We’ve Run out of Ideas!
Do you consider yourself to be an original creator? How many fresh and new ideas have you come up with lately? And from these ideas, how really sure are you that they’re all completely yours and that someone else hasn’t come up with them before?
It’s very likely that you feel like your brain is completely capable of coming up with fresh and innovative ideas that no other person has come up with. But I can assure you that even your wildest thoughts that passed through your mind, has rambled through another human’s head before in a very similar way.
Everything has been done, all the great ideas that pop up in the present are probably very much alike to something that someone else has done before, and not because we’re all thefts aware of everyone else’s thought process, but because we’re all machines designed to create.
Our brain is always working. Even while we’re asleep the brain’s performing a great deal of tasks to strengthen the recollection of what we’ve done during the day. So now multiply millions of brains working 24/7 during a lifetime of up to 70 or 80 years (depending on the place, genetics, nutrition and many other variables), keep in mind also that our species has existed for over 195.000 year according to fossil studies (check out “Men from Kibish” ), and now consider that during all this time the human has been experimenting non-stop with reality and everything that surrounds him, contemplating and learning from what others in his species have accomplished before him.
(image reference from http://www.themothersofinvention.com/)
To analyze human nature to verify this argument is not enough, we need to understand where ideas come from and consider that none of these ideas can be shaped out of thin air; they completely depend in fact of what we’ve experienced in the past through our senses. There’s a simple way to test the affirmation, by doing the following:
Imagine that an animal that doesn’t exist, (in other words create animal in your head) maintain this though in your head and start paying attention to each and every one of the details on this animal that you’ve created, you’ve probably shaped a very odd looking surreal creature. Now analyze each part of this animal, and you’ll realize that it’s been produced from things that you’ve know before, things that you’ve seen, or probably heard and read before, like for example parts that come from other animals and objects.
So you see, the brain shapes fresh and innovative ideas from previous creations or inventions, I’m not trying to say that because of this creativity is a lie, but that in fact it doesn’t exactly function in the way that we often think it does, it actually functions as an innovation or modernization, and if it we’re not for this human evolution would have stalled a long time ago. We have a memory that sort of transcends from one generation to the other, we learn from prior inventions and mistakes of our ancestors.
Let’s analyze some historic cases that are a clear proof of this affirmation:
Thomas Alva Edison to whom the invention of the glowing light bulb is commonly attributed, did not develop this idea entirely by himself, in fact his work has to perfect a prior glowing light bulb invention that had already been designed. He improved it by using a different fiber and going through a much more careful process to create the gap. Not for this should the inventor’s work be under appreciated, who in fact just followed the common thought process I mentioned before.
The Wright brothers being the pioneers of aviation that they were, were in fact inspired by many prior failed attempts of inventors that dedicated they’re life’s work into achieving a flying artifact.
(image reference from http://www.themothersofinvention.com/)
Long before the man landed on the moon, Julio Verne had already imagined a very similar episode in his written novel “From the Earth to the Moon”, this shows another scenario for this thought process, in which many of human’s modern and contemporary inventions are very similar to pre-existing ideas in sci-fi.
(image reference from http://powerpointfan.blogspot.com/)
Before Facebook was created there were many other social reds such as MySpace and hi5, even before these ever existed others were created, and interestingly enough before the internet was even invented there had already been several articles written on “Social Reds Analysis” and “Theories on the Six Grades of Separation”.
(image reference from http://blogbymikeberry.blogspot.com/)
If we start exploring the invention of all the objects that we used in our daily routines, we’ll probably find out that they all have had some sort of artifact predecessor that’s in some way similar to the one we use.
In the field of design
Leaving all generosity aside and going into the field of arts and design we’ll find the same though process or behavior that we mentioned before, only that in this case the fluctuation is sort of interesting not only for the fact that the esthetic is a great issue, but because it contribute to diverse classifications by similarity, in other words, if a group of images, artistic or graphic compositions have a major similarity between one another, they’re classified within the same trend or movement.
This has lead me to the conclusion that the ideas can be categorized in different levels of innovation:
Making use of minimalistic approach we can classify an idea’s grade of innovation, keeping in mind that the figure marked as number 1 represents the original reference.
1. If an idea uses as a reference point the symbol #1, and from it the symbol #5 is created, we’ll say that it’s in a superior level of innovation, since the original reference can’t be recognized at simple sight.
