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The Works

To be original, don’t be original

To be original, don’t be original…

Originality? I don’t think so

I’m a fan of Billy Bragg, a socialist-punk musician whose glory days were in the 1980s and 90s. It’s true, for me at least, when they say the music you listen to in your teens and twenties becomes the comfort music for the rest of your life.

I’ve gone as far as to have a few of his songbooks, so I could see the chords and lyrics and play along on the ukulele. In the Workers Playtime songbook, there’s a page dedicated to the family tree of Billy Bragg, and it’s just his name. The claim is that he’s an original.

Pffft. It’s bollocks, and Bragg himself would probably agree (using, likely, that exact phrase). Bragg’s music emerged from the music that came before him. Should evidence be required, I can point to the fact that, amongst other things, he’s gone on to write a book about the history of ska music.

It’s true about all innovation, certainly according to Matt Ridley (The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge) and that’s good news for us all. If we need a new idea, it’s less about waiting for a bolt out of the blue and far more about laying down a path for something to emerge.

I’ve deployed this strategy as I’ve been writing (and writing and writing) this new book. Before I start a book, I pull the books from my shelves that I want to make part of my new creation’s family tree. Some of the books will connect via the theme (I’ve been reading a lot of Esther Perell and Terry Real); some will connect through the design (I think hard about the experience you might have while actually reading a book of mine.

You can do the same.

Whatever your problem is, it’s already been solved (or at a minimum, half-solved) somewhere else. Stop waiting for inspiration to strike, and start looking for the answer that’s already hidden there in plain sight.

Actively build your new idea’s family tree.

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.