Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Thoughts on Originality

Ecclesiastes said, "there is nothing new under the sun." So, does it even pay to try to be original? After all, it's all been done before.

When it comes down to it, though, we all want something original. Originality is a key to success, and it comes up in nearly every area of life.

For example, when I was in yeshiva, I never liked the rabbeim whose whole shiur consisted of simply spitting back rishonim and acharonim. If I wanted to just hear R' Shmuel Rozovsky's approach to the sugya, I would look it up. I wanted something original, something I wouldn't find in any sefer.

Likewise, my dad hates when Shwekey puts out an album of all covers of old songs. He wants to hear new stuff, not the same songs that Carlebach sang 30 years ago. (Then again, 9 times out of 10, the new Jewish music is horrendous; or, it's just a rip-off of the old stuff!). And similarly, nobody wants to hear a stand-up comic repeat the same cliched, predictable lines, and nobody wants to see a blogger beat the same issue to death, or simply parrot an editorial from the Times.

And almost every person wants to be original in some way or another. People in business or investing have to "think outside the box" to succeed. And even when you're telling a joke, you'd rather say your own punchline then just repeat something you saw on Seinfeld.

- The problem is, as the years go by, it gets harder and harder to be original. There's only a finite number of good ideas out there, and every day, more of them are getting used up. There were many more novel ideas out there in 1996 than there are now.

- Also, originality can often be a relative term. Something that's original to us may be an old story in Japan, and vice versa. But if we don't know that such an idea exists, we'll still be impressed with their originality. These days, however, with blogs, Youtube, etc., the world is much smaller. So someone's comedy routine in Australia will make it to our country much, much faster than it would have 10 years ago. And the amount of information on the internet is astounding. How many blog pieces by anyone deal with issues that were never, ever discussed elsewhere?

- These days, it seems like we often have to settle for being unoriginal, but throwing in a twist of originality. Going back to the above examples, a rebbi might use someone else's approach to a sugya, but throw in his own kasha at the end, so at least you got something novel from the shiur, and it wasn't just a discussion you could've found on the seforim shelves. And in business, many successful models aren't original from scratch; they may be based on other models, but the new versions may be more efficient and less flawed than the old one. And those nuances that make that model successful are the elements of originality there.

And then there are the pareve people who say everything is original, because everyone has their own style of doing things. So if 30 people blog about the same topic, make the same arguments, and come to the same conclusion, all 30 pieces are original because each of those people has a unique writing style and manner of expressing themselves. Or with the music example, people can say, "that's Shwekey doing HIS version of a Carlebach song; it's a different voice, so it's original."

But that's just too much for me. In theory, it may be original, based on the above logic. But if I read it and don't get the satisfaction of something new, instead thinking "that's an old story," or "where have I seen this before?" then to me, it's just the same old song and dance. I don't care who's writing it this time.


Blogger Karl said...

An original post to say the least! - Fishing for something to write about? ;-)
There is always originality around - do you think that the world will just stand still as all ideas have dried up. All original ideas come from HKB"H, even if you think it was your original thought.
Keep up the great original writing!

11:23 PM  

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