Do original ideas really exist?

Our best ideas grow among those we dismiss

The peculiar question of originality


Artistic creation is often looked at in terms of originality—a peculiar concept when you think of it. Coming up with an original idea is not easy. All of us creators grapple with this notion; it comes up in one form or another during every creative process.

It’s one of those terrifying ‘moments’, when creating, which can take hours, days, or weeks. “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing,”… As Shakespeare said of other things. “The sound and fury” are not so much outside of you as inside, in your own head. It’s all there: your past experiences, good or bad, your fear of the future, those who came before you, and obviously, that nagging question: 

Do you really have something important to say with your work? 

Is it worth it?


Then there are all those you work with, work for, and your audience, of course… All your insecurities come up at once; is it worth it? Are you worth it? Are you good enough? Do you have the technique required? What if you fail? What if you blow this completely? Some of us try to modestly defend ourselves against our thoughts, pretending we’re not trying to change anyone’s life or the world, as if making a difference is not part of our mission…

But deep down inside, you know it’s a trap, a catch-22 kind of thing; if you don’t go for it, somebody else might, and this burning desire inside of you to actually matter will surely not let you go before you try…So, what to do?

Critical thinking is necessary


I get that; I do; trust me, I’ve been there many times. However, critical thinking is necessary for any creator or creative process. 

You have to keep asking yourself at any stage of the process: “Will this work?” Is this of value, and to who? 

Or else, it’s like creating in a vacuum, and that’s not art. 

Art has to be shared, and I believe that the more immediate the feedback we get – the better. It prevents us from spending precious time going in the wrong direction… This is actually why I am writing this blog. The question then is immediately raised, if you share as quickly as possible, will your ideas not be exposed to theft? Will “originality” not go down the drain completely? Some creators go so far as to have people sign secrecy agreements, hiding technical progress of any kind, to have priority and exclusivity… 

The thing is, though, at least in my experience, any creation is co-creation. Your ideas are not wholly and only your own. They build on older ideas, developed and expressed by the great creators of the past, the members of your team, your artistic collaborators, your financial partners, and finally, the audience you serve. This brings me to my next point.

Originality is relative


Your work can be original in relation to yourself, as if new to everything you’ve done before; it can be original in relation to the profession/domain that you work in, such as when you innovate certain aspects of how things have been done until now or change the approach to the process or a particular way of working with an instrument. 

Now, for example, in my profession of contemporary circus, innovation and originality in the way artists use traditional circus elements and circus skills is a big thing; these have constantly evolved since the event of the modern circus, 252 years ago, but even more so in the past 50 years. This innovation could never have happened if it did not draw on past skills and traditional techniques that laid the foundation for its innovation.

Finally, your work can be original to the world, like masterpieces that change the way we see or experience the world in art, science, or technology.

Ideas are not property, at least not for long


“Shipping creative work” is a vital concept in any creative aspiration. Without shipping the work, it has no impact on the world. The more creative work is “put out there,” the more, over time, it can be selected as innovative and impactful or not. 

Great ideas grow amidst many other ideas that are not that great. 

As so many great creators have noted in various ways, the point is to show up and do the work. 

Once your work is out there, your “original ideas” become part of the vast archives of human creation. They can be cited, used, and re-used in many ways. They have a life of their own. In a sense, your ideas use you; they go through and then move on to other people; if you’re lucky, it will be through your work.

Life is a creative act.


The question of originality, even though it haunts us, is of little importance. By the very nature of our utterly different inner worlds, the work you do, is and always will be original in one way or another. Putting it out there in the world is essential. Your experience and expression are unique. It is a trace of you having been here and contributed something to humanity that, in and of itself, is essentially a creative act. 

Your life, in itself, is an original creative act.

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