Creativity Myth #3: Only create if you know someone else hasn’t created something similar.

This Fall Quarter, students enrolled in Courtney Putnam’s HUMAN 210 course (part one in the year-long series to produce Cascadia’s creative arts magazine Yours Truly) are reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and debunking common myths about creativity, myths that Gilbert addresses in her book. In the following post, Cascadia students Andrew and David address the myth that you can only create if you know someone else hasn’t created anything similar.

Borrowing Ideas isn’t Stealing Ideas, so What’s the Fear About?

by Andrew Park and David Termure

comicWe should remember that borrowing and stealing are two different things because it’s easy to confuse their differences. The difference between them is stealing is taking without permission and that’s never respectable. For example, I can use my partner’s iPad with permission as long as I respect his or her ownership of it because that’s borrowing. It’s stealing if I don’t return it and that’s when all hell breaks loose and that’s very unpleasant. The same thing applies to using ideas. If you want to borrow them and use them to help create your own, “just do it” like a t-shirt from Nike® would say, as long as you credit the original owner. Do you still think that’s stealing? If so, I guess it’s a sin to be influenced by another person’s ideas.


While author Elizabeth Gilbert was in the middle of writing a novel she ultimately left unfinished and unpublished, she discovered that someone else had come up with an almost identical plot for a novel. The woman, author Ann Patchett, who had written and actually finished the novel, shared the idea with Gilbert and they discussed it to see if Ann stole Gilbert’s idea. Gilbert was convinced that she let go of the idea when she lost interest and Ann magically found it. Since Ann found a way to make Elizabeth’s lost idea successful, she could take ownership of Gilbert’s original idea and get to work to prove the success she found with it.


Once an idea truly fails the original owner, they will ditch it if they cannot find a way to make further use of it. Besides, the original owner will have to completely abandon the failed idea because there’s no point in trying the same stuff that’s unsuccessful. Let’s face it. Why would Albert Einstein say it’s insane for people to try the same stuff repetitively and expect a different result? When Gilbert found out the original idea failed her, she had “to determine when she had lost the idea and when [Ann] had found it.” Gilbert had to realize that an idea that was initially hers no longer belonged to her because there was no way to get it to work. This meant that Ann could take ownership of Gilbert’s original idea and make it work for her if she wished.

We should also remember that borrowing ideas to create new creations is acceptable because original ideas can lead to new big ideas. Additionally, if another person’s idea you like doesn’t seem to work for them, you could use it to inspire you and make it more successful. You don’t need to waste your time worrying about other people’s failures with ideas when you can use them to work with similar or different ideas and make them successful.


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