Copy, Adapt, Reproduce (AKA solving problems without creativity)

Evolution has allowed life to adapt and survive in the harshest of environments. The copy, paste, randomly change model allows for life to continue evolve and succeed in incredibly hostile conditions. Survival of the Best Adapted.

Yet with our own culture, rather than emulate the success of this model, we have pursued the God Model. A hierarchical system of control that could only possibly work if you were omnipotent and omniscient. Traits that no man or organisation can possibly possess – despite our best efforts.

Furthermore, should we achieve such a model, we will have created the ultimate dystopia. As we all have differing perspectives of what constitutes a desirable reality. We have to respect these differences.

Our environment is changing more rapidly than this traditional model can possibly keep up. Economic, Social and Environmental Systems cannot be predicted by man or machine. Anyone who claims otherwise is a fool, or a liar.

If we can’t understand these systems, how can we possibly design for them?

We can’t and we shouldn’t.

Instead we should adopt what has proven to be successful – Life.

Copy, Adapt, Reproduce

Copy: When we find a problem we should first look to find a solution that has already worked (you know how to google don’t you?), understand how it can be recreated. Create a copy on a small scale – reduces impact of failure. Failure is a necessary part of the process, don’t fear it – learn from it.

Adapt: Where different materials or localised processes are required – apply them. Don’t discuss the best means or method, try many (starting with the easiest), experiment and let action and result inform you as to what works – life does not plan it’s mutations.

Reproduce: Share your successes in a way in which they can be easily copied. This will allow others to apply the same process, so that together we may better adapt to our changing environment.

The usual response to such a model – or the most touted argument is “but how do I make money”. One simple answer is “sell something” (it worked for years before patents), however there are many other answers, hence the need for experimentation.

However below are a couple of examples where the Copy, Adapt, Reproduce model (in full or in part) – AKA Open Source, Open Design, Hacking, have been applied with great success.

Sparkfun – Sparkfun allow for and encourage the copying of their production processes, website, designs, and ideas, they have built a strong community and relationship around these models. The only thing they wont allow you to copy is their logo.

Microsoft Kinnect – Adaptation applied without permission (AKA Hacking). When Microsoft launched it’s kinnect system it was not long before it was used by hackers for entirely different applications to those intended by Microsoft. Microsoft is now pioneering new markets in collaboration with the Hackers.

Control of Intellectual Property is not what makes a business successful – it is the customer relationships and connection with the marketplace. If something is easier to buy from you (cheaper, more accessible, morally acceptable, readily available, safer, tastier – insert individual desires and motivations here), then the customer will buy from you.

The world of business is also changing (for example see the successes on kickstarter.com), so find the models you want to copy, adapt and reproduce, as well as the ideas.

Let’s not let old paradigms stand in the way of a sustainable future. It’s time to evolve.


Thoughts as always – in beta.

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3 thoughts on “Copy, Adapt, Reproduce (AKA solving problems without creativity)”

  1. Good points, but you really should reference Kirby Ferguson here also, and his excellent 4-part “Everything is a remix” series, with the oft repeated phrase “Copy, Transform, Combine” – very similar to your “Copy, Adapt, Reproduce” phrase.

    Start here, with part 1 (you’ll find links to parts 2-4 there also):

    Kirby’s own site, including videos and transcripts:



  2. I don’t know Ferguson’s work, and find “copy, adapt, reproduce” a shocking over-simpliified adumbration of the life process. There seems to be a sense that “life-continued” is proof of its success. Despite the boneyard of dead organisms we pump out of the ground to power our vehicles, our record of successful building on these basic principles seems to be spotty at best. That we continue to persist on this razor thin leading edge of life seems to presume that every action in the external world is an act of conscious innovation. Are we really saying that ‘best practice’ is ‘best’? In rules based systems ‘best practice’ always seems to become ‘worst practice’ as soon as people decide to stop thinking and act, repeat, act, repeat.


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