Note: Just letting you know now — I’m writing this post mainly for my own benefit. I need the advice, so this is a self-therapy session. Not to say I hope you don’t enjoy it! Just know I need this one to be for me.
What if I told you nothing you’ve ever thought up or created is really new?
That’s a depressing thought. Well, prepare the happy-pills because it’s actually true — nothing is new.
Nothing about your life is entirely new. Whatever you think is new is just a blend of thoughts and things from the past.
I know what you’re thinking. “What is this girl talking about?! This doesn’t apply to me. I’m a creative genius! I’m smart and awesome. My thoughts are definitely new.”
Hold your defiant horses, my friend. If I told you Steve Jobs agreed with me, would that change your mind?
When asked about creativity, Jobs once said,
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask a creative person how they did something, they may feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”
It may be an extrapolation, but I wouldn’t dream of nixing a creative genius’s thoughts on, well, creativity! I’m pretty the guy knew what he was talking about.
Like Jobs mentions above, creativity involves borrowing ideas and concepts from others — which can lead to some major guilt.
When I started playing around with websites and graphic design, I had no clue what I was doing. I started by installing Photoshop and reading up on HTML code. Both were scary, but both were also fun and inviting. I was curious, and usually that’ll take you further than you think — at least to a basic understanding.
How did I get passed a basic understanding and start creating something new? Easy! I borrowed from all over the web.
No shame in exploring and copying some stuff, right?
I downloaded sample Photoshop files, reviewed the code behind my favorite websites, and just borrowed snippets of concepts from here and there. Like putting a puzzle piece together, I stole from all over to create my own new version — expect it wasn’t new, it was borrowed. There’s a difference.
And you know what? I think that is completely fantastic.
There should be no guilt behind finding inspiration from others. If all new ideas are mashups of old ideas, then there is a never-ending network of ideas that have inspired each other from the beginning of time.
As long as those inspirations are celebrated, there’s no harm done — right?
Well, not necessarily…
The real harm comes when, instead of inspiring others to create their own kinds of value and meaning, we create duplicates.
There’s a gap the size of the Pacific and a lot of hurt feelings between the two.
When we follow someone’s path, we learn and enjoy their process — but is it really the right way?
Don’t get me wrong. Like I said before, borrowing from others is great, but learning to never simply copy is the goal. Walking the line between copying and borrowing inspiration is tricky, and not one I would like to ever navigate.
If you ask me, I’d say there’s one solution — always find a way to find a link to something else.
If I pick up an interesting idea from an article (Idea A), I could very easily duplicate it by writing about it here on my blog — but that wouldn’t be new at all. It may be useful to some readers, but I’d just be regurgitating content.
Instead, if I took that interesting idea (Idea A) and connected it with another interesting idea (Idea B), then I could come up with something completely different and new (Idea C).
Idea A + Idea B = Idea C
That all sounds well and good, but why is creating that new Idea C so necessary?
Other than being really annoying, copying old ideas and concepts isn’t beneficial to the world.
Think about it. The world won’t benefit from duplicate ideas, will it? Sounds to me like spinning wheels with no real progress or traction. The real gold lies in inspiring something beautiful, different, and unique — a combination mashup of many ideas that have been reformulated in something completely new and fresh.
Paving the Way for Others
Here’s are my current dilemmas:
- I have to be careful not to copy others. There are so many inspirational people out there — how do I stop from taking their awesome ideas and business models into my own life? Learning is one thing, and copying is another.
- I have to be careful not to let other people copy me. Helping people is awesome — until I start breeding clones instead of just helping them increase their own badassery. Helping is one thing, cloning is another.
Both are daunting tasks, but I’ve come up with some guidelines that help me stay on track with both. Check them out:
Be yourself. You are inherently a unique person. If you stay true to yourself and bring all of what makes you unique to the table, there is no way that you can simply copy someone else. Your personality and inclinations will spin ideas in a way that only you can. Make sure to bring your own badassery to each idea or concept you come across — copying will be impossible.
Create links to other ideas or experiences. Ideas are like little orbs floating around your brain aimlessly — until they find companionship with another idea! If you stop to relate two distinct ideas or concepts, something new is bound to flourish. Bonus points if you can create links to multiple other ideas! The more you bring together, the bigger and better the result.
Apply ideas and concepts to your own situation. No idea, concept, or piece of content will ever effect two people the same way. Each unique person has their own experiences, history, and worldview that they use to perceive what comes at them. Applying things to your own unique situation will result in something new.
Give and ask for credit when it’s due. There is harm in using someone else’s stuff when you give the credit that they deserve. On the flip side, there is no shame in asking for credit when you feel your ideas or content is being infringed on. Creating new ideas and content is hard work, so it deserves the utmost respect.
Have you ever faced a situation like this? What do you consider is the best way to handle inspirational and influential ideas — without copying?