Originality vs. Imitation

A man once said:

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it.

Today, corporations seem to be latching on to this concept of stealing with pride as a fashionable phrase used in the boardrooms. I used to work in a corporation where management would constantly preach this phrase as if it were a ‘get out of jail free card’ for all of its business problems. Some members even approached it as if it were a business strategy!

Personally, I never liked the phrase steal with pride. Isn’t the premise of this essentially a theft of ideas? Where does knowledge theft fit with plagiarism and forgery? The latter both serious offenses – yet in business, it is permissible to take someone else’s material, idea, knowledge or practice and pass it off as our own.

Everyone is totally just winging it quote

Stealing with pride in business is a mere cover-up of a workplace creativity gap because everyone is just winging it. It may be a hard fact to face but many of us do not have the faintest clue what we’re doing, most of the time. It is easier to justify when we have taken someone else’s idea because it offers self-assurance and even assurance to others, that it is both tried and tested – usually at another’s expense. 

The thought of trying to create something new is like putting our heads above the parapet. Seemingly as we move up the ranks in any corporation, we will find it harder for anyone in a senior position to dispute that predictability allows for effective management. And after all, human beings by nature are comparers – from our own happiness, success and the feeling of being better off to competence and performance. Even our creative output comes under close scrutiny. We must not be seen inadequate by comparison. It is the expectation that we must stand on the shoulders of giants. So, we are encouraged to steal.

Yet, each time when we steal with pride, it becomes harder to recognise our own creativity. The action itself diminishes our self-belief to come up with our own ideas and therefore, slowly damages our ability to be original. It is easy to fall into the trap of defying originality to the point that we become too afraid to do anything that does not live up to a perceived standard.

I must state, however, that original thoughts and ideas are also rare and I’m not insisting that the response to every task or problem has to be an original idea, knowledge or practice. I understand that things do not exist in a vacuum and in some way, nothing is ever going to be 100% unique. But, we have to pull inspiration from somewhere and in some way, we are influenced by our experiences. 

It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation.

So the next time we feel the urge to ‘steal with pride’ because it appears to be a shortcut, take a step back and consider the following advise.

  • It is important to remember that it is not where we take things from – it’s where we take them to. 
  • Closing down the new is when our minds are closing to fresh inspiration.
  • Taking situations and solutions as we find them without question is losing our ability to be obsessively curious.
  • Our creativity feeds on everything that our senses are exposed to.
  • Approach with the right energy and passion to unveil new perspectives that lie dormant in our minds.
  • Gather the most stimulating minds around us to discover something we may have ruled out.
  • We need a bold re-think. 
  • We need to use our nerves more.
  • There’s always magic in starting something: a freshness and simplicity in the first attempt.
  • Without trying we’ll never know – we need to take a shot if we’re to stand any chance of success.
  • We need to open our eyes and stop sleepwalking through life and business.
  • We can choose to be either a creator or a copycat. 
  • We can choose to be a voice, not an echo.

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