What does it mean to say that something is new, original? For example, does this question constitute something new or original? I am sure it has been raised many times throughout human history. We place value on originality, but what is it, exactly, that we consider valuable?
For example, someone shies away from sharing their thoughts in public. When asked for the reason they say that they have nothing original to say. All that they have in mind, they maintain, has already been thought, said, and done by someone else in the past. There is nothing new about their ideas.
Although I understand this reasoning and its emotional background, I still find it worth exploring with a critical eye. Of course, I too sometimes fall victim to such thoughts. Especially during bigger public gatherings I frequently find it extremely difficult to ask questions (though I may have some) or share my views (which I almost always have). What if I say something silly or something of no consequence? However, despite these fears, I also realize how important it is to voice one’s thoughts, share, engage in exchange with others. Because that is where real originality is born.
It is very rare, and I am not sure if at all possible, that someone comes up with a ground-breaking innovation in total isolation from the world. They have been influenced at some point by someone. Originality thrives on uninhibited bouncing of ideas. Just like creativity is fuelled by the freedom of expression (or, at an extreme – by severe suppression that produces its own revolutionaries). So, it seems clear that originality does not feel at home in strictly regulated environments.
Yet, there is another point that we tend to overlook or misinterpret when we think about something new and original. Have you noticed that we tend to set very high standards for what can be considered original, especially when we apply it to our own ideas? It must be something entirely new. As in – it didn’t exist before, at all. Let’s say, discovering a time-travelling mechanism, coming up with a water-tight plan to eliminate poverty and starvation in the world forever, creating the best ever masterpiece of art. Some colossal demands!
The cost of this enormous weight that we place on the notion of originality is also big, yet it often goes unnoticed. We forget that all the great, world-famous innovators got their ideas as a result of myriad influences affecting their minds. They were inspired by someone’s different perspective on things, saw something familiar in a different light after discussing it with people who offered a new take on it, and so on.
This demonstrates two things. First, innovation does not happen in isolation. Second, originality can mean creating something entirely new and it can also mean looking at familiar things with new eyes. This last kind of originality is, I think, unjustly underrated. That is, until we actually experience it and realise how valuable and powerful it is.