Ideas Are Built Collectively, Although Many Times It Doesn’t Look Like It
Has it happened to you that you come up with a great idea and then someone disappoints you by telling you that it already exists? Or maybe you look at an invention and think: “it doesn’t look so difficult; I could’ve done that ”?
Maybe it’s not that ideas are a light bulb in the “thought bubble” of a single person. Perhaps, the great inventions and the “incomparable” artistic works have not come exclusively from the mind of a single genius.
This is proposed by the video series documentary: “Everything is a remix” by Kirby Ferguson.
And surely many other people have done it before or after, like Austin Kleon with his book “Steal like an artist” or “Remix” by the Stanford professor, Lawrence Lessig.
But, surely they will not sue each other because after all, that is precisely their proposal: No idea is completely original.
Ferguson’s documentary explains how great successes in music, film, literature, engineering, and creative industries, in general, had similar predecessors. So he concludes that necessarily “creation requires influence.”
An example he uses is the iconic movie Kill Bill, where he explains how Tarantino filmed scenes very similar to previous movies. He recounts how elements of those films were used: the chilling whistle he took of this one, the murderous nurse of this other, the expectation in music of another movie.
At that moment I thought: that’s not copying! Those are characteristics that are commonly used in film because they are known to help express what the director wants the audience to feel; a camera position, a certain light, the sounds, the silences.
Then I reflected: “although perhaps they help to express it because there is already a reference to it.” The audience already has this cultural imaginary of what these things mean, albeit on a subconscious level. It is not a reference, there are many. People have seen it in more than one movie.
But indeed, Tarantino did not copy, or well yes, but it was only part of his creative process. According to “Everything is a Remix” the basic elements of creativity are:
So the final product of the creative work is a combination. Otherwise, it would be mere plagiarism.
From what can be seen in Kirby’s production, on many occasions, this process is very intuitive, so artists and creatives are not realizing that they are copying something they have already seen or heard.
“I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.”
This Henry Ford quote is the essence of Kirby Ferguson’s work. People are more concerned with feeling original and being honored for their genius ideas than with them impacting people’s lives.
The great inventions were made possible by other great previous inventions. If you have access to this knowledge you can find many ways to combine it to create something new. The documentary videos, expose two cases in particular that exemplify this concept:
Automotive Ford brought together processes and features that had been used in other industries, and Gutenberg created the printing machine from existing tools.
Innovation happens that way. There are companies whose method of generating new ideas consists of having sessions with a combined staff of various areas. That is, some from finance go to marketing, those from marketing to production, etc. and in this way, knowledge from other fields can be used, coming up with things that the experts from the field may have never expected.
Ideas cannot be jealously guarded or prevented from being used by someone else to create more. They have to be exposed so that they continue to generate a common good.
So, don’t longer torture yourself thinking that you don’t have enough creativity to be original. Instead, feed on many things that interest you, fill yourself with as much knowledge and experience as you can. Ultimately, those are the factors that will allow you to create a larger mix.
If you find yourself saying: “This has already been done by this person in that place,” remember that that person was probably not the one with the original idea either.
What counts is that your transformation and “mixing” will carry that stamp of your essence and experiences. And what counts, even more, is the positive effect you will have on the lives of others; either directly or indirectly, quickly or gradually.