Courage outweighs originality and perfection in creativity

You don’t have to be right, or best, or entirely original.

But the myths we hear around those who are right, or who create the best or most unique work, are prominent enough to scare us into thinking we need to be those things in order to succeed.

The telephone was not, for all its glory, an original idea. Nor was what Alexander Graham Bell created in his laboratory in 1876 the best possible solution for what the telephone could be, or would later become.

We know this, of course, because we have remarkably more powerful telephones today. Telephones that can reach across the entire world in a matter of seconds with just a flick of a finger.

But did that stop Bell from creating the telephone? Of course not. Bell didn’t set out to create the absolute best, nor original, version of what a telephone could be. He set out to create something that worked. And it took him many tries to get it right. What he landed on – and ended-up submitting a patent for – was ultimately different than what his company, The Bell Company, later invested in.

The idea of the telephone itself wasn’t original either. Before Bell came along, there were many inventors who were working on the exact same concept of a telephone. Some were certainly more radical than others, and some of the ideas would never feasibly work, but there were a surprising number of people looking to create a telephone using nearly identical technologies and solutions as Bell. What set Bell’s telephone apart from the rest was that it worked well (and he was fortunate enough to make it to the patent office before other inventors).

Yet we still tell ourselves that the invention of the telephone belongs solely to Bell and his assistant Watson. That they were fortunate enough to be right, to create the absolute best concept of a telephone, and to stumble on the most original and insightful concept. What a farce!

No, the reality is much different than what we commonly believe.

To be creative and to do the worthwhile work: you don’t need to worry much about being entirely right (though, to some degree you do). You don’t need to create the absolute best solution, artwork, music, or idea, either. And you certainly don’t have to create the most original work the world has ever seen.

That’s not how creativity works.

Creativity thrives when existing ideas are connected, thrown about in a mental stew. It’s ok if the ideas you have aren’t entirely original; you shouldn’t expect them to be. Everything that has ever been created was done so as a result of working on existing ideas or objects.

It’s not your job to show up and be right all the time, or to do the absolute best work, or to do something nobody has ever seen before. Instead, focus on showing up and doing the work as best you can.

To quote author Seth Godin:

“No one is asking you to be original. We’re asking you to be generous and brave.”

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