In today's world, innovation is a necessary condition of economic modernisation, and Russian companies need to maximise their innovation potential to take the country's technological development to a new level.
"The term imitation has a negative connotation in Russian society; however, an imitation-based strategy may be even better for the company than a strategy based exclusively on innovation," the economists argue.
Imitation enables newer companies and those without significant R&D capacity to grow and become competitive by first learning from industry leaders and innovators through imitation and then eventually creating their own innovative technologies and products.
Thus, BMW did not invent the automobile, but became a market leader by making improvements in the car manufacturing process; IBM did not invent the personal computer, but brought PCs to the mass market, and LEGO, although it has sued competitors for copying its products, originally borrowed the product idea from another company.
Alexandrovsky and Shushkin identify three types of imitation strategies which can be used by Russian companies:
Product imitation is very common in China, especially in the electronics and automotive industries. For example, China's Chery copies the design of Daewoo's Matiz; Shuanghuan Automobile sells its Bubble car claimed to be a copy of the Smart ForTwo; Great Wall Motors has reportedly copied famous brands such as Fiat Panda, BMW X5 and Scion XB.
Examples of more sophisticated inter-sectoral technology imitations include the BMW iDrive system borrowed from the gaming industry and shock-absorbing materials used in Nike products, borrowed from Formula 1 cars.
Companies using creative imitation scan their markets for new innovative products which are imperfect yet have great potential, and promptly develop their own versions, which are more satisfying and appealing, and better meet consumer demand. Such innovations are more than just clones and are valued much higher than mere copies.
"Although innovation is considered more important for sustained competitive advantage than imitation, studies show that most innovations are in fact creative imitations," the authors emphasise. Thus, IBM, P&G and Seiko owe their leading positions in the market to creative imitation.
Alexandrovskiy and Shushkin are convinced that by using this imitation strategy, Russian companies will soon achieve import substitution in a number of sectors; by adopting various copying strategies, companies can reduce the time needed to create and bring new products to market and may eventually bridge the technology gap and become more competitive both domestically and internationally.