If you’re like me, you like to track with people who are ahead of you in age and stage, and probably ahead of you in their level of ‘success’.

Chance are you do this in real life (I hope you have mentors) but you also do this online.

Thanks to social media, smart phones, tablets and access to anything anywhere all the time, almost everyone tracks with some ‘celebrity’ type leader.

Please hear me. This is a great way of learning and growing.  I do it too.

But have you ever found yourself imitating others—in style, in content and in strategy?

Do that often enough and guess what happens?

You’ll kill something God given inside.

In fact, you’ll eventually stop innovating.

Ultimately, imitation kills innovation.


Is Imitation Always Bad? Well, No

Imitation isn’t all bad.  There are instances when imitation is just wise and expedient.  Here are a few:

When someone else has done something better than you could and you are free to use their material, strategy or approach.

When someone has figured out a smarter, faster way to get things done.

No one on your team has the creativity to create a better mouse trap.

But imitation as a habit can be a big mistake, not to mention soul-killing.


But Now the Shadow Side

Imitate long enough, and imitate hard enough, and there won’t be much innovation left in you or your organization.  And for those of us who are Christians, there may not be much of God’s voice left in you either.

If you only listen to others, you will eventually stop listening to God.

And let’s take that a step further.

While this doesn’t always happen, just level with me. When you follow someone who is a better leader, better communicator or better writer than you, it stirs up some envy, doesn’t it?

If it doesn’t for you, as much as I hate to admit it, it does for me from time to time. And when that happens, I need to confess it and address it.

Envying someone else’s gifts will cause you to neglect your own.


3 Ways Imitation Kills Innovation

So what does constant imitation kill?  More than you might think. Let’s look specifically at three ways innovation suffers at the hands of imitation.

Constant imitation:

1. Kills your unique voice.

If you are always trying to be someone else, you will never be yourself. And that’s a shame, because God actually created you.

It’s not that you shouldn’t learn from others (you really can’t learn all by yourself anyway), it’s just that you should stop trying to be someone else. So just stop that. Develop your own voice. Learn from others, but be yourself.


2. Stifles Your creativity.

Some of the best ideas you’ll ever have seem dumb when you first have them. And sometimes they stay dumb. But often they don’t…what’s crazy to begin with can become powerfully effective.

6 years ago a group of us left an almost paid for building to start a new non-denominational church that was 100% portable. A year after I sat down with a colleague I really respected and he told me he thought we were crazy when he first heard of the idea. Why leave what’s safe to move into the unknown? Truthfully, I hadn’t thought about it that way until he mentioned it. Glad I didn’t. We weren’t imitating anyone at the time…we were just doing what we believed we were called to do. And 6 years later, I’m so glad we did it.


3. Stunts your true potential. 

Imitators are always one or two steps behind. They have to wait for the next product, approach or strategy to be revealed. Then they madly copy.

If you are always imitating, your trajectory will never be greater than the person you’re copying. Ever. It will always be a shadow of theirs.

Remember too, that the last thing the innovator you’re copying thought about when creating what you’re looking at was “Now what should I imitate next?”

Innovation is messy, uncertain, scary and fraught with failure. Which is why it’s so much easier to imitate. And so less rewarding.

So…two questions for you personally: what (or who) are you imitating?  And how much time do you spend innovating or trying something new?

And now a question for commenters. How do you straddle the tension between learning from someone and imitating them?

Leave a comment.


  1. How to Blog for Somebody Effectively on May 18, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    […] How Imitation can Kill the Innovation Inside you […]

  2. Marilyn Luinstra on March 8, 2014 at 11:14 am

    I am a big-time fan girl. I admit it. Fortunately most of my heroes are dead. And it’s hard to be a personality poser when the person isn’t around (or I likely would). So I copy their principals as best I can. Actually, I wish I could copy them even better. I read Harriet Tubman’s bio this week, who wouldn’t want her fortitude, I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.
    Harriet Tubman
    They called her Moses. She was the first to find her way out of slavery in the south to freedom in the north, then turn around and lead others out!

    Thanks for your post Carey. I need that incentive get clear about my own imbalance when it comes to imitation vs innovation. Because God isn’t going to ask me, Why weren’t you more like Harriet Tubman? He is going to ask, Why weren’t you more like Marilyn? That requires creative thinking, innovation, and courage.

  3. Gary Davis on March 7, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    What happens when fiully devoted followers of Jesus lay down the truth of God’s Word and replace it with business principles?

    Look around. The American dream is gone. The world was never intended to salt to the Church.

    Lead is not the new Follow. Folllow is the New Lead. Sign me up for following Jesus and imitating Him! it’s never been about our potential! Each one of us pretty much messed that up! It’s surrender time people. Let God transform you through the blood of Jesus. God called us to make disciples not merely fill churches! Let the Holy Spirit LEAD!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 7, 2014 at 9:22 pm

      Gary thanks for this. I agree for sure that we should be imitating Christ. This post is targeted at the issue of imitating other leaders at the expense of listening to God and discovering the unique gift he has given us.

      And just because I feel I have to say it. Leadership is not a business model carry over. It is a spiritual gift which many biblical characters also had. It is to be exercised with all diligence. But I appreciate the heart behind your comment.

      • Gary Davis on March 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm

        Carey, I’m very concerned about churches who went to a business model (yes, business model), they showed significant growth for a period of time then declined faster than they grew.

        They over extended themselves with administrative pastors, when the financial resources shrank (people left), they were over staffed, a consultant was hired and many we’re asked to step down.

        The sad part Carey, this churches influence for God’s Kingdom was significantly diminished in their part of the city.

        We need to make disciples who make disciples and stop being satisfied with people management.

        I would love to get your insight into the type of leaders you believe the original twelve were.

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