Why you shouldn’t care about originality and what you should care about instead

Why you shouldn’t care about originality and what you should care about instead

Originality is overrated.

There’s a pretty lively discussion happening out there in our online business world on this topic right now. Last week, my friend Srini posted a really interesting essay in discussion of this topic – as a response to Derek Halpern’s [Yeah, I’m talking about Derek again – what can I say? The dude pisses me off.] assertion that people should no longer be starting interview-based podcasts of/for online entrepreneurs because the field was full. In discussing what he calls ‘The Mimicry Epidemic’, Srini said some really important things:

“A guru, pundit or somebody with a large platform says that we should do something and we follow the instructions to the letter. That’s where the problem lies. 

We don’t put our artistic signature on it. 

We don’t bring our unique perspective or angle. 

We don’t do the thing that only we could do. 

We don’t embrace what could make us unmistakable. ”

And I couldn’t agree more. But I would also add an ‘and’ to what Srini said.

And the ‘and’ is about quality.

See, I disagree that the field [or ANY field, for that matter] is full. There is ALWAYS room for someone to do it better. It’s how we, as a culture, evolve. We take what’s being done and we make it better. We solve a new problem. We ask a better question. We bring quality where there was none. If everyone and their sister started a podcast tomorrow, everyone would have to up their game. Push the boundaries of what they thought they were capable of. And some would fail. Many, in fact. Srini’s right. You have to be unmistakable. But you also have to provide something that is of the highest possible quality. And producing quality requires learning. And learning comes from mimicry.

As many of you know, I invite mimicry.

To quote T.S. Eliot:

“One of the surest tests [of the superiority or inferiority of a poet] is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different than that from which it is torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion. A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.” [attribution]

Shutting people down because they are unoriginal is like smacking a puppy for not knowing that it’s still a puppy. [tweet]

Our market is massive. And growing. There is plenty of room for MANY more podcasts. And blogs. And coaches. And writers. And designers. And consultants. And as much as I *want* to agree that you have to be unique/original/different to succeed, that’s actually probably not true. Why? Because success is not at all about originality. I wish it was. But it isn’t. The world is full of examples of less-interesting ideas finding wild successes being well packaged and capitalizing on a market gap. So what if you are yet another podcaster interviewing all the same names as all of your predecessors [which is totally not even true… I hear different voices all over the place all the time – it’s just the big names stick with us when we hear them again and again]. If you ask better questions of those same people than the Derek Halpern’s and the Pat Flynn’s and yes, even the Srinivas Rao’s did, then good for you. You just created something unoriginal, but of higher quality. And in my book, quality wins every time. So…

Read your gurus.

Listen to your leaders.

Then make what they do better. [tweet]

Until they tell you that you should *not* do what they do, because THAT, my friends is a steaming pile of self-preserving bullshit, right there. When that happens, find a new leader. Find a new guru. Find someone who is willing to lead by example, and who’s willing to train you to be their competition.  THAT’S how you can be part of the successful few. THAT’S how you can find your unmistakability. THAT’S how you can find your way in the world that is yours and only yours.

Your leaders should want nothing more than for you to one day lead them.

That’s what I want for you. I want you to get so much better at what you do that you put me in my place one day.

I want to feel the burn of losing my edge because yours is sharper.

I want to be obsolete one day.

I want to be shoved aside by a stampede of successes surging down the path I laid out behind me. [tweet]

The real moment that matters is not the one where you decide if you want to start a podcast. The real moment that matters comes when you realize that you did it just like everyone else and you either: a. Up your game and find a way to evolve and grow and up your quality and unmistakability like a mofo, or b. you decide that it’s too hard and you quit. A lot of people quit. I would love to say that that’s a shame, but it isn’t.

Quality is forged in that moment.

That decision.

That crossroads that we all face eventually and that is utterly devoid of leaders and gurus and road maps.

That moment when you decide to be bigger/better/more than what you began as is the loneliest moment there is, and is the one that matters the most. [tweet]

Whatever you do, don’t ever let anyone steal that moment from you. So go start your podcast. Get Seth Godin and Chris Brogan and Danielle LaPorte.

And then get whoever’s next.

Ask them the questions that will shape a generation.

Your generation.

Ask them the questions they’ve never been asked.

Ask things that matter.

Be brilliant.

Be brave.

Be better than your leaders.

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