“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all the ages.” — Mark Twain
I remember seeing this video of Kirby Ferguson back in 2010.
It left such an impression on me…
It is easy to fall for the ‘innovation trap’.
“None of my ideas are noteworthy. None is truly original. Why even bother?”
But the more you experience the world, the more you will start noticing that every single creative pursuit is a remix of already existing parts.
A. Einstein believed that what he called ‘combinatory play’ was the secret to creativity. S.J.Gould went a step ahead and said that connecting the seemingly unconnected is the secret of genius.
If you want to be more ‘creative’, more ‘disruptive’, more ‘innovative’, more ‘fresh’, more ‘original’; remixing is what you will get you there.
🍦 What is a remix?
Ferguson’s video above, makes a brilliant job in explaining this. A remix in music is a mashup of the ‘original’ track + a new beat, sound, style twist and so on. Even if the track is not labeled as a ‘remix’ we can often dig out the underlining inspiration sources during “ Hey this track sounds very similar to that” kind of moments.
Remixing is not only valid for music though. Articles, YouTube videos, business ideas, scientific discoveries, fashion pieces are all examples of where this remixing technique can apply.
Here are some remixes of the ice cream sandwich concept:
🥐 Copying is NOT a sin if done right
“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” ― Austin Kleon
“All art is theft. Good artists copy. Great Artists steal.” — Pablo Picasso
Doing something remotely close to something that has already been done makes people feel like a fraud. For me personally, the fact that I couldn’t come up with a totally unique idea without using elements of other already existing ones, made me feel as if I was stealing.
Nevertheless, I came to realise that creativity and originality do not come by making things out of thin air but from copying, creatively transforming and recombining material. If done right, remixing is not stealing but standing on the shoulders of giants.
Think about the cronut(🥐+🍩). Dominique Ansel used french pastry techniques & croissant dough and shaped it, fried it, filled it and glazed it like a doughnut. The result was arguably the single food item that sparked the recent ‘food hybrid’ revolution.
🍩 Remixes then become food for further innovation
The history of cultural progress is, almost without exception, a story of one door leading to another door, exploring the palace one room at a time.”― Steven Johnson
What was once a revelation, provides what now is the new standard. Those old, tried & tested remixes become ground for people to further build upon. After the cronut, creations like the cruffin(=croissant x muffin) and Starbucks’ duffin(=doughnut x muffin) started popping up. And not only…
🌮 Does that mean that nothing is original then?
Every thing must have a beginning… and that beginning must be linked to something that went before… Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos; the materials must, in the first place, be afforded — Mary Shelley
The concept of originality is misunderstood. ‘Original’ doesn’t have to be ‘groundbreaking’ or ‘disruptive’. Originality is much more elegant than that. Every idea has to build on top of others. Check out the example below which traces the origins of the now classic tacos el pastor to the other side of the world 🥙 → 🌮.
🍕 Authenticity is Overated
Everybody agrees that pizza was born Napoli. Does that mean that Neapolitan pizza is the best because it is ‘authentic’? Not really. Pizza traveled to New York, then to Chicago and Detroit and got remixed. Every remix delicious in their own way. The original is not always the best. Oftentimes remixes serve to upgrade the original. Modernise it.
🥗 Trash IN, trash OUT
The remix (output) is of course a function of the things we are remixing (input). Consume low quality material and you will produce subpar content.
Try making the most amazing Greek Salad with low quality tomatoes, fetta cheese and olive oil… Impossible.
Pick the best quality ingredients (input) and producing something good (output) becomes way easier.
This is true for anything; writing articles, designing UI interfaces, producing YouTube videos, interior designing, scientific writing and so on.
🍰 Rare skills material IN, Unique combinations OUT
Above we said that the quality of the output depends on the input. The same happens with novelty. The more novel the inputs, the more unique the outputs.
Architecture School taught Dinara Kasko 3D Modeling. She then used that skill to create 3D Molds of never-seen-before cake designs that very few people could come up with or replicate since her skill is so rare amongst pastry chefs. Dinara used the usual cake ingredients & recipes but added a unique spin.
The more unique, unexpected and rare the ingredients; the more unique, unexpected and rare the result. The more the possible inputs, the bigger the solution space. Seek to add variety & diversity to the content you consume and the skills you learn instead of following the crowd and consuming what everybody else is. Then add a touch of wackiness and you are in for some super interesting results.
Ksenia Penkina is another pastry chef pushing the envelope of her craft through her stunning mirrored glazed cakes. Ksenia, like Dinara, used good ol’ cake recipies and combined them with techniques from the world of paining & construction.
Lauren Ko remixed the idea of beautiful weaving patterns from knitting and pie making from the pastry world.
🍜 Remixes are by nature interesting
Remixes are often a refresh of a beaten-up idea that might have been once novel, but is now boring and usual. Seth Godin gives the example of driving through fields of cow herds. After a while, the cows stop making an impression on you, but what if a purple cow appears. It would instantly draw your attention. It would instantly be interesting and novel. How? Remix.
There are millions of HQ recipe videos on YouTube. ‘Binging with Babish’ is a YouTube channel that took the all-too-usual concept of instructional video recipes and gave it a spin by remixing it with quality videography and most interestingly, pop-culture. He did that by recreating famous dishes from TV series, books and movies like the Simsons, The Godfather, Spongebob etc
The examples of great remixes in media go on and on because content creators are fighting for attention and remixing instantly injects fun and novelty to creations.
In a sea of thousands of food-related Instagram accounts, Jacob’s mum, Laleh, used food as material, cartoon characters as inspiration and plates as canvases to create amazing fun plates and a big following.
Same with Michael & sneakers:
Remixes are interesting. They are differentiating. They make you memorable. They increases the chances of people paying attention to your work in this world of noise we live in.
“Do interesting things, and interesting things will happen to you” — Sir John Hegarty
🍟 “But it is so simple, even I could have thought of/done that”
“You could have done it you say, but you didn’t.“
In retrospect, remixes look bluntly obvious. That’s because they use already existing, familiar pieces. But at the same time that’s the beauty of them.
Everybody can produce original work. Not a few creative geniuses. Creativity is not a talent you are born with. It is a skill learn and a muscle you train. How? You might want to read Part 2.