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 Cherry Picking Originality
Today’s Topic: Musings around the topic of originality.
Specifically how finding a balance between being disciplined and spontaneous is critical to finding true originality. The fallacy is that we can just copy our way to originality … if it were that easy, everyone would do it and then originality wouldn’t be that original. 😁
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As a creator, I’ve struggled a lot with the concept of originality, especially through the lenses of discipline versus spontaneity.
Does originality come from being disciplined or does it come from being spontaneous?
Being disciplined is about setting a habit and following through with that habit on a regular basis. Once you have planned something that you want to do on a recurring basis, any deviation from the plan feels like it has a negative impact.
In this framework, there is minimal room for spontaneity, uncertainty, and going with the flow (at least on a day to day basis).
The disciplined mind values control and stability — stability that comes from carrying out habits on a regular basis.
It optimizes for order and minimizes chaos.
Discipline provides a solid foundation for originality by fostering focus, commitment, and persistence.
Discipline leads to consistency.
When you show up regularly to work on your craft, you master it over time. Showing up constantly allows you to identify gaps, recognize patterns, and build upon existing knowledge in novel ways.
Being spontaneous is doing something unplanned or choosing to do an activity as close to the time when you actually do it.
The spontaneous mind is harder to understand because you cannot plan to be spontaneous … by definition, you have to just be spontaneous.
The spontaneous mind cares less about control and certainty, instead it wants to live in the moment and go with the flow.
Spontaneity optimizes for the surprise element of a moment.
Spontaneity promotes originality by encouraging open-mindedness, curiosity, and adaptability. When you are spontaneous, you are more likely to experiment, take risks, and explore new perspectives. Being spontaneous leads you to unexpected discoveries and creative breakthroughs, resulting in ideas that are truly original.
Cherry Picking Originality
There is temptation to just copy the actions, habits, and spontaneity of the people you admire.
We think if we just emulate the “good” habits of all the people we admire, we become a superhuman that is a combination of all the good parts of them.
It should be as simple as choosing and stacking all the best habits, but it’s not.
It’s a trap to believe that you can just copy the good habits of a person and become that person, and it’s a trap to believe that you can copy anyone at all. We assume that we can cherry pick, without appreciating the complexity that behind a good thing is a lot of trial and error (i.e. failing).
We fail to see that originality is a discovery process that requires both discipline and spontaneity. We tend to undervalue the journey of discovery and overvalue the end state.
It’s a balance.
Balance here means how you oscillate between the two extremes — either end of the spectrum creates a void for a person. The answer always lies somewhere in between.
If you are too disciplined, you cannot discover things you weren’t looking for, that comes from going with the flow. If you are too spontaneous, you lose the stability that allows you to grow and compound from showing up regularly.
This applies to all areas of life, business, personal, starting a company, creating, being an artist, etc.
But it especially applies to those doing creative work.
Those who are doing creative work must find this balance for themselves because being original is the best competitive advantage in an increasingly noisy world.
Remember, AI is becoming more capable of doing and automating a lot of the work we do.
Being original / creative might be the only way to stand out in this world.
But the fallacy is that we think we can copy our way out of it versus actually discovering our way through it.
Unlike traditional work where there are frameworks and pre-set rituals (like in office life), creative work depends on a healthy balance between discipline and spontaneity to allow us to discover our originality.
Trial and error, experimentation, tinkering or whatever you want to call the creative process is a mix of (1) being disciplined or showing up AND (2) being spontaneous or going with the flow.
Balancing discipline and spontaneity enables us to combine structured, focused effort with the freedom to explore and experiment leading to some form of originality.
Originality allows us to push boundaries, challenge conventional wisdom, and create unique work that stands out from the crowd. The crowd that the creator competes with will be increasingly AI and algorithms.
In a world with AI, standing out and being original is playing the game on hard mode.
We can’t cherry pick our originality.
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