I’ve had a few people ask me if it’s OK to copy my formats or adopt my strategies recently. The answer is almost always yes. I just want them to improve on it somehow and share it onwards. That’s how the internet should work.
These conversations got me thinking about an idea I covered in my column for Inverse a few years back: the Chinese copycat culture known as “shanzhai”.
The word literally means “fake” and was coined to describe knock-off phones with names like Nokir and Samsing. These were actually as good or better than the originals. After all, the same factory workers making them build the Nokia and Samsung phones for a living too.
Over the past decade, the technology company Xiaomi — simply “Mi” internationally, because X’s are hard — conquered the Chinese market with cheap iPhone clones. Then it entered the global market as its own brand.
A culture that started in the tech city of Shenzhen has spread across Chinese life. Apparently, there’s even a shanzhai Harry Potter. We see all this as piracy in the West, but in Chinese culture, originals are continually transformed and deconstructed.
What can we learn from this way of thinking? Is there potential waiting to be unlocked?