Why you should copy others

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Not all copying is dishonest and a bad idea (as in the photograph, above). If you do it right, the value of copying can be enormous…

When I edited a cookbook more than three decades ago — my first entry into the professional book publishing business — I learned a lesson I’ve never forgotten. You can accomplish a great deal simply by copying other people.

My firm had hired a graphic design company to produce the cover and inside pages of the book. At our first meeting with them, they pulled out a stack of other cookbooks. “Notice,” said the lead presenter, “how most of these books use no more than 23 images.” I was shocked! I had never realized that cookbooks, at least the ones with illustrations, simply recycled the same images over and over again. This was crucial information for us and allowed us to save a great deal of time, energy and money.

Since that day, I’ve tried to make a point of learning from the experiences of others.  When people join my Get It Done program, for example, the first thing I have them do is identify another book or thesis they would like to emulate. Having such a model can help them save time and improve the quality of their own work. There is no need to reinvent the wheel!

I was reminded of this lesson again yesterday when a client of mine asked me to produce a new print publication. Confidentiality prevents me from giving any more detail but I can say that it’s a somewhat unusual concept. The admin assistant, who’s a very smart person, immediately went on to the Internet seeking similar publications produced by other companies. And in less than 30 minutes we had two examples and a very good action plan of our own.

We’re copying the best ideas rather than starting from scratch. You can save yourself lots of time — and improve the quality of your results — by adopting a similar strategy.