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Standup comedy and product management

'The Marvelous Mrs Maisel' is my new favourtie show, and I recommend you watch it. In the very first episode, a contrast appears between Mrs Maisel, who espouses originality, and her husband, an amateur standup comedian, who thinks it is perfectly alright to steal borrow jokes from other comedians. "Everybody does it when they are starting off" he justifies his borrowing, when his wife questions him about it.

Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time writing and this year, have added standup comedy to that. Also over the past few years, I have been working in the Tech industry, building Internet products.

If you look at all the products in a specific domain, you will not be surprised by how similar their features and offerings are. 'Stories' was originally a concept on Snapchat, and now Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp all have it. 'Cash-on-delivery', after it was introduced in a less popular e-commerce site, was soon adopted by both Flipkart and Amazon.

You will find examples like these in every domain from search engines to email to ride-hailing to e-commerce. I have myself stolen borrowed product features and ideas from other products in the market - both from direct competitors as well as those in unrelated domains.

This is common practice in product development and outlines why speed is of the essence over perfection. As the Groupon founders said in one of their interviews, the had to raise money quick and scale nationally because replica companies had begun to appear in other cities in the US that mimicked their offering.

While we call this 'competition' in the product world, we have a different name for it in the writing, standup comedy and the creative world in general - plagiarism.

While we frown about the Apples and Amazons of the world taking out copyrights on the rounded edges and 1-click payments, we wouldn't frown at someone stealing Jimmy Kimmel's jokes about Donald Trump.

These are two very different ways of thinking about accepted behaviour when it comes to ideas and intellectual property.

Being entrenched in both these worlds, I have to strictly segregate my approaches depending on which world (context-wise) I'm in, and occasionally end up transgressing the boundaries, ending up in a position of embarrassment.

But in neither case is it ever possible to be successful if the plagiarism occurs without the understanding of why it ought to work in the first place.

So, what is accepted behaviour in both the worlds is to go one level deeper and take apart why a feature is successful or why an article or a book or a joke is successful and then address that core reason by coming with something of our own.

In the creative world and in the product world, don't simply steal outright, but deconstruct the success and see if you can put it together a different way to achieve the same effect. Or better yet, once you deconstruct the success and understand the reason why it worked, build something altogether original from there to address the same reason.

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