Ideas In = Ideas Out

There’s a lot of pressure to have original ideas, or at the very least, original insights about the same ideas. We all want to be the mother of some new invention, some great book, some insane business deal.

But “original” is a construct. What may seem like an original idea to you is actually commonplace to the person who developed it. Why? Because it wasn’t “his” per say. He read 17 books on the subject, watched 5 documentaries, met with all the experts in the field, and traveled the country to ask people about their thoughts. The end result, let’s say a speech, was maybe 95% regurgitated, 5% original. But to you, it was fresh, original, even life-changing.

This alternate view of creativity and originality - ‘stealing’ as artist, Austin Kleon, would put it - helps take the pressure off. It’s common to believe that these things are the result of innate (and elusive) talent. When in fact, creativity and originality are more the result of presenting a hodgepodge of ideas from other people with a few tweaks, new combinations, and updates.

Originality is the result of hours of harping on a practice, of researching, of paying taxes on our own curiosities. It’s hard work, certainly. But it isn’t the spontaneous result of being born Godlike.

Take even the revolutionary idea of AirBnb (I’m sitting at the kitchen table of one right now). It blew the lid off of certain social constructs. But when you think about it, it’s not all that crazy of an idea. The company’s co-founders leveraged a clear market inefficiency, normal human behavior, and emerging technology to create a platform that is really nothing more than common sense.

Take Hamilton: The Musical. Where the heck does that kind of brilliance come from? As the story goes, the playwright, Lin Manuel Miranda, was on vacation, laying by the pool, reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton. He realizes that his story is similar to the story of many trying to escape impoverished circumstances. That one connection springs him into action (deploying the skills he’d built, the relationships he’d fostered). And, boom, months later pops out a show that has revolutionized Broadway. [Not that simple, but you get what I mean. It all started with one different connection.]

Crap work comes from forcing “your ideas.” Good work comes from focusing on substantiating and sharing others’ ideas. The best work comes from making new connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.

This is why, as Tom Bilyeu says: “Ideas In = Ideas Out.” That is, the quality of your inputs determine the quality of your outputs. Whatever you are going to create in this world - whether an app, a family, a book, a company, a life - is going to be in large part dependent on the ideas, viewpoints, and values you expose yourself to.

This is why Robert Greene, author of Mastery, suggests that you read widely—across disciplines and genres, and at varying levels of intellect. I take it a step further and say you should think about following your curiosity widely. Follow that inner voice.

If you only read today’s latest business books, you are going to be stuck with the same blog ideas as the next guy. I work with a lot of entrepreneurs that are searching for new angles on the same old blog topics—career advice, imposter syndrome, passion, etc. The problem is that they are only interested in the latest trend, not what stands the test of time. This serves as the basis for an exhausting game of proverbial tail-chasing in the name of SEO.

The same goes for what you do with your time and who you spend it with. If you only hang out with white, Anglo-Saxons doctors and only dine out at Italian restaurants, there are a whole series of perspectives, traditions, beliefs, ideas, and delicious dishes that you are missing out on. If you want to expand your ability to communicate, connect, and create, you have to expand your circle of friends and sphere of regular activities.

If you want to produce better work (no matter the type), consider changing your inputs. Start reading philosophy instead of scrolling mindlessly through Instagram. Try listening to podcasts, watching interviews, reading about the topics that interest you. Check out some stuff on neurology and psychology. Take an improv class. Find a free online course. Travel to a new place.

Invest in your inputs, and watch your outputs improve.

Kate Ward