Ideas are only the combination of things which already exist.
– Todd Brison, The Creative’s Curse
I don’t remember why the thought struck me, but I realized the other day that absolutely everything is recycled.
The water we drink? Recycled by the ocean-evaporation-rain cycle (in most case, there are other paths that amount to the same thing).
The food we eat? Last weeks, last years, last decades, last centuries waste and biomass re-grown in one form or another.
The materials we build with? Previously existing elements and materials combined in new ways to new purposes.
What we call “recycling”, today, is nothing more than speeding up the process, perhaps removing a few steps along the way or making the journey a shorter one.
The Brison quote above brought this to mind as I was re-reading The Creative’s Curse. Our ideas — our breakthroughs, even — are nothing more than new combinations of ideas that already exist. In that new combination a new idea is born, that perhaps becomes the “pre-existing” idea for the next “new” idea, and so on.
Brison’s point in bringing it up is that we often feel stymied when we can’t come up with some genuinely new idea. If we realize that no such thing truly exists, we can be open to the ideas we have at hand, and begin combining them in new and interesting ways.
It’s one thing that the patent office got right, although I was sorely disappointed when my first patent was awarded. Why? Because I saw my idea as nothing more than a combination of pre-existing and well understood ideas.
Sound familiar? Now I understand. I could have done no more.
Look for the connections around you. Look for the new and novel ways to combine your knowledge of disparate areas to come up with new solutions, new explanations, and new ideas. Even if you look for something you consider to be truly novel, you’ll find that if you look close enough it’s novel only to the extent that it combines pre-existing concepts in new and novel ways.
(It’s worth noting that the image accompanying this post caught my eye because it’s a novel combination of two ideas. 🙂 )