I sometimes see people spit on ideas because they build on old ones. Using old ideas, they say, is stealing and strangles innovation like a serial killer that had too much cocaine. Old ideas are for people aren’t creative enough to come up with their own. But isn’t all ideas reworked in one way or another?
What is an old idea?
Even a unique idea has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is often old ideas or at least fragments of old ideas. I´m not saying that it is ok to take an idea straight off and make it yours. What I mean is that knowledge is meant to build upon. The fact that a part of the idea is old doesn’t necessarily take away its originality and value. Steve Jobs understood that:
The key to creativity is to expose yourself 'to the best things that humans have done and then to bring those things into what you are doing.
An idea is judged by its context
Because we are living in a world that spins faster for every day that passes by. An idea that was rejected yesterday can be a success tomorrow since the context has changed and people with the context. We are all victims of the culture that we live in, and that culture decides if an idea is good or bad. The fact that it was bad yesterday doesn’t mean that it is bad tomorrow. And I think that it is our responsibility to not let our precursors work go to waste. Without those old ideas we wouldn’t be where we are today, and that means that we probably wouldn’t have the seed for our idea anyway.
Old ideas in new ways
For me it is about finding building blocks in different genres, categories and fields and put them together into something new. While the idea might be old, a new context can give it a whole new purpose and create value in new ways. I use to look at it as a system that I take apart, piece by piece, and then put together again in a different manner and with a few new building blocks.
It´s an agile process that is driven forward by trial and error, but it is almost always built on existing ideas spiced with my own ability to see connections, patterns and potential value. That is what creativity should be seen as – a method to make old ideas better in a new way.
If you want to read more about how you can use old ideas to create new ideas you should check out Fast Company´s article on cross-polinating ideas.