I had a philosophy professor in college who once gave us the assignment to write a 15-page paper. He didn’t care what the topic was within the scope of philosophy, but it had to be “original thought.” No references to other works, no documentation supporting our arguments, no classic topics – we had to find and expound upon a topic that no one had ever considered before. As you can imagine, it was a nightmare of an assignment.
Sometimes we get stuck on the idea that things have to be completely different than anything else that has come before. Why write a book about wizards (or lawyers or scary clowns or the military) when J.K. Rowlings (or John Grisham or Stephen King or Tom Clancy) has said it all? Why paint a starry night? Van Gogh has got that market covered. Why come up with a different approach to the same old problem? Someone has probably already tried my idea.
Here’s a video from a band called the Axis of Awesome performing “4 Chord Song.” Thanks to my friend Jenn at It’s Not Easy Being Green (check out her blog!) for introducing it to me. Warning: The video contains a couple of instances of strong language that is not suitable for children, workplaces or anyone who dislikes cursing. If you don’t feel comfortable watching the video, I’ll sum up underneath.
If you didn’t watch the video- the premise is that in just under six minutes, the band came up with 36 different songs (mostly top 10 hits) that use the exact same four chords. In reality, there are probably hundreds of them out there. The fantastic thing is the band, using songs that were already written by others, still managed to create something unique, interesting and engaging.
Each of us possess a creativity shaped by our individual experiences. You can be creative writing a song about love or photographing a flower or brainstorming ways to make your team more efficient. The magic ingredient isn’t the originality of the topic, it’s you in all of your wonderful uniqueness.
Here’s one more example to think about. Do you remember a site called Excite.com? It’s still out there, but someone else decided to create a similar product with their own twist. It’s a little thing called Google. Somehow I don’t think they were too worried that all the good search engine ideas had been done before.
Don’t get hung up on the idea that something’s been done before. If you do discover something totally radical, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. Simply give us your take on it- that’s why it’s different and interesting and creative.