Originality is a Scam
There is a premium placed on original work. Innovation, disruption, game-changing technology and other ideas like that can make it seem that unless what you are doing is different than anything before it, it lacks value.
That is a lie.
The truth is that nothing we do or make is truly original.
Take your time. Let that sink in.
I know that there are people out there screaming at these words as if I’ve written some form of unforgivable heresy, but it’s true nonetheless. Everything we do, everything we make, everything we write, it’s all based on something else and therefore cannot be honestly called original.
Why make such a claim? Good question, and there’s a good answer. One of the biggest sticking points in the creative process is fear of imitation, fear of unoriginality. We start to work on a project, something that really moves us, and we start to see how, in one way or another, it resembles a piece of work already done. And now, whatever it is that we’ve been creating looks like a big, cheap copy of someone else’s work. Then, if you’re anything like me, you trash the project, or at least ignore it, and move on, dejected and frustrated because you can’t seem to come up with an original thought.
Why, then, do there seem to be so many original thinkers, artists, business people and such? Because we measure them differently than we do ourselves, and differently than we do others whose work we may not appreciate. We fail to recognize that each and every one of those talented, brilliant geniuses created what they did on a platform of achievements spanning back centuries. Even the thoughts I’m writing here are nothing new, but this is an idea that has been known for quite some time.
Not buying it? I don’t blame you. However, if you take some time to watch Kirby Ferguson’s beautifully presented Everything is a Remix, you will start to see more clearly the truth of the matter. Really, if you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a huge favor and check it out.
So, what’s the point?
If nothing is original, there’s no need to stop. Go ahead and copy. Or, better yet, “Steal like an Artist”. In his book by that title, Austin Kleon quotes T.S. Eliot:
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn”
And that’s the point. Go ahead and create, go ahead and copy. But remember, make it better. Make it YOURS. The Mona Lisa is, at it’s heart, a painting of a girl. That had been done a million times before, but when Leonardo da Vinci did it, he made something that FELT like it had never been done. He imbued it with his own personal style and vision, his own heart. And that is the thing that makes us love it, or at least recognize that it stands out form the rest. You can do that, too. You can take what you know, what you’ve seen, heard, felt and tasted and mash it up, tear out pieces of it, squish in pieces of other stuff, and layer your thoughts, feelings and experiences in between each component until what you have represents a snapshot of you. Then, you will have made something that, while not original in the truest sense, is unique.
When you do that, share your view of things in a way that reaches your audience, then the feeling that you are looking for, that feeling of “originality”, will come shining through, because the view from where you are is truly unique, and honestly IS something no one has ever experienced.
I would love to hear your side of this topic. Do you disagree? Let me know!