Something Old, Something New: Is Originality Overrated?

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No idea is original. Unfortunately, that might sound a little pessimistic or a little insulting. Either way, the fact is: no ideas are original.

This small, simple concept isn’t new. Mark Twain said, “There’s no such thing as a new idea. It’s impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn, and they make new and curious combinations. […] But, they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

He’s not the first to talk about the evolution of our inspiration, ideas, and creativity; but he’s right.

This concept affects all of us, from graphic designers to content marketers. A designer has their favorite design inspiration sites, where they see ideas and are suddenly fueled with artistic passion of their own. A journalist has an idea for a story, but their personal perspective and background helps them discover a new angle. They tell a story that’s been told before, but they offer something new.

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There’s a case to be made for finding inspiration from a tried-and-true idea, and using your creativity to embellish, evolve, and create something new. Even artists scrape their ideas from other artists. Writers tell stories that have been told before, but with a new twist.

Originality can be overrated.

Trying to be original is a distraction. We’ve already established that there are no new ideas, there are simply new ways of executing said ideas. Reinventing the wheel is a waste of your time and energy. After all, the wheel itself is pretty effective. Why spend your time trying to figure out how to get a square wheel rolling, when the original invention works. Spend your time and effort devising how to make it work better.

Being original is time-consuming, and it doesn’t always pay off. While you’re pitching your quality content to carefully researched writers, it’s likely you’re trying to give them a fresh hook to interest them. Chasing originality and trying to stand out from the pack means trying to say something that’s never been said before. And while you’re slaving over what words you can use to do just that, you aren’t saying what you really mean.

Your idea doesn’t need to be original, but your execution should be. Borrowing the heart of an idea, giving it a little T.L.C., and encouraging it to evolve with a personalized twist will transform a tried-and-true idea into a unique one. This can be done with new content, or content native for your brand – creating a fresh look each time.

Turn proven ideas into fresh content.

Don’t avoid something just because your competition has done it. Do it better.  

Of course, your content has to be original in the sense that you aren’t plagiarizing your competitors.  Taking a step back, this means distinguishing yourself using your own voice on a higher level. This means spotlighting yourself in the content field using your own voice or brand message. There are ways to develop content that has a unique angle or weasel your way into media coverage using new research. But offer something new.

We’re constantly faced with new technologies. New demographics, new trends, new patterns. We’re always facing off with our competition. Ideas need to be able to evolve in light of these challenges.

You need new strategies to evolve your content.

Evolve your content.

Evolving isn’t as easy as Pokemon might lead you to believe. There’s no sound effects or cutscene. Evolving your ideas and content takes strategy and implementation. An easy way to set the stage for the evolution of ideas is to stay up to date with industry content, trends, and emerging thought leadership. There are so many ways to tie content into the news cycle, or to trending topics.

Hint: this is a way to give your tried-and-true idea a new take.

Once you’ve got your creative juices flowing put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, whichever you prefer. But write your ideas down already! You would be amazed at the power of recall when you’re reading over your notes later on down the line.

Successful content comes from productivity, and productivity happens when you “just do it”.

Which leads me to: brainstorming will naturally help your ideas evolve. Phone a friend, ask new questions and see if you can fit your idea into different niches. Asking questions is the kicker here, because you may find a new angle to look at your idea.

Let the inner child out to play. Stay up to date on industry trends regardless of your niche, brainstorm, and never underestimate the power of writing an idea down on a napkin.

Use your own perspective.

Originality is the sum of a simple equation. A tried-and-true idea plus a unique perspective spoke in a clear voice equals originality. There is a way to utilize what’s been done before and make it your own by using this equation.

Originality may come, but it has to be organic. Fortunately, people are much more creative than they think they are. But what happens when you can’t seem to find a new perspective?

Inspire creativity.

Don’t you remember the screensaver that walked you through a maze, hitting dead end after dead end? It’s really easy to run into a brick wall when you’re wandering a maze. You think you’re stuck.

You think you’re stuck, but you’re not looking hard enough. Every idea can evolve, especially if you know where to look for inspiration. Creativity is a muscle that needs to be flexed, so exercise it.

Imagine this. Your brain is a river, and your ideas are fish. When you’re fishing, you don’t just stare at the river and say, “Well, there aren’t any fish here!” Right? Instead, you grab a fishing pole or a net and you cast your lure or wade into the water. Finding inspiration for the evolution of your ideas is essentially the same. You have to pay attention to the river, and you might need to dive in if you’re not catching any fish; or you need a better net. But each time you go fishing, it gets easier. You know where the fish are hiding, and what tactics you might need to catch them.

So, you’ve been working with a client for a while.

The river of ideas will not run dry if you flex your creativity muscle, but it’s easy to get comfortable pitching ideas to your clients. Don’t get comfortable. Continue to evolve your ideas, push new buttons, and explore your options for your next campaign or project.

Be unoriginal. It works.

Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist is a reminder that inspiration comes from flexing your creativity muscle while evolving proven ideas to make them your own.  

When something works, when it’s tried-and-true, it’s likely someone somewhere has done it before. There are results to pull from. We like what has an essence of familiarity, although it’s important to realize that you can’t stop there (plagiarism is widely frowned upon).

Even though no idea is original, you can’t stop trying to be innovative. Don’t reinvent the wheel, update it.

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