When Emulation Is Not Flattering

I used to really like the expression “Emulation is the highest form of flattery”. But then I started hearing it (or derivatives of it) all too often and the expression, for me, lost its luster.

Recently, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that some types of emulation are not flattering. In particular, mindless parrots that lack original thinking and seem to just copy whatever their competitors do.

For instance, I have two former employees who left my law firm to compete directly with me. Their first move was to print business cards in the same style, font and paper stock as me. Then, in launching their website, they copied much of the content which I drafted. They even copied my brand promise (“We make your legal problem as simple as possible”).

Despite their mastery at cutting and pasting, these efforts fall short. For instance, in January 2011, my website had 5,727 views while theirs only had 2,655 views. I am not saying that they haven’t enjoyed a modicum of success. Rather, I am saying their inability to be original thinkers and create their own vision impairs their ability to grow.

Further, it puts them in the position of being pretenders. Clients and prospective clients read “their” marketing materials and experience a disconnect when contact with them fails to live up to “their” brand promise. The lack of genuineness is palpable to others and this, of all things, is why I do not recommend watching and following your competition too much. Sure there may be times when it helps but, usually, you are better off pursuing your own platform.

I’ve run across such an adversary in my mayoral campaign against a 16-year incumbent. My opponent has adopted the strategy of copying my platform and ideas. I call for certain changes to make our government more open and transparent, and he quickly scrambles to implement them. I assume that he thinks that, if he implements them (even in response to me), it makes him an open and transparent proponent. But, as you will read below, his feigned attempts at copying my ideas fall short, and only serve to highlight that he actually believes in closed government.

One of many examples involves the Village Board minutes. Early in my campaign, I called for the minutes to be posted on our Village website so that all residents had access to what was discussed at our monthly meetings. About a month later, the 2010 minutes appeared for the first time in Village history. Of course, the knee jerk response to my request only highlighted that for 16 years he never bothered to share this information. Further, despite the fact that the January 2011 minutes were approved in February, he has yet to post them. The failure to stay current on posting the minutes (especially during election season), clearly shows that he does not truly believe that this is important and that he’s not a genuine proponent of open government.

Another example involves election day itself. The incumbent sent out an expensive, glossy 2011 Village calendar last December but omitted Election Day (the most important day of the Village’s year). Of course, when I “outed” him on this critical omission when I publicly announced my candidacy, he quickly scrambled to post the date on the Village election, March 15th, on the website. However, even in posting it, he did so in a closed government fashion by placing it in the lower right portion of the home page, the least conspicuous location.

On the other hand, my party blasted via email to over a 1,000 residents the Election Date along with instructions on how they, too, could run for office. You see open government means sharing information even if it does not benefit you. In this case, we openly shared when and how to run even if it could encourage and assist others to run against us and the incumbents. Now that is an act of a group who believes in open government to their core!

Bottom line: Figure out your “why”. What cause, emotion or belief with which you are aligned and live it and breathe it. In my case, I am passionate about making my Village more accessible, open and user-friendly. Because I truly believe it and live it, my message resonates with many residents who share this belief.

BTW, one of my all-time favorite books on this topic is “Start With Why” by my dear friend Simon Sinek.

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