There is a moment when I start pursuing a project that I am giddy with the belief that it is original. I'm excited because I think the originality of the idea makes it valuable. And there is always some time spent believing I've thought of something new before I remember that I can google the idea. That's when the scalp-tingle starts and I'm deeply embarrassed at my unoriginality.
When you realize there are 3 TED talks and 14 blogs discussing the same concept that you've passionately crystallized out of thin air, what do you do? It's tempting to hide, argue, or ignore because we've been sold the story, in part by the celebrity-ification of everyone from chefs to entrepreneurs, that value comes from the new. Value comes from fabricating an entirely unique concept, with no input. Value comes from nondisclosure agreements protecting your brilliance. Value comes from being the first, the fastest, the sharpest.
Rafe Furst, an investor, once told me:
“If you say your startup has no competitors, you're either dumb, deluded, or have a terrible idea.”
The truth is that in this age of idea-sharing and connection, there are few new ideas. The chance that you've conceived of something without the contribution and pollination of others is low. The chance that whatever you've thought of has never been considered by someone else is even lower.
But that's great news. Because in my heart of hearts, I believe that it's not originality that matters, but authenticity. It's not newness that matters, but meaning. And it's not the knife-edge of being the only one doing something that matters, but rather creative collaboration with a like-minded tribe.
As Audre Lorde says:
"Sometimes we drug ourselves with dreams of new ideas. The head will save us. The brain alone will set us free. But there are no new ideas still waiting in the wings to save us as women, as human. There are only old and forgotten ones, new combinations, extrapolations and recognitions from within ourselves- along with the renewed courage to try them out... For there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt."
So instead of cultivating excitement and focus around coming up with new ideas (setting myself up for the ensuing letdown), I'm going to cultivate a resolute focus on meaning, authenticity, and connection. Originality can't be a tyrant without our submission. And I choose a higher master.