Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal: The Power of Imitation

Above you’ll see a screen capture of the widely popular and successful Square App, and incredible technology that allows any small business to start accepting credit card payments directly on their mobile device.

The technology is sweet and the website is just as sweet, to the point, and very visually effective – there’s not much else that is needed to understand exactly what you’re going to get and what you can expect from the entire experience.

With that being said it’s quite understandable why others would find the design, aesthetic, and execution “inspiring” – in fact, this company decided that they really couldn’t do much better and ripped the entire thing:

SalonSwipe not only does the exact same thing as a company but has a near replica website and homepage to boot. It’s a near perfect copy!

For many this would make them outraged, especially because the “rip off” is so blatant, so obvious – unashamedly so. One of my partners after seeing this said the following:

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, that’s one of the most sincerest things I’ve ever seen. tweet

I could say few things better!

But here’s another perspective, one that I mostly likely share with a far smaller audience: I applaud this effort and I even encourage it.

Here’s the thing: I know myself well enough and have enough emotional intelligence to admit that I’m not the most creative guy on the block. Say what you will but you’re honestly mistaken – very few (if any) of my ideas are actually one hundred percent, unadulterated and certifiably unique. In other words, I haven’t really come up with anything ground-breaking in my entire life.

What I do have is a different perspective on technology, the pragmatic use of it, and the interplay of the two in light of the human experience. Otherwise I simply “copy” and then execute in a form that may not be altogether new – but heck, it works.

One of the best examples is this blog, which has been able to attract a wide and international audience of people passionate about blogging and building their businesses and brands. I love that! But am I doing something entirely unique? No, not in the least! I’m blogging, daily, just like millions of other people around the world. I have a particular target market and audience interest but that’s about it. The rest is minor details and I would never win a Nobel Prize for my work.

But it doesn’t stop there! I teach and coach all of you to do the exact same thing! Every day I share with you my strategy, how I execute, how I get “this thing” to work, and I tell you to copy me and I never ask you to give me credit or even come back and thank me. I want you to succeed and I know that my model works and that you should try it too!

Go figure, right?

I see the same thing in play with Salon – they have the foresight and wisdom matched with sheer execution to realize opportunity – there’s a niche market they can serve where they can provide value to the end customer, helping their needs and making a profit on the side. I don’t find much wrong with that picture, do you?

Although there is something deep within me that wishes Salon didn’t outright copy-and-paste (heck, even some of the code is the same!) I don’t get emotional about it and I’m certainly not going to flame them for it.


In the end it’s just not that big of a deal.

Finally, to put this to rest, I love Steve Jobs’ quote about “stealing great ideas”:

[tentblogger-youtube CW0DUg63lqU]

So go on, I empower you to steal all the ideas that you find here on TentBlogger and go change the world!

  • Albert

    Oooo we have permission! *Firing up a URL downloader*

    • John Saddington

      rock it. you can have all of it.

  • Kari Scare

    All of my ideas for blogs and almost everything I do comes from someone else, and I recognize that this is true for most people. What I love is the different perspectives our lives bring to old material. That’s where the excitement lies for me. So, while the ideas may not be new, no one can steal my perspective or yours. And perspective is so often truly inspiring!

    • John Saddington

      you are so dead-on about this kari! love it!

  • Agile Scout

    seriously? another steve jobs reference? *sigh*

    the real kicker is how we relaly shouldn’t imitate steve jobs at all. he was an outlier, an anomaly.

    • John Saddington

      but who do we imitate? successful people or mediocre? probably the former.



  • Jonathan Blundell

    I think its funny that the related post at the bottom of this post was this one…

    • John Saddington


      yeah, that’s just lame.!

  • Jay

    In the end, it doesn’t matter. What’s going to matter is:

    A. Which company makes the better product?
    B. Which company serves its customers better?

    • John Saddington

      i like this simplification.

  • Lincoln Parks

    I agree, like they say in the Network Marketing arena. If you see something that you like use R and D. That stands for Rip off and Duplicate! Just make yours better..

    • John Saddington

      it just works…!

  • Rodlie

    Wow, i’m speechless and kinda stunned, really. Fine, flatter someone and be similar, but don’t just rip it hands down . That, to me, shows no creativity. I would never-ever use a product that ripped something like that because I would assume that they’re not a quality company because they couldn’t afford to take enough time to design something well without ripping it. THis just seems like a short-cut, which I think reflects badly upon them.

  • Rodlie

    I just tried to click on some of their other links, btw, and they don’t even work.

    Shady in my opinion….

    • John Saddington

      i think you missed the point rodlie.

      here’s something to think about… i bet, 100%, that you use products today that “ripped” off someone else. examine your stuff. i bet you’d be surprised…….

  • Chase

    There’s a difference between outright stealing to copy and then stealing to improve. If you’re just ripping a design with no effort to improve it, that’s just being lazy creatively. However, if you steal and idea to improve on it, that’s a whole new ball game. Sure, John’s blogging and coaching just like others; he’s “stolen” that idea to make a living. But he’s doing it better – improving on it. That’s the kind of thievery I can stand behind. :)

    • John Saddington

      doing it better is a great qualifier. i love that.

