There are no Original Ideas. But...

by February 15, 2024

Mark Twain is believed to have said "There is no such thing as an original idea." The implication is that, as a species, we are constantly building on what came before us: inspired and driven by what we've seen and experienced. Personally, I like to phrase a similar sentiment as "There are no original ideas. But there are original executions."

How Products Get Made

Anyone who has been around product design has probably experienced idea fetish: the belief that a good idea is all you need to be successful. This was elegantly debunked by Steve Jobs in 1995.

"You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen. And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

And it’s that process that is the magic."

As Steve points out designing products is fitting thousands of different things together in different ways. So every execution of an idea is an explosion of possibility and thereby originality. How you execute an idea is always original simply because of the number of variables in play. Hence "There are no original ideas. But there are original executions."