One trap I see a lot of people fall into is thinking that their work needs to be “original” or “unique.” They obsess over coming up with that one brilliant idea that no one else has thought of, and once they have it they will be successful because their idea was so goddamned brilliant. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but this thinking is harmful to your progress for a couple reasons:
- Having a truly original idea that no one has thought of before is extremely, extremely rare.
- Original ideas aren’t worth much on their own.
That first point is a real killer for creativity, as it really just gives you an excuse for not working on something now. “I’m waiting for inspiration” is one of the most annoying sentiments I ever hear people express. You can wait around for inspiration all day, but if you wait to do anything until you get lucky enough to have a truly great, original idea, there’s a good chance you’ll wait forever.
I can’t tell you how much time I wasted in my early 20s waiting for inspiration to strike. I knew I was full of ideas, but I thought everything I worked on had to be something completely unique that the world had never seen before. What was the point of working on stuff that had already been done, right? I look back on that time in my life and find it striking how much my thinking has changed since then. I’m no longer concerned with making everything I work on being totally original, I’m more focused on doing things better than I see them being done elsewhere.
Which brings us to the second point, that original ideas aren’t worth much on their own. A recent example of this is Pokémon Go, which has basically taken over the world in the past week. The gameplay of Pokémon Go is not unique, it’s really a modified version of Ingress, the previous game by developer Niantic. Ingress seems to have done okay for Niantic, but Pokémon Go is on a whole different level. Go is successful because it’s fun, nostalgic, and social, but not because it is truly original.
The secret to making new, interesting things is really just to start working on something. For most projects this means starting with something that’s not that original, but in the course of making that thing, you may actually spark an original idea. Some of my best articles on this site have come from me just starting to write and then deleting the first 1,000 words because it wasn’t until that point that I realized what I really wanted to talk about. I’m in the middle of a web project right now that is as unoriginal as they come, but it dawned on me as I was laying out the site how it could separate itself from the pack. It’s by doing the work, and executing on your ideas that make them stand out, not the etherial idea alone.
Consider this when you are working on your “next big thing.” Feel free to make something that has been done a million times, but you think you can do better. There isn’t one car for everyone, there’s no one weather app for every iPhone user, and there’s no news source that will satisfy all people everywhere. There’s always room for another XYZ in the world, it’s just a matter of doing what’s already been done a little better.