  • Charles Specht

    As a pastor, I know this to be true…even in the American church community.

    It is quite rare that a church has something new, something unique, a ministry that no one else has, etc., etc., etc. What practically all churches do is tweak what others are doing (or have done) in order to better serve the people in their own local congregations/ministries.

    And it works.

    The same goes for the pulpit, as well. As a preacher, it is very…very…very rare that I ever say anything that hasn’t already been said by thousands of others before me. In fact, if I ever say anything new then I better check to see if it’s heresy! Sermon outlines are reused, “stolen” (such a naughty word, by the way), refurbished, and preached by men filled with the Spirit.

    And sermon illustrations? Don’t get me started now. Unless the illustration comes from the preacher’s own life experience, he probably got it from someone else, read it in a commentary, got it off the radio, etc….and preached it with all his might!

    But did you notice that God still uses all of it for His glory?

  • Adam

    Very well put John. I totally agree with this. Being someone like yourself is not super creative I get al lot of ideas and inspirations from others. I just want to make it different and set myself apart and put my own spin on it and make it better of at all possible. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Kari Scare

      You hit on a key Adam when you said you make it “different” and “put my own spin on it.” While we may use material from others, it gets combined with a variety of material and thus becomes ours. Plus our delivery, the context and who we are makes it unique again.

    • Aushiker

      Well said Adam. I would add one thing and that I have no issues with sharing and encourage sharing … to me information/ideas are there to be shared, not bottled up.

      I guess I am not really into making money from it but so maybe that influences my thinking.

    • John Saddington

      love it. kari said something similar!

  • Phil

    Ok…so some guy named Zuckerberg comes to you with an idea for a social network called Facebook and wants your help to build the back end. You get excited, thank him, and go off to build the site yourself without him. Does this fall into the same category as stealing ideas? Are there some lines that shouldn’t be crossed?

    • John Saddington

      no because what he’s asked you to do doesn’t exist at that point.

      • Phil

        Please elaborate. I’m intrigued. Something that someone has thought of but doesn’t yet exist is an idea.?? Am I getting caught up in semantics? I’m not sure if we have different definitions of idea or of stealing.

        • John Saddington

          the winklevoss’s idea wasn’t unique. a “social network”…? it already existed. nothing original here. do some research on it.

  • Susan Silver

    Interesting that you bring up code. It is an art where the artists sometimes beg you to steal their work (opensource). It also shows how so many people can imitate, but still create original work by hacking.

    I have been busy for the past few days hacking away and building my own html 5 WordPress theme. If others hadn’t laid down the ground work and offered it up for free then I would be out of luck. I am learning so much and was even able to correct some faults of my current theme. All of that by stealing other people’s work.

    Hey John, don’t put yourself down. Bloggers may get a Nobel Peace Prize yet. No one knows the future. Just remember you change the world in your own way by sharing your knowledge with us.

    • John Saddington

      hehe! thanks susan! appreciate it!

  • Mutant Minds

    King Solomon in the Bible said there is nothing new under the Sun.

    When God creates, He often copies other things as well.

    People have come and gone so much on earth that there has always been those that have looked like someone else.

    Even today there are people who look alike.

    Take twins for example. Both are the creation of God, but they are still totally different people.

    The difference is that each created person has their own unique soul.

    If you take an idea from someone, make it better and give it its own soul.

    To simply steal, copy and paste, “borrow”, etc. is being soulless. :(

    • John Saddington

      I have a hard time agreeing with this. adding a spiritual component really does muddle things, doesn’t it?

      • Mutant Minds


        Us, little creatures here on earth often forget there is an awesome God to answer to. When we are reminded of His presence, then yes, things do seem to get muddled. :)

        It is like two little brothers. One is stealing a cookie from the cookie jar and all is good until the other one says, dad is watching you.

        God reminds us in his Word:

        Romans 13:9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

        The last part of that verse is the key. When I go to take an idea or something from someone else, I need to ask myself if this is what I would want them to do to me.

        As a Creative, it is always awesome to know that the very first thing that God did for this world is that He created.

        Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

        All good ideas come from God anyway, it is up to us to be good stewards of them.

        Woohoo!!!! Got a little preachy. :)

      • Mutant Minds

        On a side note.

        I have started reading the biography of Steve Jobs.

        I admire his accomplishments, but the more I read about him the more repulsed I am of him as a person.

        I would certainly not emulate most of his ways or life.

        I can find a lot of other great individuals both dead and living that I would rather emulate. Dean Kamen is one of them.

        Emulating Steve Jobs would be like eating a deliciously cooked fish that has a lot of bones in it.

        If you are not finding bones in your mouth from his delicious meal, then — escape the (RDF) “Reality Distortion Field!”

        Of course, embrace the RDF in the good areas of his life.

        OK, bring on the hate mail. :)

        • John Saddington

          did you read my thoughts on steve jobs? changed my life:

          • Mutant Minds

            Ok, I went back and read your post instead of just skimming it like I did the first time. I didn’t read all of the quotes, because I am still reading the book myself.

