The Difficulty with Striving to be Original

No idea is original. Not even this topic per se is original, or rather it is definitely not the first time it has been brought up.

Diving right into it, the difficulty with attaining true originality is that . . . It is impossible. Moreso in a world, or a time, where people from across the globe easily get connected to the other end of the world. There is an influx of information and tons of means for it to be easily and conveniently passed around. The more information

So what does this mean then for designers and creators, or anyone tasked to dabble with creativity and push out ideas?

For David Chenery, he suggests creators ought to strive for authenticity rather than an ego-centric sense of originality. This understanding of “originality” stems from the creator’s need to create something inherently unique or different, for the sake of credibility or to address one’s own insecurity of feeling that suee enough, “I myself have added value” to this piece. But if this is what it means to be original, the problem lies in it being, as Chenery says, superficial. “Being different becomes the end, not the means.”

He suggests however that whatever work is put out, originality is not only the tenet by which it is judged. More importantly, it is judged by its authenticity; its capacity to be genuine or real. Creators ought not to be too busy addressing the uniqueness or originality of the work at hand, but rather which parts of it may be plucked out specifically as interesting enough to resonate with and garner a response from the audience it is thrown to. This thereby produces work that serves its purpose, and not our ego as its creators.

Another take on the difficulty with originality is from Sathyvelu Kunashegaran: “All the great subjects, all the great ideas, have been had already. What can be original is your unique perspective on it.”

Take businesses for example. New ones simply do not pop up bearing a completely unique offering. More or less the product or service they’re putting on the table is a vast improvement or variation of something that is either currently being sold or has been thought of previously. A business’ success after all relies on a market to target and sell to, and if the offering is highly, indefinitely unique — chances are there’s no one out there eager to make the buy-in.

If this is the case, what hope then lies for those with creation and ideation? Kunashegaran makes an excellent point that whereas most ideas may not be original, they are definitely more interesting, more useful and overall better “twists” to what is already out there. They build on what is already there and offer something simply better.

As Henry Ford puts it, “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. […] Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable.”

Works and creations we dive right into these days are simply better iterations of a previous form of sorts. Social media improved on how we communicate amongst each other and took the call, text and email experience even further. AR and VR’s origins goes all the way back to between the 50s and 60s, with Morton Heilig’s Sensorama Stimulator that aimed to train people without actually having to be subject to actual risk and physical danger. Movies, music, fashion — you name it, and somehow you can find that a track, scene or style of clothing has been inspired by yet another source work.

Aiming for originality is like aiming for perfection, and neither of which are attainable. As we let go of our obsession with originality and start building on current great ideas, the creator’s success lies in execution. Often great ideas and wonderful innovtions are conjured up by the creative brain, but still they remain on the drawing board until the end of time. We circle back then now to Chenery’s suggestion: aim to be authentic. If it takes your own “twist” of things to differentiate your work, then snatching valuable insight and sticking to your guns can propel your work not only to success, but possibly to more discoveries on what people want, what you want and another opportunity to create even more “twists” to these ideas.

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