Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Imitate. We are imperfect mirrors.

You know that song you love, that you wish you wrote? Copy it.

You know that existing business, that you wish you had thought of? Copy it.

Why?

Because humans are imperfect mirrors.

Like a funhouse mirror that distorts what it reflects, even if you try to imitate something, it will turn out much different than the original. Maybe better.

When a musician covers someone else’s song, they clearly reveal their own warped perspective, since we know what the original sounds like. Because of this, a cover song is actually a great way to define who you are as an artist.

When a musician writes a new song, imitating someone else’s song, it’s usually unrecognizable. You have to tell people of its inspiration, for them to make the connection.

So an entrepreneur can imitate someone else’s business, and still be adding a unique service to the world.


I resisted this lesson as long as I could. It offended my instincts as an artist. I felt that everything I did had to be 100% original. Everything “not invented here” was out of the question.

Back in my CD Baby days, my only direct competitor had one awesome advantage: old fashioned credit card swiping machines that musicians could use to sell CDs at gigs, even without electricity or a 3G connection. Musicians would tell me how much they loved that service, and even told me they wish we had it too. I said, “Yeah. Damn. Oh well.” Because imitating their offering didn’t even enter my mind.

It took a whole year for me to swallow my pride, and realize I’d be doing my clients a favor if I imitated that idea. It turned out to be one of the most successful things I ever did.

Those little credit card swiping machines charged over $8.5 million for thousands of musicians, which meant $7.75 million paid out to the musicians, and $750k profit for us. And the whole thing only took two weeks to make, and one employee to run.


So look around at those existing ideas in the world.

Get over that self-important resistance, and do the world a favor.