There are no new ideas…

Often I don’t blog, or I am hesitant to blog, for the acknowledgement that there are ‘no new ideas’.  I realise very often that there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said… and yes, I’m aware that even that is an over-quoted phrase.

Take two well known stories, as an example.  It is claimed that Harry Potter and Star Wars are the same story, just through a different lens. They (whoever they are) say that there are, in fact, only seven stories that nearly every other story is based on. I’m sure seven is an arbitrary number (just like the ‘5 a day’ notion), but I think the premise of basic buildings blocks of echoing themes is a sound one.

So in acknowledging that there are no ‘new’ ideas, does that mean nothing can be created?  Should I stop blogging?  Give up, in the knowledge that it has already been written, and probably written more articulately at that?

Well… I’m not so sure.

I believe that many things can be distilled down to the same key elements, yes, but there’s something more.  There’s that almost intangible thing that gives any real meaning or beauty to what we are considering; some call it the ‘mix’.  It’s what you do with an idea that counts; the exact way in which you combine the details, the medium you use, the person’s own story they bring to their interaction with yours, and even the very moment in which someone chances upon your idea.

It is the exact colour of the wheat fields that makes us love The Little Prince so.

Le Petit Prince

But if there are ‘no new ideas’, what is the difference between an inspired idea and a stolen one?

I’m not going to launch into an exploration of ‘copyright’ here (there are plenty of people who have done this extensively and eloquently), but I believe it has to do with intention and honesty.  I think the best you can do is be as honest as possible about where you came upon your ideas and what you intend to do with them, and then ensure you attribute your influences.

The things that inspire and influence us are often hidden, but here are three ways in which the same ideas can emerge from different people:

A shared muse.  An example here is the world of graphic design.  Many (though by no means all) designers read popular publications and websites such as Creative Review and Notcot (to name just two), which can lead to echoes amongst their work.

• Direct inspiration.  Remix and attribution are two important aspects here.  By remix I mean taking an idea or inspiration and doing one of several things; echo, consolidate, riff, mix, diverge, disagree.  For attribution, there’s a fantastic interview from the genius behind ‘Brainpickings‘, Maria Popova. I believe everyone who shares anything on the internet should take a look at the curator’s code, (via Design Matters Podcast.)

Convergent evolution.  This term, borrowed from biology, is when two traits occur in unrelated lineages. This phenomenon is seen to happen in language and science also, and I find it really quite fascinating.

So… to collect these thinkings together:

  1. There are no new ideas; get over it.
  2. When you have an idea, express it anyway.  The way, the moment, the exact colour in which you expressed it may lead to something beautiful and unexpected. It may lead to someone’s ah-ha moment.
  3. Try and find if the idea already exists.  If it does, share it anyway, but make sure you attribute it, so that others can “follow you down the whimsical rabbit hole of the internet”.
  4. Don’t be afraid to take an existing idea and remix it.  (But be mindful of copyright.)

One last thing. In writing this I originally started by thinking about ideas. Which led me onto stories. Then music. Then film. Then art. Design. Mathematics. Language. Colour. Quite elementary principles once again echo and dance their way across fields of different disciplines.  The world is, indeed, a curious place.

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