As Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”
While copy/pasting someone else’s work and slapping your own name on it isn’t a cool move, there is some truth to this sentiment. After all, why do all of the work if someone’s already laid the foundation for you?
It’s all too easy to put your own spin on an old piece of technology and present it as your own, brand new creation – and that’s how we’ve gotten this far.
If you’re going to steal, steal like an innovator
Allow me to explain.
Don’t do all your work by hand if someone has presented you with a calculator and all the functions you need to complete your equation.
Throughout history, humanity has periodically experienced a massive, world-altering technological innovation that essentially forced all other pre-existing technology to catch up or die off.
There are countless examples of this – the invention of refrigeration made iceboxes become irrelevant, radios gave printing presses a run for their money, and steam engines made horse-drawn carriages slowly fade out of day to day life.
A more recent example of a game-changing innovation is touch screen technology.
After Apple released the iPhone in 2007, a touchscreen interface slowly evolved into an expected feature on mobile devices – so much so that it earned its own new term, smartphone.
Interestingly, this implies all phones without this invention are the opposite – dumbphones, if you will.
So what does this mean?
Most big ‘inventions’ weren’t really inventions at all – because the people who patent and profit off the ideas aren’t usually the ones who came up with them. They take others work and market it well.
Who knew poetry and business could be so similar?
Touch screens weren’t some nobody’s weird shower thought that they kickstarted into reality; they were first formally conceptualized in 1968 in an air-traffic controller model, and the elograph touch sensor turned that idea into a reality in the 1970’s.
The eighties ushered in an exciting era; many different universities and scientists tinkered with the technology throughout this time, eventually culminating into the first touchscreen phone, the Simon Personal Communicator. Apple didn’t revolutionize phones with touch screens. IBM did that in 1993.
You know who else released a touch-capable phone that same year?
Apple. They didn’t invent touchscreens in 2007 with the iPhone, the technology had existed (albeit in less quality incarnations) for over a decade, and in fact, didn’t invent touchscreens at all. It was not a true innovation; just a copy of a copy of a copy. And at the end of the day, someone profited off of that copy – and all they had to do was slap their logo and a fresh case on another product.
Have things always been this way?
Yes, this applies to the older examples too.
Refrigeration was modernized and brought into nearly every kitchen in the 1900s; but was developed as far back as the 1700s. Credit for the modern fridge goes to a man named Fred W. Wolf, but the original refrigerator was around hundreds of years earlier thanks to a professor named William Cullen.
Unusually enough though, it was first patented in the 1800’s by someone else altogether – there’s conflicting information out there on who exactly. Which only further proves my point – there was no ‘discovery’ of refrigeration. It evolved naturally from the ideas of many great minds over the years.
Even the game-changing ideas, the designs that seemingly changed everything in technology, are rip offs of rip offs of rip offs. Some artists even speculate creativity itself may be an illusion. I can only wonder if any idea is truly one of a kind – or if we’re all just copy cats deep down at the end of the day.
Do people really have new ideas ever?
It’s pretty widely understood that to improve a skill, you need repetition, and to study and emulate those more skilled than yourself. Practice makes perfect (or close to it) after all.
Is the real next step to success not that hesitant following, but full-fledged copying of their work? Or are there just only a few true innovators throughout history?
Or maybe we are all like Isaac Newton, and something has to fall right into our lap to give us a truly new idea. Matches, for example, were invented by accident. For most of us however, human innovation may be dead, but imitation is alive and well. We live to create another day.
In the words of George Moore, “Taking something from one man and making it worse is plagiarism.” Perhaps the next line should read, “But taking something from one man and selling it is innovation.”
What is originality? Undetected plagiarism. -- Dean Inge Click To Tweet