Imitation to Innovation: Navigating the Originality Trap in Creative Pursuits


Have you ever felt stuck in the “originality trap”? It’s when you’re afraid to innovate because you think someone else has already done it or done something similar enough that it would seem like copying.

No one wants to be a copycat or a plagiarizer. But there’s an important distinction here: the difference between “inventive success” and “creative death.”

The writer David Perell talks about how the best way to improve any skill is first to imitate and then innovate. You don’t just start creating something new from right out of the blue; you first have to understand what is. Before you can build your confidence to innovate, you need to understand and have confidence in the foundation that will allow you to innovate.

A while back, I took a glassblowing class. I didn’t just start out making vases or anything amazing when I started. I had to learn the foundations by watching exactly how my instructor worked and then bringing my own flair to it over time.

For many years Picasso would copy the skills of other painters until it turned into his own unique cubist style.

Hunter S. Thompson re-wrote the entire book “The Great Gatsby” word-for-word on his typewriter so he could understand all the hidden components of building a masterpiece.

Even Kobe Bryant says, “I’ve stolen all my moves from the greatest players.”

This is just a natural part of how we evolve. That’s why you’ll see children imitating vocations that fascinate them without any limitations to hold them back. Likewise, when we give our own child-like sense of fascination permission to imitate the people we admire, we naturally assimilate that knowledge and use it to find our own flavor of expression that is entirely unique to us.

And just like Picasso, Hunter, and Kobe, that’s how we become an inspiration to others… because we let it start with us. If you’d like some help, give me a shout.


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