It is worthwhile to try to replicate outliers

Every outlier is an outlier in a different way, so on its surface it seems like the answer is yes. Concretely, many people have set out to build the next Apple by emphasizing design and perfectionism and fallen flat on their face. Many people have even tried to replicate DARPA. IARPA, ARPA-E, and others are explicitly modeled on DARPA.

However, I don’t think it would be foolish for a company whose core business high end consumer hardware to deeply study what makes Apple what it is.

There are three mistakes you could make when trying to replicate outliers:

  1. Cherry picking characteristics without understanding why it’s significant or the magnitude of the effect
  2. Copying at such an abstract level as to be useless
  3. Trying to clone an organization whole cloth

Instead of trying to copy an outlier whole cloth or in broad strokes, the goal should be to deeply understand how it works and then riff on that understanding for your own situation. While few people have become outliers by copying other outliers, plenty of outliers have become outliers by apprenticing to other outliers (Ben Graham and Warren Buffet, Edison and Ford, etc.) You could think of an outlier analysis of an organization as a type of organizational apprenticeship.

The evidence also suggests that while it’s hard, replicating outlier success is not impossible. IARPA arguably has been reasonably successful - David Wineland’s Nobel prize winning quantum computing work was sponsored by IARPA and I suspect that IARPA is positioned to be to quantum computing what ARPA was to personal computing.

Since The DARPA execution framework boils down to showing that thing is not impossible, showing that thing is possible, and then making that thing possible, that is a good first step.

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