There is no such thing as a new idea

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“Hey Terry, you keen on joining an online writing course?”

I was in the middle of fighting my post-lunch food coma when I received this text.

The allure of this spontaneous message was irresistible; I’ve been wanting to develop my writing skill for a couple of months now.

“Sure! How much will it cost and how long will it take?”, I replied.

17 minutes later, we were enrolled. We were going on a Write of Passage.

Idea creationism is a myth

I saw writing as a way to organize and express my thoughts, ideas, and learnings from things happening around me. These articles would also spark conversations with other like-minded people, allowing me to connect with others like me.

Little did I know, becoming a writer was easier said than done.

Writing proved to be much more challenging than I thought; when I was writing for Kopithoughts, every article took me an average of 30 hours to write, from ideation to clicking the publish button.

It was exhausting. It shouldn’t be that hard. I must be doing something wrong.

Fortunately, as I went through the Write of Passage, I came to realize why I found writing so difficult: I was trying to make the key point of every article completely original.

The truth is, no idea is truly original.

Photo credits: twenty20photos

We are always building on someone else’s work.

Before you start slamming me with claims of plagiarism, hear me out.

When I say original, I mean that every aspect of your creation was a product of your own thought, uninfluenced and uninspired by anything that has ever seen the light of day.

With this definition, can you recall the last time you or anyone else who came up with something completely original?

Got nothing? Yea, I thought so too.

Coming back to Kopithoughts, I didn’t want to simply paraphrase what I learnt from the books that inspired each article; it had to be something above and beyond – something original.

After six hard months of writing this way, I shelved this project because it was simply too exhaustive, both mentally and physically.

At the writing course, I was introduced to a life-changing perspective to writing: New ideas are always built upon the previous works of others.

Photo credits: StudioLightAndShade

“New” ideas are simply transformed from older ones

American biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick were famous for the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953. It was a huge milestone in the history of science that would later be immortalized in biology textbooks over the next few decades.

But was this discovery purely borne out of the minds of Watson and Crick alone?

As it turns out, many scientists had made other notable discoveries that hinted at the possible structure of DNA before Watson and Crick. The iconic duo would not have been able to arrive at their landmark conclusion without building onto the work of their predecessors.

Similarly, we can see the influence of nature on many technological innovations today. Often referred to as biomimicry, this is evident from the design of aeroplane wings to the streamlined body of a ship’s hull; even the design of the iconic roof structures of the Sydney Opera House were inspired by the peeling of an orange.

While these ideas certainly did originate from the respective engineers, designers, and architects, I would posit that they were never created afresh and were almost always derived from prevailing ideas.

In other words, new ideas are always transformed from old ones by people’s imagination and creativity.

Photo credits: twenty20photos

No idea is truly original

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

Ideas are like energy – they cannot be created or destroyed, but they can be transformed from one form to another.

With this new-found understanding, I find myself writing with much more ease than before.

Knowing that we don’t always have to create new ideas took away a lot of the pressure I gave myself. 

Since there is no such thing as a new idea, it might be better to think about how we can tweak existing ideas and apply them meaningfully to our lives instead.

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About the author
Terry Toh

Terry Toh

Terry is an aspiring life coach working towards his accreditation by the International Coaching Federation. He loves to read about personal development and entrepreneurship, often with a nice cup of coffee or G&T in hand.
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