In modern times we have seen many people come up with big revolutionary ideas and take over the world by storm. And many of us are also dreaming, pondering, and waiting for our own light-bulb moment, in the hope that we too will some day join the table of “the greats“.
It’s as if everyone is striving to come up with their own original idea.
But check this out, here’s something you might not have known: the very symbol of an idea, the light bulb, was not an original thought.
The Story of The Light Bulb
You’ve heard of Thomas Edison right, the man who cam up with the light bulb. Well guess what? Good ole Mr. Thomas Edison never really came up with the idea of the light bulb. No, not even the glass bulb or even the filament inside it. In fact, all he did was improve previous designs, and then patented his findings and the boom, in 1880, the light bulb as we all have come to know it, was born.
Here is an interesting little fact that you might want to know. Incandescent light bulbs were made by inventors as much as 80 years before Edison’s discovery. The Arc-Lamp, the first-ever electric light device was developed by Humphry Davy but it couldn’t last long. In 1850, James Swan found that the solution to making a sustainable filament was using carbon, but he couldn’t get his design efficient enough.
But it Edison who solved these problems by experimenting with those failures, and eventually, found the right components and design to make a fully functioning, sustainable template of the light bulb that we see today.
So Why am I telling you all of this? Well, because originality is overrated.
Stop Trying to Be an Original: Originality is Overrated
I am not denying credit to Edison. Without his efforts, we may probably not have seen one of the most quintessential human inventions ever made. But there is perhaps an important point to take away from that tale.
Most if not all inventions aren’t overnight discoveries, they are instead a slow and gradual process where one person builds and develops the achievements and failures of the previous creator who initially came up with something remarkable. Most inventions and breakthroughs are a culmination of generations of thoughts, trials, and iterations. One could say that most inventions are just another point in a long chain of efforts in growth, evolution, and expansion in society.
With that being said, originality is highly overrated. What we are seeing as an original concept is only the last two percent of cumulative knowledge of the past.
On the surface, we only see the final developments and marvel at the last person who helped develop it. But upon closer inspection, the startling truth is that they have done something almost any of us can do: connect and create.
Just Connect and Create
What was truly remarkable in Edison’s discovery was how he connected seemingly distinct ideas to bring something more wholesome. This is truly the essence of creativity.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” – Steve Jobs
This is something really to ponder over. Many writers and other content creators don’t come out with their blog or book or YouTube channel or anything that they’ve been dreaming to do simply because they feel guilty that it isn’t an original idea. But the reality is, most of the greatest works weren’t 100% original. Even Shakespeare’s Hamlet was something he worked out of plays he’d seen before.
Their secret is simple. Rather than attempting to generate something new from scratch, they collect ideas that are already present and try to connect them in a way that hasn’t been done previously.
This cartoon from Hugh Macleod encapsulates beautifully what the creative process looks like…a connection between seemingly abstract information in a meaningful way.
So my advice is simple: Make it a habit to gather new information and delve into more diverse experiences while simultaneously honing your craft. Then review them frequently…. and don’t be afraid stop trying trying to be an original.
Because who knows, by digging through what many others would think is just junk or useless information, you will be able to find your gold.
Till next time,
PS – If you enjoyed this post on why you should stop trying to be an original, then you’ll likely enjoy this article on starting a business when you have no ideas.