2. If an idea uses as reference point the symbol #2 and from it the symbol #5 is created, we’ll say that it has a high grade of innovation, since the original reference point has been only slightly modified and even this way it still doesn’t reflect the final product.
3. If an idea uses as a reference point the symbol #3 and from it creates the figure 5 we’ll say that it has a medium level of innovation, since the original reference point has a major similarity with the end result.
4. If an idea uses as a reference point symbol #4 and from it the symbol #5 is created, we’ll say that it has a low level of innovation, since the original reference inevitably insinuates final idea.
We have to keep in mind that although this is a very clear and conscious example, it can also be really relative since on many occasion ideas don’t come from just one reference point, but from many different reference points. Leaving this variable aside, the point I’d like to get across is that ideas can be categorized from the level of differences or similarities to its original reference point.
Now a day’s most of the ideas have a mid-low level of innovation, since although we’re looking to create something completely original we’re bound to millions of prior ideas that came before ours did, which although we may try to modify to part from the original reference point, we’ll just come to find out that others in the same attempt have come up with an end result very similar to ours, not because we all think alike but because it’s a question of mathematical probabilities.
The minimalistic trend is bound to disappear?
As the level of synthesis of an image or design is higher, so are the probabilities of the level of innovation being lower and that ideas start to be very similar one to the other, and that the “graphic coincidences” that many of us have come to witness, start to increase more and more so every day.
Branding language is one the most exploited fields to this day, most of the world’s products, companies and even individuals have a logo that represents them, which joined to the minimalistic trend that’s everywhere to be seen these days, makes the supposed “infinite” number of possible modifications applicable to simple shapes run dry more and more so every day until all of them have a great similarity. I don’t mean with this that in the future we’ll find two logos totally alike, but that in time all brand logos may possess a very similar appearance one to the other.
There are several clear examples of this that can be found today:
(Image references extracted from: http://blogs.vandal.net/7325/vm/1030292442009)
Although some of these examples can be thought to be plagiarism, many others are just notable coincidences from the minimalistic trend. Slowly but surely graphic similarities will be more every day, and I forecast in a very personal way that the evolution of this minimalistic trend will be the cause of its own death. When we try to avoid the already existing similarities and when all the possible modifications insinuate other prior and existing ones, creators/designers will have no other choice but to start increasing the details on design, which comes to show that trends are cyclical, making us try complex designs as they were done over 60 years ago.
Have all ideas already existed?
(image reference from http://www.outsideline.co.uk/)
In this order, if ideas are seen as a exhaustible resource its likely to reach a very controversial conclusion:
If we could travel in time and kill Thomas Alva Edison before the light bulb was invented then, would we actually live in a world without electricity?
It’s very likely that this wouldn’t be the case, surely someone else sooner or later would have completed the invention, maybe not the same way, but it any case it would still be a light bulb. The way I see it, it’s possible for ideas already to exist in some tangible place and we’re only supposed to discover them not create them. This of course, is a only a supposition that to most may seem pretty wild.
Why imagine if we’ve run out of original ideas?
(Image reference from http://oxun.ge/116989-.html)
Let’s think for a moment about the human race, we all have anatomic characteristics that are alike: a set of legs, a set of arms, a set of eyes, a nose, a mouth, etc. We could say that we are the same, but even though there are physical characteristics that set us apart: height, muscular mass, the color of our eyes, and the color and shape of our hair, so although there are millions of humans on earth, each one of us is different in some way (even though there’s a probability you’ll find a bunch of similarities between two in the bunch).
This is also how ideas work; we’ll come into an age where the percent of innovation won’t be too high and we’ll probably take the risk of falling into some sort of evident graphic coincidence, but there will always be differences that demand from inventors and designers to continue on the task of creating, if it didn’t work out this way I wouldn’t have taken the time of writing this knowing that many other human beings have thought the same way before.
So the next time that you feel an “original creator”, when you come up with an interesting concept, remember that’s its probable that other people have felt something similar when coming up with the same idea you just did.
Juan Sebastián Wilches
I’m a passionate Graphic designer from “La Fundación Universitaria del Área Andina” (Bogotá, Colombia) sucker for art and cinema. I specialize in painting atoms and in transforming pixels, I’m also an illustrator, muralist, 3d animator, professor and writer of choice. Blog: http://sebastianwilches.wordpress.com/ Do u have a project? let’s talk email@example.com