from Marketing Memetics, by Michael Taylor
“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” – Steve Jobs. Or was it Picasso? Faulkner? T.S. Eliot? You can’t copy something mainstream because we’re socially biased against obvious plagiarism. However as fashions change and culture moves on, ideas get forgotten, sources get obscured, and something old gets reinvented for the modern age. Our brains still work the same as they did 10,000 years ago, and there are a limited list of memes that elicit a response. So we’re doomed to be continuously rediscovering them.
If we stare at a blank canvas long enough, we can convince ourselves of our own originality and genius. But we’re kidding ourselves if we believe anything we create hasn’t come before. We’re not original, we’re just not consciously aware of our sources. Originality is in the eye of the beholder. Listen to the White Stripes and hear Lenny Kravitz. Listen to Kravitz and hear Led Zeppelin. Listen to Zeppelin and hear The Blues.
If everything is a remix and nothing is original, maybe the way we create is all wrong. What if instead of staring at a blank canvas and trying to come up with an original thought, we started by explicitly copying instead? Rather than starting from scratch, we have a solid foundation to build on. We can “stand on the shoulders of giants” and focus our energy on improving and adapting memes that are already proven. Great artists may steal, but as Eliot elaborated, they “make it into something better, or at least something different”.