Original or authentic?

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"What a good thing Adam had. When he said a good thing, he knew nobody had said it before." Mark Twain – writer 1835-1910 Source: Proverbia.net 

Is there anything such thing as a new idea? I often wake up at 4am with what I think is a great new idea, I pick up my bedside notebook and write it down. (This is so you can go back to sleep of course). Then, when you have done a bit of deep breathing but you are still awake, you decide to get up and go to your computer to start designing that mailer you will send out today with your great idea on it. You have just the customer in mind, it’s so exciting! They’ll be blown away when they see it!

Now to the internet, let’s research it and see if we can get some more inspiration. This is usually when the insipient hiss of the air coming out of your balloon becomes just about audible – someone else has already had your great idea, and they are a bigger company than yours or, worse still, a direct competitor. We’re a bit deflated now but still we plough on looking at more and more links to our great idea. The last dribble of air is leaking out now – the idea has not only already been born, it has siblings and cousins, a whole family tree! 

If you were to read more of Mark Twain’s thoughts on originality you might start to feel a bit better. He was quite emphatic that no thought was original as every subject has been debated and written about through time. ““For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources” and he wrote this long before we had Google!

In fact, when we consider that most of our thoughts are recycled and most things have been created at least once already, then we can perhaps give ourselves a break when it comes to our next great idea. Does it matter if it is not entirely new? Is the fact that it already exists just proof that it is a popular thing? If the design uses a font that you have seen elsewhere, is it plagiarism to use it in your blog/mailer/website or are you just following a trend?

So maybe we don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time we send out something for a client to consider, or source a “new” product to stock in our store. In an article in The Guardian,  a celebrated author called Helene Hegemann, who published her debut aged 17 to great reviews, was later discovered to have lifted some sentences from another book, said pointedly:

“There’s no such thing as originality, just authenticity.”

This was over 6 years ago and today “authenticity” has become the latest buzz word. I think Mark Twain might have had a definition of that too, but do you know what? I’m going to stop researching and just get on and send that mailer out anyway. 

So, don’t let anyone burst your balloon – go for it, do it anyway. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t get it 100% right the first time, you can refine it, reinvent it and do it again later. A friend of mine always says “version one is better than version none” so I’ll leave you with that recycled thought and encourage you to go out there and engage with your audience on a level they will understand and show them ideas you know they will like – who cares if they have seen it before or even bought it before, it will just remind them that you know what they are into, and they might just love you for it.