Originality Is Bullshit

How to stop being crippled by whether your idea is ‘original enough’.

One of the most paralyzing thoughts for a creator is the nagging belief that your work has been done before by someone else. We tell ourselves that if it’s not truly original that no-one will read our blog, or listen to our music, or our gameplan will be easily figured out by a rival coach.

And with the internet, it’s easier than ever to find other creators who’ve had the exact same ideas as you. It’s soul crushing.

But the more we scrutinize the idea of originality, the more it becomes clear that it’s bullshit. As it turns out, even the most original ideas aren’t as unique as we believe. Everything (EVERYTHING!) is influenced by or derivative of something else.

The Bandwagon or Smooth Criminal?

Michael Jackson’s iconic dancing is substantially derived from Fred Astaire (seriously, watch the video below) and the music videos for Bad and Beat It are influenced by West Side Story.

The original wheel-based iPod was inspired by a Bang & Olufsen telephone.

Pep Guardiola’s tactics and management style are derived from an influential former coach of his, Johan Cruyff.

Beyonce’s hit song Run The World is a direct sample of a hit song by Major Lazer.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s team, Juventus, changed from their original pink jerseys (in 1905) to black and white stripes because they were inspired by English side Notts County.

We all know where Facebook got its inspiration (and maybe more) from.

There are entire sites dedicated to the varying influences observable in the Harry Potter storyline, which differ from Macbeth to The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.

Since writing my book and starting my podcast, I’m regularly asked for advice from people who’ve got an idea but don’t know where to start. I’ve consulted everyone from my mother, to former work colleagues, to people I’ve never met before. Often, their first concern is ‘how do I even start?’ followed quickly by a more numbing consideration: they’re not convinced their idea is original enough.

I go into these conversations thinking that I’m there to provide a knowledge dump — buy this microphone, download this software, register on iTunes — but often I end up playing the role of Chief Motivation Officer. And here’s the reality of it: Your idea is original enough because it’s your interpretation.

In fact, it was Michael Jackson himself who said “Study the greats. And become greater.”

I mirror that sentiment.

If you’re a creator, you need to convince yourself that your idea is the best because you’re the one creating it. You cannot avoid being influenced by your heroes, creators and artists you admire, or the world around you.

But for all that, it’s your unique skills, your personal experiences, and your distinctive perspective that makes that podcast, book, painting, gameplan, or website into something that is truly great.

Your idea is original enough. Keep going.