The secret to great ideas

New ideas emerge when old ideas are combined. An extendable pole? A Bluetooth camera? Voilà - the Selfie Stick! But you don’t need to combine old ideas to create new ones. Truth is, there are no new ideas, only new ways of telling them. This is what brand people call positioning. Positioning is storytelling. Take any old thing, and tell a new story about it. The only difference between a bad idea and a good idea is the story you tell.

For example, take the three great Stoic philosophers’ work of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus. Their ideas are over 2000 years old. Despite being contemporary at the time, their work is built on the shoulders of those who came before them. Today, their ‘brand position’ is dusty, academic and dense. Author Ryan Holiday shines a new light on these old ideas. The stories he tells repositions the ancient and inaccessible to be modern and accessible.

You can generously build on others’ work as Ryan Holiday has, but another avenue is to steal it outright. Twitter wonk Alex Llull transparently embraces a thief’s role and encourages others to steal ideas, too. Not as a criminal act but a creative one. To steal an idea is to build on it. The notion of owning an idea is selfish. Sure there are legal patents, but even still - the world becomes a better place when those patents are shared. Like when Volvo released the modern seat belt to other manufacturers.

Life is one great big collaboration. Creation flourishes when we allow our ideas to be stolen, reshaped and evolved. As the great Pablo Picasso allegedly once said, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Nothing is new. All the material you need already exists. So go, steal ideas. Reposition them. Combine them. Curate them. Or even rescue them, like you would a lost puppy in the street. But remember, execution is everything.