“I can’t come up with an original idea.”
In my teenage and young-adult years would have that thought that over and over again. It started when I was a child, when I learned that there were other children my age who were already saving the world with their ideas while I spent my days staring at computer and television screens.
“Why can’t I be like them?” I would ask myself.
Unbeknownst to me, every time I had that thought I perpetuated my lack of ideas. By focusing on my lack of originality I created more of it for myself! I hadn’t yet learned about the fundamental directing influence our thoughts have over our lives.
Each time I thought “I can’t come up with an original idea” I made myself less likely to have original ideas.
But originality is overrated. Instead of being original, it’s more effective to strive for creativity. We can all be creative. Because we’re all unique.
If you’ve ever had a similar experience as I did, this article will help you in transitioning from a self-declared “unoriginal” to a confident “creative.”
There Is No Such Thing As Originality
The word “original” means the first model from which others are made.
It’s important to get this out of the way right off the bat. Nothing is original. There is nothing new under the sun.
The language you are reading this in right now is not original. The English language is in no way the “first model” of any language.
We can go further and say that none of our thoughts are original. We didn’t invent the language we use! The language we have our thoughts in is borrowed! So because the language we use is unoriginal, every thought we can ever produce with it is unoriginal.
Even creatives who have been hailed as originals admit that there’s no such thing as originality. There’s this quote by Mark Twain:
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is 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. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
Aim For Creativity, Not Originality
The kaleidoscopic process Twain talks about is called being creative.
And everyone is creative. Even a person who has never believed themselves to be creative can become so. Creativity is human nature.
It’s much more effective to perceive ourselves in terms of our creativity rather than our originality.
All creative people do is take old ideas, fling them into a cement mixer, give them a good mixing, and then see what comes out. Will anything useful come from this? You never know! That’s what being creative means. Whatever comes out of this mixing process will certainly be “creative” (because everything we do is creative), but it certainly wont be original.
Because it won’t be the first model of anything. It will be a derivation of things which existed before.
Realizing that originality is non-existent is liberating.
When we free ourselves from the chains of originality we become creative. Can you see how that works?
Trying to come up with an original idea is a fool’s errand. Because nothing is original! Trying to be original is a waste. You’ll put shackles around your creativity. Instead of prolifically creating you will restrict your creative energy in the hopes of coming up with something original, which will never happen.
So I argue that it’s a worthier goal to be creative than it is to be original.
What Does It Mean To “Be Creative”?
Honestly, I don’t really know. There is no hard-and-fast definition of creativity. I’ve checked. Experts can’t agree on what being creative means. Some experts argue that combining two or more ideas into one “new” idea constitutes creativity. Others say that the “new” idea has to be useful in order to be considered creative.
I adhere to the first paradigm. In fact, every activity humans do is creative. Because every person is unique and every moment is unique. This moment, you reading this article now, is totally and undeniably unique. It will never happen again. Just like you, the reader, are a totally unique, unrepeatable, ever-changing combination of spiritual and material energies.
So everything you do, while not original, is creative. Because there has never been, nor will there ever be, a “you” again.
Realizing that everything you do is creative is the first step in embracing your creative essence. Every breath you take is creative. Every word you speak is creative. Realize this and you will be on your way to becoming a “creative type.”
How To Come Up With CREATIVE Ideas
When I was young I used to believe I wasn’t creative. I no longer believe that. I now believe that I am a creative being. Along with this belief, I have accepted two things:
- Nothing is original
- Everyone is creative
Since nothing is original it means coming up with original ideas is impossible. It means I’m free to take inspiration from ANYWHERE. Which is exactly what “creative types” do. They find inspiration in everything they do!
Just look at Austin Kleon, bestselling author of “Steal Like An Artist”. He’s has relied on his creativity to become succesful. The name of his book says it all! Creativity is really theft!
All “creative types” know that this is the way things work. Did you know that Simon lake, the inventor of the modern submarine, was inspired by Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea”? And that Robert H. Goddard, the inventor of the first liquid-fueled rocket, was inspired by H.G. Wells’ “War Of The Worlds”?
Leonardo Da Vinci drew massive inspiration from nature. His conception of flying devices were inspired by the structure and composition of bird wings.
Creativity Is Theft
To be creative you steal one idea from here, another from there and another from anywhere. Then you mix them around in your noggin and see what comes out! The mind is a mysterious thing. Science is in the dark regarding how ideas are created.
What science can certainly say about the mind is that it’s associative. The mind takes in data and associates it to anything! One concept or idea can spawn an infinity of associations. Computers cannot do that. That’s why, I believe, computers will never be able to replace humans at tasks that require association.
Just look at this image:
I doodled that. The way I did it was I wrote the word “Gelatinity” at the bottom of the page and then gave myself 15 minutes to doodle whatever came to my mind. Is it artistically skilled? Of course not!
But is it creative? Undoubtedly.
Do you believe a modern computer could come up with something like that? No. It would have to be able to make meaning out of words, and computers cannot make meaning out of anything.
I can’t tell you the exact process by which my mind associated the word “Gelatinity” with the doodle you see. But it did, somehow. It combined the idea of gelatin with that of an eye and came up with that.
Are you starting to see how creativity works? How you are capable of being immensely creative if you give yourself the chance to be?
To Be More Creative: Steal More!
I will leave you with this. The more inspiring work you consume, the more ideas you have to combine. I find my inspiration in reading. I read science fiction, fantasy as well as non-fiction work. I also spend time in nature, move my body in creative ways (skating or skiing), and I get into as many conversations as I can with as many people as possible. Read this article for 5 habits to unlock your creative genius.
Listening to music is also a powerful creative spice.
All of these activities send the brain into a creative, associative frenzy. Creativity can’t be forced. Forcing creativity is self-defeating. Ideas flow freely and are” better” when we are relaxed. The mind on its own comes up with creative ideas given enough stimulation and time. And it’s not solely my mind, nor solely creative geniuses’ minds; everyone’s mind works this way!
I find it necessary to say that not all stimulation is equal. Watching television or scrolling through social media feeds are low-end forms of mental stimulation. I believe that since the screens are doing all the creative work for you, your mind works less, so it doesn’t get as much as it does out of, say, reading about an epic space battle.
Don’t be afraid to steal ideas. That’s what ideas are for! Why do you think books are a thing? Ideas are only valuable when they’re shared. Of course, don’t plagiarize, and when you take ideas from someone give them credit for it.
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Go Forth And Create!
I hope this article has nudged you into believing that originality is impossible and creativity is for everyone. It’s our birthright to be creative. If you feel like there’s something inside of you that is dying to express itself, it might be your creativity bucking to be released.
Whatever emerges when you do let your creativity out, rest assured it will not be original.
But it will be creative.
And our creativity is a gift we give ourselves.
To our wealth and success.