There are six different parts to a unique idea.
They all tell you something about how hard it would be to copy your idea, and what you can do to prevent piracy.
An idea doesn’t have to have each of these factors to be unique or to succeed, but the stronger it is in each area listed, the more unique and potentially successful it’s likely to be.
1. A Secret or secrets
A unique idea includes a secret or secrets about the product involved, making it more difficult to copy i.e., a software product may contain coding that isn’t visible to competitors. You couldn’t just sit down and whip out a copy of Microsoft Windows – it’s far too complex and intricate. An approximation of such a product could eventually be built, of course, and it might even be supe- rior to the original. However, this would take enormous time and effort – and those wouldn’t be the only barriers to overcome before it could actually be marketed.
2. Tacit knowledge
A unique idea is based – at least in part – on tacit know- ledge. That is, facts and principles known only to those most directly and intimately involved with the company and its products – and not spoken about outside the company circle. They are silently (tacitly) understood and maintained. This “team factor” is often one of the most important aspects in uniqueness. The personality, viewpoints, background, experience, skill sets, talents and knowledge of the team’s individual members, and the interactions between them, combine to form a company’s true foundation. They are the hallmark and source of your company’s ideas, products, development, innovation, actions and even its image; they are the very soul or spirit of your company. Take, for example, the
team behind the software company 37signals – they are a group of special, hardworking guys and gals, coming up with unique ideas every day. You cannot just go out and hire a team like that, all at one shot; it must be carefully built and developed over time.
3. A simple solution to a common problem.
An idea that solves a problem in a new and simple way can be unique. The trouble here, is that the idea may be so simple that it’s also very simple to copy. Despite the principle of “less is more,” and even though simplicity
is inherently more powerful than complexity, a brilliant idea may be so simple that competitors just copy it as soon as it’s launched, or at least as soon as people start noticing your success. If your unique idea’s entrance bar- rier is very low, the risk of others jumping in and offering the same thing increases remarkably.
4. A complex solution to a problem.
Although it might seem to contradict the previous item on this list, an idea can also be unique because of its complexity! The complexity might be in terms of tech- nology, design, unique data, integrated partnerships, etc.
Take Google, for instance. They have gathered stagger- ing amounts of data, and combine this with their special technology and integrated relationships with all existing websites. Included in such complexity may be partner- ships that are difficult to obtain. Overall, the result is an idea that cannot easily be copied – there is too much to copy, and the entrance barriers are just too high.
In reality, then, the basic idea is still powerfully simple. Complexity, as a positive factor and element of company uniqueness, enters the picture in the way the simple idea is manifested and implemented.
5. Differences from your competitors.
In general, how vulnerable is your idea to being copied or pirated by competitors? This isn’t to say that your idea has to be as wildly unique as, say, inventing a spaceship, but just that you must do things differently than your competitors. The more cluttered a market is, and the more intense the competition, the more you should pay attention to differentiating your products and services.
If a market is thick with competition, everyone making similar offerings, you may be able to change the entire market by coming up with a whole new way of meeting the need the market seeks to serve. The upside of a clut- tered market is that it indicates a proven market concept. In such a situation, you have to think and act far more creatively to be noticed at all, and to attract customers.
6. Brand and design.
How big is your brand, and how well is it known? The more well-known and respected the brand, the harder it is to copy. Apple is a good example. They have a unique design and a well-respected brand. You cannot just launch an aluminum laptop and jump to the top of the PC market. You need to create a superior brand in order to break through. [Of course you don’t have to be Apple to have a strong brand – it can be a strong brand in your market category.]
After reading about these six parts, you should consider which of them you can work on to make your own idea more unique and even harder to copy.
On the surface, many online ideas might seem easy to copy. Under the skin, though, you will find a long string of unique- ness factors that make copying no easy feat.
The following points describe how you can work with each of the six different elements of uniqueness to make your overall offering even more untouchable.
1. Using secrets:
Think about how you can make your idea even more secret. How could the idea be changed to increase or improve upon its secret/unseen aspects? This can be dif- ficult, since secrets are, well, secret! They’re hard to spot, and hard to formulate. Your secret could be, for instance, the way you go about acquiring new customers. It could be your features, speed, convenience, etc. – anything
that sets you apart as superior to your competitors, yet remains secret in terms of how it is accomplished, or how it can be offered.
