Cloning Success

5th August 2013

A group of people (and sometimes just one person) see a problem and create something to fix it. The product or service they create is a huge success and then everyone starts to ask the obvious question: why didn’t I think of that? The same person(s) do it again and again with new and different products and people start to ask the next question: how do they keep doing that?

We humans are a strange lot. Where there is a problem we feel the need to solve it. Where there is a problem solver we feel the need to explain how they solved it. Countless cumulative years of some peoples lives are spent arguing about the how and why of successful people and successful companies. This company puts their customer first and that one doesn’t; this customer has an inverted boab-tree management structure and this one looks more like a watermelon and clearly THAT’S why they were successful. Recently I’ve read theories that Apple was successful because of one man: Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs sadly passed away recently and now some theorists state that Apple is ‘doomed’ without him, whilst others now say his company and it’s design process are the reason for their success all along. On that note, process is for nought without talented people to execute on that process.

This effect is not unique to technology and certainly not just Apple. Many years have seen many different processes evolve around successful companies and many companies have copied them with several becoming very mainstream like 6-Sigma (from Motorola in the mid-80s). Centralised vs Decentralised management; Matrix management and so on. When one company is having market success, their processes are cloned in an attempt to replicate that success. It seldom results in anything significantly positive for the cloning company and the desire to clone what they think makes that other company so successful wastes thousands and even millions of corporate dollars every year.

Trying to understand and clone success isn’t just a company level pursuit: another example is productivity "gurus" that are analysed and torn apart and then put back together as people try to understand what makes THEM successful or efficient1. Stephen Covey and David Allen are two popular examples and whilst their techniques and suggestions benefit some people the inevitable truth however is that exactly what works for any one individual is unique to THAT individual. No one set of notebooks, software or habits can make everyone more efficient: some will benefit and some will not. Each answer is unique.

No matter if it was Steve Jobs or Apples design processes that produced the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone and iPad; no matter what system made the Sony Walkman, Discman and Stereos so sought after, no matter what made the Motorola Pagers so successful; attempting to clone their successes has not produced any subsequent successes for cloning companies around the world. And yet, they still try.

The quest for an answer, a solution, a method, a process or a reason (any reason) for others success drives many people mad. The truth is that success in any path of life can not be copied from another. Success can’t be bottled or transferred it must be created uniquely. Too many people waste their lives over-thinking the success of others when they should be thinking about their own successes. Following another companies design processes won’t automatically make your own products better. Stop trying to replicate the success of others and get on with making your own success in your own way.


  1. usually in the hopes that the individual can learn something from them