Thursday, October 20, 2011

'original' ideas

As a very green newspaper reporter, I was once assigned to go to a press conference scheduled at a nearby air base. A general had something to say ... I forget the topic. And as I rode out to the base with several other reporters from other news organizations, we all chatted idly about the aspects of the upcoming event. I had come up with my own question to ask and I told the others in the car what it was. Others chimed in with their questions, I seem to remember. But when it came to the Q&A section of the press conference and before I had a chance to open my mouth, the Associated Press reporter got in his question ... which was pretty much word-for-word the question I had outlined in the car.

It left me speechless and pissed me off: He had 'stolen' my idea.

As the years went by, I came to find that those around me often had no compunction about stealing ideas they had no capacity to formulate on their own -- my ideas. I didn't mind as long as I was given credit, but saying someone else came up with the idea that comes out of your mouth lessens the impact and ego-boost of pretending it is original as stated.

The whole thing pisses me off less today than it did once. It's human ... and it lets you know what sort of person is co-opting your ideas. It's just another ego-tripper who lacks the capacity and willingness to think for himself.

The flip side of this coin is also interesting: Is there really any idea -- any idea at all -- which does not owe fealty to someone else's 'original' efforts? No there is not. From Einstein and Edison to Joe the Barber ... we're all living on food that others have chewed. It's not a matter of whether this is the case, but rather that it is the case. The word 'original' overstates the case by quite a lot.

Perhaps the only sense in which "original thinking" has any meaning is in the uses to which anyone might put someone else's leavings. Are such leavings used as a means of parroting and self-elevating or is there some honest nourishment within?

Before you ever imagined you had an original idea ... what originality is this?

Your life, your choice.


  1. John Smith, US Patent OfficerOctober 20, 2011 at 2:47 PM


    I can appreciate that there are patterns in questions and ideas.

    Basic questions are relevant to almost any situation or issue: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How? These kind of questions may even be hardwired in our brains so to speak.

    Individuality and uniqueness may seem apparent when one of the above questions are applied to some aspect of an event or issue. I can see one saying "that's not original", or "that's not really creative."

    Yet there are breakthroughs I maintain. Lets take a simple case in Art. The first time it occurred to Suerat to use dots of paints to do a picture with may or may not have been original, but from that idea he decided to make a number of paintings some quite large painting of a type never before seen. Others like Van Gogh may be said to have "borrowed" or "stolen" Suerat's idea. Sure, using dots might have occurred to someone else, but Suerat took that idea and ran with it perhaps with the encouragement help of his "friends," "supporters," "agent," "critics", etc.

    The ideas that Edison brought to life may have occurred to others but circumstances including his famous "99% perspiration" made the ideas "come to life.'

    Other productive individuals who were genius like Nikola Tesla were sometimes so far out of the box that their contributions were used but their names are often forgotten. Yet there breakthrough inventions continue to influence the world to this day.

    But to say that Suerat's, or Edison's, or Tesla's, or Einstein's key articulated idea were not original is, I think, just plain wrong.

    The same can be said of those throughout history who have pushed the envelope of thought or action in a major way: Socrates, Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, etc., etc., etc. through some modern folks like Steve Jobs who may have been more visionary, task master and an extraordinary promoter but not really a scientist, inventor or artist in a more traditional sense.

  2. Perhaps 'original' is OK but the 'mine' is a bit off the mark.