Copy Cat: Learning Through Observation

Is there a competitor or colleague that does something you admire? Is there a small pang of jealousy or envy in how another firm does what it does? Rather than lament it, embrace it.

We can channel our impressions of others into benefit if we transform our envy or observations into actions. This is a technique called Copy Cat.

Copy Cat is a simple technique that can be done as part of a monthly review and fit in with your regular strategy and sensemaking sessions. This technique allows you to focus learning on aspects of a competitor or peer’s behaviour and activities that you would like to learn from and maybe copy. Copy Cat is a form of appreciative inquiry. It works by focusing our attention on specific qualities or actions that we can adopt in our organization and practice.

How to be a Copy Cat

Copy Cat involves systematic attention and review of specific organizations and activities you admire or wish to copy. This is a technique based on the psychological concept of modelling and self-efficacy. Copy Cat begins by identifying those individuals, organizations, or groups that we admire or wish to emulate. It may be specific persons or it may also be behaviours or practices.

After we identify what it is that we wish to model, the next step is to begin observing the person/organization/behaviour/practice we are interested in. Literal observation, use of artifacts (e.g., articles, news stories, word of mouth, or marketing materials can all help. Your data gathering should be systematic, but it does not need to be comprehensive.

The next step is to engage in sensemaking. Sensemaking is a social process that allows us to make meaning of what we find. Bring together all your data, share it with those involved (this can be done independently, but is far more powerful in a small group), and make it accessible to everyone involved. Sensemaking helps us to ask questions about what we see and what it might mean for us in our work.

We use Copy Cat to see how others’ actions might apply to our work. Copy Cat provides guidance on what to do and how it can be done.

Applying Copy Cat

When we systematically, attentively watch others using Copy Cat we begin to consider how what we see can apply to us. This is where our design skills come into play.

We ask the following questions:

  1. What resources are employed in these actions? Do we have them?
  2. What knowledge or skills are required to do these activities?
  3. What circumstances are present in these actions? Did they help or hurt what was done?
  4. What outcomes emerged from these actions and can we tell what they are?
  5. What might this look like if we did those actions? What do we need that we don’t have?
  6. What negatives might emerge from these actions?

Copy Cat allows us to dissect the core components of someone else’s actions and consider how we might apply those lessons to our work.

By taking time to do this — we recommend spending 2-3 hours per month on this activity — some distinct benefits can be revealed.

  1. We sharpen our observation skills
  2. We begin learning more about our market
  3. We open our eyes to new ways to do something and the constraints others operate in
  4. It engages us in reflective practice about what we do and why
  5. It keeps us active in our market
  6. It builds systematic learning and praxis into our organization
  7. We enhance our curiosity and use it to channel energy in our organization

This simple method can have enormous benefits for an organization and helping build learning, innovation, and engagement in your people and your market. It requires little in the way of specialized tools and only a small amount of time.

If you want help building this into your learning and innovation practice, let’s talk. This is what we do and we’d love to help you do it, too.

Photo by Jonas Lee on Unsplash and Max Baskakov on Unsplash

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