You Will Never Be Innovative

An 11-year-old Helen Keller wrote a short story The Frost King. She was later accused of plagiarizing the book from the story Frost Fairies by Margaret Canby. Given the details, it’s likely that Keller’s story was, at worst, fan fiction — certainly not deliberate plagiarism. It’s more likely that Keller had the story read to her as a young child and it subconsciously influenced her story.

Ten years later, Mark Twain heard of the debacle and had this to say:

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernal, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them;

He goes on — which you can read here — but you get the idea.

You will never have an original idea. You will never have a creative thought that in some way isn’t plagiarized from something else.

What we should instead understand is that innovation is relative.

When I’ve told people what I do, it will sometimes come across as this mind-blowing, cutting edge thing. In reality, not only have I been doing it for years — diminishing its innovative-ness — but the principles have existed for centuries.

I’m not saying don’t try to be innovative. I’m saying that if you’ve been tasked with being innovative, you can usually just go with what you know, with what works, and it’ll blow their tiny minds.

Well, not their tiny minds, that’s not fair.