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Creativity is odd. You can’t define it, yet you can use it everywhere. Where is a line separating creative and non-creative processes? Is there a task that doesn't require creativity?
Many philosophers tried to define creativity, some said it’s pointless. Plato thought it is an activity of the gods in us. Kant said that “there can be no such rules for the production of art, which is the domain of genius, and the genius themselves doesn’t know where they get their ideas from”.
Kant argued that creativity is not all about originality, “since there can also be original nonsense, its products must at the same time be models, i.e., exemplary”.
Some definitions also mention surprise: for Boden creativity is an ability to produce something new, surprising, and valuable and for Novitz to be creative, recombination of ideas must be valuable and surprising.
I stick to the opinion that nothing is 100% original. Steve Jobs said it best:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
The main driver of creativity is copying others.
You are a thief, you may not know it yet
Copying others is a fundamental practice that humans use to become a part of society. Babies imitate people they see around. There is some evidence that we have a specific type of neurons that has the sole purpose of helping us imitate behavior we see in others.
Musicians learn to play an instrument through playing existing songs. When they understand how to do that, then they can come up with their own songs. Painters learn to draw other artists’ works to hone their craft. They fake it until they make it. We copy others to understand the basics.
But does this only happen in the beginning?
Copy your way to the top
Even those who are at the top of their game, still copy others.
The Oscar-nominated “Joker” was inspired by Taxi Driver.
This is a list of films that influenced every Quentin Tarantino movie.
George Lucas stole ideas from “Flash Gordon” (1936), “Hidden Fortress” (1958), “Yojimbo” (1961), “Sanjuro” (1962), and others to make the most recognized franchise in the world with the biggest fan base ever- Star Wars.
According to one of the designers, the first iPhone was inspired by the original Mac, blade runner, 2001: a Space Odyssey, Sony Walkman TPS-L2, Braun ET66, the Concorde, Massimo Vignale, Henry Dreyfuss, Apollo 11, The Beatles, warp records, NASA, Polaroid, and others.
Van Neistat and Tom Sachs inspired Casey Neistat’s video style. It led to other YouTubers like Matt D’Avella being inspired by Casey, and so on.
Modern fashion trends are almost always inspired by what people wore in the past.
Christopher Nolan was inspired by “Heat” to make “The Dark Knight”.
Almost all Hollywood blockbusters follow the same 12-stage structure.
Here is a list of the 35 most popular movies based on this structure.
There is a documentary full of examples where people copied each other’s ideas: Everything is a Remix.
And every single one of these examples is normal. This happens because it is impossible to come up with something completely new. Every idea is a mix of several others.
3 Levels of creativity
There are three types of creativity: copying, combining, and transforming ideas.
When we copy something, we take an idea and place it from one place to another to come up with something different. But copying is not always the right word. You should steal ideas, not copy them.
When you copy something, you are just trying to make the same thing. When you steal something, you can do whatever you want with it. And this is exactly what you need to do with other people’s ideas.
Never copy, steal to use them as you like.
But you don't steal only one idea. You need a lot of them to make something unique. That's when combining is used. After stealing a bunch of ideas, you can now combine them to see how they fit together.
But often they don’t. So you disassemble them into small pieces to use in an order that fits the most. This is how most people approach creating something “new”.
I didn’t come up with this issue from scratch. I used other people’s opinions to form mine, I referenced mine and other people’s articles to explain creativity in a way I want. Likely, things I say in this article are not even mine, I may have stolen them from other people.
But who cares? They stole them too. We form our opinions based on an influence from the outside. No one has an idea that came from nowhere.
Nike’s tagline “Just do it” was inspired by the final words of a criminal on the death penalty in 1976. Dan Wieden stole these words to create one of the most memorable brand slogans of all time. This wasn’t copying, Wieden stole the words to use in an entirely different context.
Squid Game is the most popular tv-show in the world right now. But is the show type new? Absolutely not. Similar plot structures were in other movies and series years ago. Squid Game didn’t come up with something groundbreaking, they added their own spin to already existing idea. And people still love it.
What matters is the value you deliver to others with your idea.
“Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”
― C.E.M. Joad
Focus on your unique selling point
But how do you even make something interesting and new if everything is taken from others? You should focus on what is uniquely yours (which was also influenced by people around you).
It's impossible to copy your dedication, character, unfair advantages, or unique background.
If you ever think that there is no point in putting yourself out there because there are already millions of similar people doing the same- remember, there is not a single person that went through the same set of experiences as you did.
It is a unique blend that made you the person you are right now. So if you focus on adding something from yourself, you already came up with something “original”.
That unique touch adds up to the accumulated ideas and in the end, you get something never seen before.
Stealing a bunch of ideas and blending them all helped humankind thrive. Copy-pasting other people’s ideas is not creativity, using these ideas to transform them into something new is.
After some time, you will form a style of your own. This style was influenced by all experiences and people in your life. Others will then copy your style and at the end of the day, you won’t even be able to understand who copied whom.
Creativity is recreation
Everything you do is inspired by things that happened to you. Your idea is a unique combination of existing ingredients, not an entirely new ingredient.
Being mindful is important to understand where you get your ideas from. Be grateful for these sources. Anything could be an inspiration for your next work, be it words of a 6-year-old or a movie you just watched.
We are influenced by what we consume, so be aware of the consequences, they could be beneficial, as well as destructive.
In one of my previous issues, I talked about our brain modes. The diffuse mode is what drives creativity. Connecting dots from various places is its job. Try to spend more time in solitude and not focus on anything. This may help with analyzing ideas and coming up with new ones.
You may be wondering how come we are not already bored of everyone taking ideas from one another. All of these blockbusters have the same plot, how are we still interested? Just think of all the human faces you saw in your life. Every single one is different, even though all faces are based on the same skull structure. It’s the same with ideas around us. Every idea feels unique.
I like to think of creativity as Lego. Imagine that you bought a new box of Lego, it’s a big castle. You build a set and it becomes identical to other children’s around the world. But then you take out a box with your own bricks and mini-figures. You start rebuilding or adding unique features to the castle with your bricks. That personal touch just made your castle unlike any other on Earth. For example, no one thought about making this castle a Batman cave.
So go out there and steal some castles. Rebuild or transform them with bricks from your collection, merge them with other castles and create something unique!
“People who struggle with creativity don’t have enough dots to connect.”
What’s your take on creativity? Is it a mix of stolen ideas or something completely new? Would love to discuss that in the comment section!
Thank you for reading, have an amazing week! See you on Wednesday.
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