Nothing’s new, just a twist or development on something that’s come before. We don’t reinvent the wheel, we find different uses for the wheel. Originality is spotting an opportunity to do something that’s been done, but doing it differently. Being unique is putting your own stamp on an old idea. We rehash, recycle, disassemble and rebuild. We ride on the shoulders of the giants who rode out before us.
When Ridley Scott pitched Alien to the Studios he simply said ‘It’s Jaws in a Spaceship.’ They got it. Jaws was a sensational success and how much scarier putting something like Jaws in Alien form into an enclosed vessel in space. No where to go… Scott’s pitch was successful because he built on an idea that had already worked but added his own twist.
When all hell’s breaking loose in the office because profits are nosediving, the boss is having a nervous breakdown and the coffee machine’s exploded, it’s time to do something differently. As the adage goes “do the same thing, you get the same results”, so how about following Bill Gate’s example and upping your Corporate IQ as he calls it. He gets people to swap roles and departments and bring their own perspective to bear on traditional ways of doing things. I once saw the boss of WH Smiths working the till in a high street store on a Saturday. All staff through the ‘ranks’ were encouraged to take their turn. When the executives feel the pain of their employees they are likely to make changes for the better.
Indian Classical music is three thousand year old tradition passed down generation to generation. Nothing is written down. The disciple learns from his or her guru, a harsh, grinding daily practice for decades before they are ready to perform and build their own interpretation of what they have learned. Then they take the role of teacher and pass on the tradition. The essence remains unchanged but the vessel through which it passes is different. It grows and deepens through the passage of time. One significant change is that it used to be chamber music, performed in small spaces to a handful of guests. Now it is more accessible to all ages, gender, class, ethnicity, locality, with large venues, microphones, and recordings. Western jazz musicians learn the music in India then take it home and reinterpret it into their own music. Yet another incarnation. It doesn’t take away from the original but it does create something new from it.
Vanessa King, positive psychology expert at Action for Happiness says “As human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress. Psychologists call it mastery… Learning also fuels our creativity. Ideas can come from making connections between seemingly unrelated things… learning something new in one area of our lives can trigger ideas in another. So curiosity and creative thinking go hand-in-hand.”
So we learn something and build on that learning by creating something else. Adaptability is a natural phenomena in human nature. We plan for Plan A, build in a Plan B and when circumstances preclude either options we intuitively conjure up a Plan C. And how do we do that? We ‘remember’ how similar things were done and we adapt our knowledge to the current problem. That is creativity at work. Building on what came before to transform in current circumstances.
The metaphor of standing on the shoulders of giants (Latin: nanos gigantum humeris insidentes) expresses the meaning of “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries”. Don’t we look to our heroes and heroines to inspire us in our own endeavours? In his book ‘On the Shoulders of Giants‘ Stephen Hawking brings together the greatest works by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Einstein, showing how their pioneering discoveries changed the way we see the world. Each scientist built on the theories of their predecessors to answer the questions that had long mystified humanity. This knowledge inspired Hawking’s own trajectory of investigation and connection that would in turn lead to his Theory of Relativity. Hawking explains how their works transformed the course of science – and of course his built on that, giving us a better understanding of the universe and our place in it.
Who are the giants in your world? Who inspires you? What can you borrow from them, copy, emulate, translate, recreate, and adapt. Your heroes are like wheels, how you use them is up to you. Some people build houses out of tyres. Kids make go-carts using doll’s pram wheels, vets puts wheels on the back of dogs who have lost their hind legs, Pizza Express give you a sharpened wheel with a handle to slice up your own pizza, some people spin round in a giant wheel to get a good view of the sights of London.
Get creative, be adaptable, embrace change, build on what you know. Make your future an exciting laboratory of preloved ideas transformed into extraordinary new inventions. Want help with this? Get a Creative Thinking Coach. Contact me on Lou@createlab.co.uk
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