“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing”

Salvador Dali

Give credit where it’s due. All too often, our ego won’t allow us to acknowledge our influences and sources of inspiration, for fear of being ridiculed as an impostor and a copycat. After all, everyone wants to be seen as unique and recognised for an original talent, ability or skill. What we fail to acknowledge is that much of what we believe, know and understand about the world in which we live, comes from schools, books, magazines, films and any other medium through which we have consumed information. We read, watch or listen and absorb that which we believe and agree with. If something doesn’t ring true or we can’t fully grasp it, we either explore it further or just reject it altogether. But where did all this information, which is so readily available to us, come from?

The truth is that much of what we consider today to be conventional wisdom has its roots in Ancient Greek or Eastern philosophy. Over the centuries, this has been challenged, revised, rewritten and updated as our knowledge in areas such as science, technology and medicine have evolved. Humans are naturally curious. This has led us to question and challenge any pre-conceived ideas which we may have, and explore their relevance and validity. This research has, in turn, led to the increase in knowledge and understanding, fuelling innovation and leading us to update what we know to be true about the world. Without the reflections or research of scientists, philosophers and great minds in years gone past, would we really have learned and progressed as far as we have? Have we truly innovated, or have we built on the foundations which we inherited?

The same is as true for art, music and literature as it is for business, science, technology or medicine. Much of what is produced today for our appreciation and consumption has its roots in the work of the true pioneers who came centuries before. They inspire us to challenge what is possible. Many of those who came before us, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, offered us their blueprint for the future. While he was alive it existed in his mind but survived him in his work. In exploring this work, much of what he envisioned has actually become a reality because modern technology and techniques were used to challenge the validity of centuries-old thinking.

“What is now proved was once only imagined”

William Blake

Don’t be so caught up in trying to be a modern day pioneer that you fail to acknowledge the wealth of wisdom which we have available to us through the efforts of those who came before us. Much of what we know to be true today, was hinted at or touched upon centuries ago. It only became a reality when it was explored further using modern knowledge, techniques and skills. Wherever applicable, acknowledge your influences. It could be that your work inspires others to explore the source of your inspiration. In turn this can lead to greater knowledge creation, technological or scientific advances or even a new creative movement being formed. Either way, as well as your own work, share that which has inspired you so that it might awaken something special in someone else. You are not, after all, as unique as you believe yourself to be. Which is a good thing.

I think Mark Twain said it best;

“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 colored glass that have been in use through all the ages”

11 thoughts on “Originality

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