2. Using tacit knowledge:
In most small businesses you’ll find tacit knowledge inherent in the team, including the owners. This is knowledge that isn’t written down, and can’t be simply explained. It’s seen in the way people think, how they
go about developing an idea and the directions develop- ment takes. It might show up as a group desire to change something larger than the group. This may sound rather abstract, and in fact, it is. It’s a factor that’s most eas-
ily seen in a young start-up company – a sort of magic explodes, and things start moving and developing and expanding. One thing is for sure – you should aim at motivating people to relate closely, and develop an atmosphere that fosters tacit knowledge and makes the train roll.
3. Using simple ideas:
Having a simple concept or idea can be great. But some- times an idea can look simple on the surface, while the way it has been implemented is far from simple. Favor- ing simplicity over complexity is always a good idea – es- pecially if your competitors are having difficulty making their service or product truly easy for customers or users.
Billy’s Billing is a good example of this principle in action. Traditional accounting systems and software programs are geared for trained, experienced bookkeep- ers and certified accountants; they are far too technical and complex for the ordinary person to easily under- stand and use. Billy’s system can be used by anyone who can operate a computer and follow simple instructions. Simplicity is the key, literally unlocking the mysterious world of bookkeeping for the ordinary person.
4. Using complex ideas:
While simplicity is vital for individual products and ser- vices, and for a company’s basic purpose and plan, com- plexity can also be used effectively. Though a product or service itself may be (and should be) inherently simple, intricate systems and networks can be built up around the product or service.
The complexity may come in the form of the structure of the company, integration among several products or services, customer loyalty programs, partnerships with other companies and so on. If cleverly conceived and im- plemented, the result can be a complex working structure that would be very difficult indeed for any competitor to successfully emulate or copy.
A great partnership deal with another company can be difficult to arrange – but it can also be well worth the effort, giving you new cash flows and an overall company idea that’s even more brilliant than it was before.
Even an individual idea that’s simple on its face can be
Going back to the Billy’s Billing accounting program example, you have the simple idea of an accounting system that anyone can use. Implementing that idea and making it work is a very complex and time-consuming undertaking. In terms of a unique and brilliant idea for a company, a simple/complex combination like this is just about perfect.
5. Using a big field of competitors to your advantage:
Challenge existing players in the market – it is actually good news that there are competitors! To start with, you’ve got to squeeze your brain like a lemon to come up with and develop a well-differentiated concept, so that what you’re doing and offering is not the same as every- one else. Then you have to be loud and clear in telling your prospective customers what makes you unique. As mentioned earlier, price differentiation is only a tiny part of doing things in a new way, and it is not a long-term solution.
6. Using brand and design:
Make sure to establish a brand and design that are unique. This helps you build a good base of loyal custom- ers and users, and strengthens your company. A strong brand is also attractive to investors – and it is something others can’t effectively copy. At Billy’s Billing, we hired five designers to create our user interface – we consid- ered its quality and uniqueness that important. Our competitors hired just one.
The Brilliant Idea: Summary
If you take care to follow the six steps, and make your idea brilliant and uniquely different from your competition, your company and its products, services and activities will be much harder to copy. Their inherent value will also increase enor- mously – their value to your users, and their value to you and your team.
A brilliant idea disrupts the status quo. It shakes up the way people think about a problem, need or want. It leads their thinking outside the usual, to something new, unique, and better.
With Billy’s Billing, we offered a whole new perspective to small businesses that business accounting required account- ants – or at least a trained accountant’s knowledge and skill. We offered a service with the value of an accounting agency’s services, but without the expensive accountants themselves. We were able to provide a highly valued and demanded prod- uct, at half the normal price.
Remember that each of the six points will work in different ways, depending on your team’s members and organization, your market, products, etc. Adjust the recommendations to your company, and you’ll see whole new dimensions of re- sults.
Some important notes about patents
The best way to secure your brilliant idea is to patent it. This is a powerful way to prevent copying. Basically, the simpler your brilliant idea (that is, the easier it would be to copy), the more seriously you should think about applying for a patent. Pat- ents can be expensive to obtain, however they do provide you with legal protection of your new brilliant, unique idea, mak- ing it impractical or impossible for small start-up businesses.
A patent is also a “passive” protection – it does not eliminate the possibility that someone will eventually come up with an alternative to the solution(s) your idea provides and bring it to market. If your idea is huge, with enormous potential, go ahead and spend whatever resources required to secure it. In doing so, though, be sure to consult with a reliable patent spe- cialist. Consult with a reliable patent attorney. Vet them care- fully; as with all industries, there are some bad guys out there.
Don’t fret if your idea isn’t patentable, or if at this time, you cannot afford the financial resources to see the process through. The remaining steps are still applicable.