Embrace the Remix: Making Original Work

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. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. – Steve Jobs

Hardly anything in life is original. How could it be? As civilized people, we’ve been around for thousands of years. Whatever is something that can be done, in one shape or another, it’s been done. As it was said to me one time, “Whatever great idea that you just came up with. Good job. I’m sure it’ll be a success just like the hundreds of other times it’s been thought of before.”

For many of us Creators, especially those of us who consider ourselves artists, we like to believe that we have original work. That out of the BILLIONS of people that are on the planet, that our one idea is unique and original.

But it isn’t.

Even with figuring out what I wanted to do with this site, I knew that I wanted to do something original. I mean, sure, I’ve been seeing people do business related blogs for several years now. And due to that simple fact alone, many people who have been in the industry longer than me said that I might be foolish for doing yet another “online business” website.

They said, “The market is already saturated. You should do something else.”

I figured they were right. I also knew I didn’t want to have the opportunity to plagiarize, so I didn’t want to do something just like them. I didn’t want to create Smart Passive Income 2.0 (or possibly 100.0?).

But here in lies the problem… at least for me.

For several years now, my Life Vision has been to impact creative people who want to make a living with their work through means of technology and passive income. And due to that, I felt that I had to do work somewhere in the internet marketing / self development space.

So there was my catch 22.

I sought originality out quite a bit when I was first starting. I attempted to make the site more original by bringing more ingredients into the recipe. (You can see evidence of that in past posts)

Well, that was a mistake. I soon realized that the more content I talked about, the more complex I made the site. You guys weren’t going to enjoy your experience here (let alone find it) if I couldn’t bring down the complexity.

I learned that if I wanted to start a real audience, that I had to start with laser focus.

And, eventually, I found that originality isn’t so much the work you’re doing. (Because really, as the Bare Naked Ladies say, It’s All Been Done Before.)

In fact, it’s something else…

We All Want to Fit In

I think so many of us creatives want to be known for having original work because from an early age, originality is prized. Originality in our work, at first glance, seems to always get individuals extra credit.

When we think of those who win cooking contests, it’s the cooks and chefs that have their own secret sauce. It’s definitely not the chain restaurants of the world. However, those chain restaurants over time are the ones that tend to get the most rewarded. Why is that?

Unfortunately, I think it’s because our society has a twisted belief that being different is a negative characteristic. I mean, how much flack have you gotten from family and friends that you wanted to do your own thing?  

Have you ever heard the phrase “It’s fine for others to strike out on their own, but heaven forbid if anyone in our family does it!” or “Stop with that nonsense. Get a real job!”

Even more odd is that once we get good at doing our own thing, in order to be accepted again and go main stream, we have to essentially sell out.

Take, for example, independent music artists. One would argue that they’re independent because they do things their own way. They are, indeed, original. However, whatever the motivator, if they go main stream, many times they’re shunned by their original fans. But, if we take a step back, can we blame them? Even if their motivation is money to go main-stream, aren’t they getting the opportunity to have more fans? And really, isn’t that one of our big motivators as creators? That we want to make a larger impact?

It seems no matter where we are in the creative cycle, we are always being called to do work that’s mainstream.

Seems to me that there’s a certain path that creativity always leads: Start with this big umbrella idea -> get good at doing a few parts of that idea well -> bring on additional help to do more parts -> keep adding on more work with that help that applies to more and more people.

Is Any Creative Work Truly Original?

If that’s the case, it makes me wonder if any work that we do can truly stay original.

As I’m writing this in December of 2015, there’s a good chance that you, the reader, have heard of Tesla. You know, the groundbreaking company that is making AWESOME electric cars which are going to change the automotive industry forever?

Would you believe me if I said that Tesla is not original? Here are a few examples:

  1. The idea of the electric car is as old as cars themselves.
  2. The name Tesla itself isn’t some randomly generated tech name. It came from Nikola Tesla.
  3. The rechargeable battery idea isn’t new, either. How long have we been using them for our tech?

As a Tesla fan, I’d love to be able to tell you that these cars are the first time that anyone has ever tried this. But it simply isn’t the case.

Electric cars have been tried before and failed. But yet I have stock in the company. You might be wondering if electric cars have failed in the past, why would I invest?

Well, it’s because of who runs the company. Elon Musk has a proven track record. He seems to have a Midas touch when it comes to tech startups. I’m investing in Elon’s capacity to finally make this idea work. In fact, I’d say he’s the J. J. Abrams of the tech world.

Speaking of which, if you think about it, I don’t think Mr. Abrams is really all that original either.

I mean, what is he known for?

Lost, Star Trek, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens are just three of the MANY project he’s done under his production company Bad Robot. Two of which are huge franchises that he was entrusted with after his success with the “smaller” projects. I mean, how many times has Science Fiction been done, let alone these two franchises? And yet, it’s these two franchises that continue to set box office records. Would you call him a sell out?

Obviously, with just these two examples we can see that originality in our work isn’t as big a deal as we’d like to believe. Even George Lucas has said that he borrowed pieces from other works when he was making the original Star Wars.

It seems that original work comes very rarely. But is that really so bad? Kirby Ferguson explores that below.

The Intangibles of Original Work

So, after watching those videos and thinking about my previous two examples, what do you think makes an original piece, more often than not, original?

Remember, for those of us who are creators of a business, we don’t want to be too odd in our work or we’ll always have a small following.

With limited needs and wants of clients, and with so many people, there’s going to be an overlap in the market. Originality simply doesn’t usually come from the work itself.

More often than not, originality comes from it’s creator.

We are the ones that make originality possible. The way we think about things. The way we connect the dots. The way we connect people. That’s what makes our work original.


Do you have any stories of a situation where you tried to be original but just made things more complex? Do you agree with my assessment of originality? Let us know below. We’d love to hear from you!

(P.S. I stole the idea for this post from this interview over at Art of Charm with Austin Kleon and gave it my own perspective.)

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