When Imitation Isn’t Flattery
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Mark Zuckerberg is the biggest sycophant on earth.
“Authenticity isn’t about being someone else. It’s about being the best version of yourself. I like you just the way you are.” — Fred Rogers
I once worked for a leader I admired deeply. He exuded charm and confidence, and was effortlessly kind and thoughtful in the way he dealt with people.
I’ve long wanted to model my own behavior after him, but I struggle when I try — not because I can’t be charming, kind or thoughtful, but because when I do it, it seems like I’m trying.
And then it doesn’t feel authentic.
I witnessed the person who was tapped to be his eventual replacement try the same thing and it was awkward to watch. He was trying to be authentic but he just seemed smarmy.
The recent launch of Threads by InstaMetaBook is clearly a Twitter copycat, which is only the latest in a long line of instances of Facebook’s “long-standing "clone and conquer" product strategy,” as Axios put it. It’s been a mixed bag to date.
It’s no wonder, either: launching a product of your own is already immensely difficult; when you attempt to copy someone else’s idea, you face not only the usual headwinds, but you also miss out on the passion, drive, and certain inner burst that makes the truly successful product spring to life.
“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.” ― Christopher Morley
The entrepreneurs who see an opportunity where no one else does are the ones who are exuberant about their work. The way Steve Jobs was when he launched three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone, and a breakthrough internet communications device: the iPhone.
Or they see applications of certain activities or processes in unrelated areas and their creative thinking allows them to apply it to their own. Henry Ford didn’t invent the moving assembly line, but he witnessed processes at meat-packing plants in Chicago and grain mill conveyor belts, and he applied it to automobile assembly.
It isn’t easy to forge your own path, but those who do are leaders who are followed by others. [See related essay: “Authenticity Takes Courage”]
When my team at Ford was trying new platforms, imagining possibilities, and testing limits that weren’t previously considered, we liked to say that we were paving the road behind us.
And so we did. Our work was featured in case studies, college courses, and the business press. We were lauded for being authentic and true to our strategy.
When we were authentic, we became the best version of ourselves.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
And just for members of the Ampersand Guild, our community of paying subscribers, here are some additional stories related to our last newsletter on embracing your softer side:
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