Are there original ideas?
"If you have an idea you’re excited about and you don’t bring it to life, it’s not uncommon for the idea to find its voice through another maker. This isn’t because the other artist stole your idea, but because the idea’s time has come."
Rick Rubin, The Creative Act, 2023
This thought that ideas will manifest themselves when their time has come, as if somehow ideas had a time when they were just meant to be, is profound.
It makes me question whether I am truly in control over my own ideas, or if it's just pure coincidence that I happen to be invested in a specific topic when the time and conditions are finally right for a specific idea to come to live.
Even then, I might be just one of many, as when the time has come, it’s not exclusive.
Have you ever noticed how similar products are often launched around the same time? For example, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook were all introduced between 2003 and 2004. I always thought that in such situations, the most obvious reason was either corporate espionage, leaks, or maybe just competitors being competitors (AKA blatant copy). But what if it is instead simply a matter of timing, the time for the idea to emerge?
In the past, long before the internet existed, significant scientific advancements, or discoveries, also took place simultaneously. There’s even a name for it, "Simultaneous Invention", the phenomenon when individuals independently invent or discover the same thing in different locations without any contact.
Some notable cases are when Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Joseph Priestley both discovered oxygen in the 1770s, or when Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace independently described natural selection in the 1800s. Maybe not a case of "great minds think alike", but rather that the time and conditions were likely right.
This may also be the reason why movements arise, why stylistic trends exist, why innovators from opposite sides of the world think of similar products, why designers create similar visual identities, or writers write identical pieces of text. Ideas are never truly original, because they don't originate in a conceptual void. They originate from a collective mind, the set of impressions, news, movies, references, memes, cultural and politic events that we all share. And this collective mind ultimately dictates when it’s finally time for an idea to emerge.
This perspective can be intimidating because a truly original idea might never find its time. And ideas whose time has come, are just there, waiting to be acted upon.
But it also gives me some solace for not acting on every idea. Because ultimately, from the idea's perspective, when its time has come, it doesn't really matter if I take action or not, as someone else will inevitably do.
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