But no one is asking you to be original. We’re asking you to be generous and brave and to matter. We’re asking you to step up and take responsibility for the work you do, and to add more value than a mere cut and paste. Give credit, definitely, but reject vemödalen.
Sure, it’s been done before. But not by you. And not for us.
[If you’re working on something truly different, this post is not for you. I don’t want to feed your Shadow that’s telling you that you’re a weirdo or too out there. Get back to work. This is for the people flailing because they think what they’re doing isn’t original enough to be worth doing.]
Studying philosophy before you become a public writer has many virtues (and a lot of vices) but chief among them is that you’ve already experienced how impossible it is to be truly original. We’ve been writing footnotes to Plato for millennia and there’s no sign of its stopping.
Originality is a good goal, but placing too much weight on it has taken us astray. I’ve mostly seen that it’s a way for us to prove that we’re good enough, that we belong in that group of people who did something truly original. “Look at me, I’m smart and creative.”
Of course, we could flip it and instead think about what best serves our tribes. Sure, if we’re in the business of delivering delights, then we need healthy doses of novelty, surprise, and stimulation, but that’s usually finding something in the last 15% rather than doing something truly original.
But notice that that’s not originality for originality’s sake — it’s originality for service’s sake.
This reminds me of George Washington Carver’s insight, “When you can do the common things in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
That you are doing it in a way that’s serving them is more important than whether what you’re doing is original. So if service is your core metric, keep your eye on the right ball.
And if originality is your core metric, who’s that really for? There’s no problem with it being for and about you, but just be honest about it.