Does Originality Exist?

Does Originality Exist?

I’d like to think I’m original. I’d like to think anything I work on, whether it may be a project for school, a painting, or a story, is something I create on my own. But there are times when I see an idea I came up with in another form at another place, and a flurry of emotions run through me: anger, disappointment, resignation. It almost seems like every idea in the world has already been used.

So when when I stumbled across a similar concept while doing assigned reading for one of my Advertising classes, I was stunned– not because it reaffirmed what I thought to be true, but because it presented what I so firmly believed in a different, startlingly epiphanic light.

The book I was reading was called Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules by John Hegarty. Hegarty is an advertising executive often hailed as one of the most successful professionals in his industry. The book talked about how creativity is the strongest and most important driving force behind the advertising industry.

Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules

As I lay curled up on my bed with the book in my hand, I flipped the page and reached the section on ideas. “There is no such thing as originality,” 1 Hegarty declared. Bold of you to say, I thought, slightly miffed. “Ideas borrow, blend, subvert, develop, and bounce off other ideas,” the section continued. “So it’s an arrogance to say your idea is original. In fact, the value of an idea is in how it draws its inspiration from the world around us and then reinterprets it in a way we haven’t seen before.”

I frowned at the page. It was starting to make sense, but it was also beginning to slightly endanger everything I believed about originality. I was unsettled. If everything I ever created on my own wasn’t truly mine, then what value did my work carry? If every element of my idea could be attributed to another idea, did it make sense to claim the idea as my own?

I thought of all the work I’d done so far, all the projects I’d ever completed for school or college. They were all original, I said to myself stubbornly, but as I began to dissect my ideas, I realized that each individual part stemmed from something I’d seen, heard, or read before. In other words, everything I’d created was inspired by something that someone else created.

Suddenly Hegarty’s words, which seemed haughty and imperial at first, now rang true, forcing me to look at ideas from a completely different angle. But I still struggled– I needed to change his words into something I could visualize. And so I came up with a theory that helped me understand the complex process of coming up with ideas: the nebula of ideas.


In a way, all ideas first start out as an enormous, fused cloud of thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives, coalescing to form sort of a gaseous nebula floating in outer space. It’s as serene as it’s chaotic, always together but never one, flitting out of sight only to return as forcefully as it disappeared. When people begin discovering these ideas, peering through the telescopes that their imaginations provide in an attempt to rearrange that cloudy mass into something comprehensible, the nebula begins breaking up, pieces scattering in different directions and transfiguring into various shapes, sounds, and sights. As these pieces descend from space and become tangible, we claim them just because they resemble the hazy outline we had of them in our minds. We chain them to our self-worth and forget their true essence, instead using them as markers to judge other people, places, and things. But what we forget is that they all originate from the same place: that nebula looming above our heads, unacknowledged but always present. All these amazing ideas are interconnected: they simply exist as different variations of each other.

Peering through the telescope of our mind’s eye to reimagine ideas

Now that I had this image of how ideas come to be in mind (something I borrowed from that expansive nebula of ideas, no doubt), understanding Hegarty’s point of view became easier. And now that I finally understood the often invisible connection between ideas, I also realized that it’s okay for my ideas to resemble someone else’s– because there is no such thing as originality.

1 Hegarty, J. (2015). Ideas. In J. Hegarty (Author), Hegarty on creativity: There are no rules. New York: Thames & Hudson.

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