One of the myths that troubled me most as an advertising creative was the myth of originality. I always used to aim to do something that had never been done before; something that was so fresh, no one even had references for where it came from. But the problem is that if I ever succeeded in doing that, no one would understand it.

Without understandable references, any idea is too alien to comprehend.

It took me years to understand that all ideas build on the ideas of others.

It took me years to understand that all ideas build on the ideas of others.Click To Tweet

So am I making a case for plagiarism here? Hell no! (And sadly the advertising industry is full of that kind of cheap idea-theft.)

This is about understanding how you come up with ideas and acknowledging that you’re building on the thinking of those who have come before.

It took me far too long to come to terms with this kind of thinking. And I don’t think it’s illustrated much better than in this TED talk.

Kirby Ferguson delivers a cut-down version of the argument he puts across in his documentary series Everything is a Remix. And he shows that much of the material that has defined our modern culture is simply a version of a previous thing. And – best of all – he proves his point with some brilliant examples.

I highly recommend watching his full documentary

He shows how most of Bob Dylan’s early output was cribbed from the folk singers who’d gone before. And he amusingly points out the hypocrisy of Steve Jobs’ approach to IP protection.

He ends with a dig at the role of patents and how the tech industry is currently using them for the opposite purpose they were intended for. This is something we’re planning to cover in more detail at a later date.

This talk is just a taste of what Kirby has to say. If you like it, I highly recommend watching his full documentary (which is, unsurprisingly, a remix of the existing four episodes).

Listen to what he has to say, absorb it and then remix it into your own conversations to make you sound extra smart.

Much of the material that has defined our modern culture is simply a version of a previous thingClick To Tweet
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One of the myths that troubled me most as an advertising creative was the myth of originality. I always used to aim to do something that had never been done before; something that was so fresh, no one even had references for where it came from. But the problem is that if I...
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Dave Birss
Founder and Editor at OpenForIdeas.org
Dave is obsessed with creativity. He's been a musician, illustrator, stand-up comedian, poet, radio DJ, television presenter and advertising creative director. He also wrote A User Guide to the Creative Mind.
Now he runs Open for Ideas and helps individuals and companies become more creative.
You can find him speaking at conferences all over the world. And sharing his thinking in boardrooms, universities and dimly-lit pubs.