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The power of imperfect imitation


Hart E. Posen, University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Business, 4263 Grainger Hall, 975 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706, U.S.A. E-mail:


We examine the power and limitations of imitation. Naive intuition may hold that the efficacy of imitation would be diminished by imperfections in copying high-performing firms. Employing a computational model, we study the dynamics of imitation when firms are subject to bounded rationality that limits their ability to copy the market leader. We find that imperfect imitation can generate unexpectedly good outcomes for follower firms—indeed, better than the outcomes achieved if they were perfect imitators. Moreover, imperfect imitation, from time to time, enables follower firms to surpass superior firms. These findings suggest there is an adaptive role to mechanisms, such as bounded rationality, that make perfect imitation difficult. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.