Promoted by technology companies so they don’t have to do more for the contract overruns they have.  If everybody is doing it, it must be good.  This is a ridiculous concept for the gullible.  You will hear things like, “We did this for (insert big Fortune 500 company here) so it must be good” or “we don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”

Pavlovian management pants its way to the promised land.  A short cut to saving money.  Give me some of that!

It was W. Edwards Deming that warned us against copying in the 1980 TV White Paper, “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?”  His famous words that the US wanted to copy Japan, “but they don’t know what the copy!”

But copying does far worse things, it stunts our growth.  Once we have a tool or best practice the search ends and management moves on.  The tools limit our ability to find new tools and methods for tomorrow’s problems leaving management looking for more to copy.

I compare tools and best practices to when we do physical inventory.  If you look at the inventory sheet first to see if the item is on the shelf, we miss the items that are not on the sheet.  This is why we need to count shelf to sheet.  Tools and best practices are like counting sheet to shelf, where we limit what else might be out there and stunts our thinking and growth.

Systems thinking organizations learn to think for themselves and can separate from all the pretenders that are always a step behind the competition and the market.  They are puzzled why copying others leaves them consistently behind.  The market wants the real thing and not a poor copy of the original, works for paintings, why not service business?

Investing in new methods to uncover better thinking and innovation doesn’t require copying it requires originality and a different perspective about the design and management of work.

Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at