            I definitely agree with your statement here:

            “I didn’t want to be Steve and that hasn’t changed; in fact, I don’t want to be him even more now that I’ve finished it! But, I deeply desire to have the same type of impact that he had. I want to change the world and I will except nothing less.”

            One of the quotes I did read in the book of his was this:

            “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it,” he told me. “I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery.”

            This saddens me and I hope he really got it straightened out in the end.

            I believe Steve fell into the same trap that many people fall into and that is trying to come to God on their terms instead of God’s. (I can see Steve doing this, knowing a little more about his personality now.) I believe he also confused faith with religion, which is a common error among man. Human religion is cold and selfish, but true faith in Jesus will lead a person to see the world as Jesus sees it.

            He also believed the old lie that Satan has repackaged throughout the centuries and that is that all religions lead to God. A common tactic of Satan to calmly lead a person down the road of destruction.

            Jesus was really clear when He said:

            John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

            I wish their would have been a godly person to intervene in his life at that time.

            Anyway, thanks for pointing me back to your post to clear up how you really feel about Steve Jobs.

    • Kari Scare

      Years ago when I was teaching writing at a community college, a student handed in a paper that was very clearly plagiarized. How did I know? Up to that point, he had handed in writing that was his own. Sure, he got ideas from other sources, but he made the writing his own. With this particular paper, however, he had not done that. After about 10 minutes of searching, I found the source he had copied from on the internet. We put our own imprint (soul) on things, and it’s often – usually – quite obvious when that imprint is absent. Outright stealing and claiming it as your own is one thing; making something your own and putting your own imprint on it is another.

      • John Saddington

        good differentiation kari! wow, i see your comments everywhere… thanks for being a part of this community!

  • Ivan Bickett

    I find your view to be shared by virtually zero of the artists I know. And I’m using that term in its traditional sense to mean painters, sculptors, etc. The ones I know get IRATE when their ideas are taken. Not even in a direct copy, but say a part of their idea is taken and made into something else. They go bananas and fret about it for weeks on end.

    I’ve asked many of them, “Why don’t you see the compliment in that? Your work is so good that others want to be like you. You are on the cutting edge of creativity, others aren’t and are imitating. Isn’t that flattering?”

    And I get, “Yeah. It is flattering, but that’s not the point!”

    Frequently in these cases it boils down to execution. The person who came up with the idea came up with it and didn’t promote it properly. Didn’t bring it to the world. Isn’t profiting from it (other than to have made it). And the copier or imitator is. They do make money. They do bring it to the world.

    When I bring this up I just get dirty looks and people walking away.

    Great thoughts, sir.


    • John Saddington

      that’s why i mentioned that a lot of people won’t agree with me. this is contrary to what is taught.

  • Jeremy Green

    Great thoughts John. I know for myself if it weren’t for the great artists on the internet (coders, designers, etc.) willing to teach and give their stuff away, I wouldn’t know half the stuff I know.

    I believe the more we help others, the better we make ourselves in the long run. The more you give, the more you get.

    • John Saddington


      it’s not like i learned to code out of thin air…! i borrowed heavily from everyone i knew!

      • Mutant Minds

        Lol, now you code on a Macbook Air!

  • sam (@duregger)

    “Creativity is forgetting who you stole it from.”

    - Sam DuRegger

    • Kari Scare

      Then I must really be creative. I read stuff all the time that I think I wrote, but I don’t remember writing it. Stealing? Or jus forgetful?

      • John Saddington

        perhaps both. not sure it matters as much as we think!

  • Craig

    Interesting post. I think I like it so much because I love the quote. I first saw it in “Pirates of the Silicon Valley”. Awesome movie, btw.
    Moving on: I actually did a little research on SalonSwipe and found that they’ve been in business since 2004, long before Square, and with an A rating from the BBB. They also launched their card reader for iPhone long before Square did it themselves. There’s even a company called RoamPay that was out before Square. If you put these things together, the only thing Square did was copy PayPal’s pricing structure – not very original. It’s actually another good example for this article.
    Another interesting thing to note: I check out Square’s site the date of this article because I planned on conducting this research. There were no © or “All rights reserved” on the site. Today, those things appear at the bottom of their site. Another interesting thing to note: It seems Square likes to bully the little guy. I heard from an anonymous source that Square repeatedly bullied SalonSwipe with letters and emails from their attorney demanding that they change the site. I was told SalonSwipe voluntarily made the changes, but I felt bad for SalonSwipe. I gather that they’re a small company. Apparently, the owner had a baby shortly after the holiday. A few weeks later, there were was complications and the baby ended up back in the hospital sometime in Jan. I hope things are okay.

    Disclaimer: I am retired and work part-time as a hair stylist in Fullerton, California. I was a customer of SalonSwipe for years before switching to Square about a year ago. I haven’t been happy with Square because of security issues (See:, delays in payment to my account, and poor customer support, issues I never had with SalonSwipe. I’m still not a SalonSwipe customer but am considering a switch.

    • John Saddington

      wow, this is very interesting… thanks for this!