Tag Archives: Originality

Is Originality Overrated? The Race for Second Place

In the quest for competitive advantages, we often strive to find the novel idea that will set us apart, thus propelling us to the top of the food chain. While this is a worthy endeavor, is success bequeathed upon innovators? Internality it may feel rewarding to create something new, but is originality actually rewarded?

Last week, Facebook announced a new function, Facebook Camera. This “innovative” feature will allow users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. Users will also have the ability to add filters and fun overlays to the pics. If this sounds familiar, it may be because Facebook introduced something similar on Facebook Messenger (Messenger Day), WhatsApp (Status), and Instagram (Stories), not to mention there’s another social networking site, Snapchat, which does exactly what these four Facebook-owned products do. In fact, Mike Murray, a reporter at Quartz, points out that Facebook’s five most recent product announcements are eerily similar to designs from other companies.

  • Facebook Camera = Snapchat
  • “Live location” in Messenger = “Sharing your location” in Apple’s Messages
  • Reactions and Mentions in Messenger = Reactions and @-mentions on Slack
  • Streaming videogames live = Twitch
  • Messenger Day = Snapchat

We can judge Facebook for repackaging past ideas, but considering they have two billion monthly users and generated $9 billion in revenue last quarter, maybe we need to judge ourselves for being so reliant on uniqueness. Just look at the movie industry.

Movie studios have grown resistant to new concepts that require a large investment. Instead, they are opting for sequels, remakes, and reboots that already have brand recognition. Why gamble with unknown actors playing unknown characters in an unknown story when you can develop a live action Beauty and the Beast, a re-imagined Spider-Man, or a continuation of Pitch Perfect (all of which I intend to see).

The plethora of movie sequels clogging the multiplex can make you feel as though your life were stuck on spin cycle. But if the movies don’t change, we do, and that’s a blessing.—Joshua David Stein

It’s a simple sales theory: Selling something original is much more difficult than selling something that’s familiar. Different, in itself, is not a selling point. People need to be able to relate what you are peddling to what they already know; otherwise you are in the defensive position of convincing, not promoting.

As much as we need new ideas, in Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen makes note that the “new and exciting” companies that disrupt their industry are founded by ex-employees of the “traditional” companies. These individuals did not attain success by creating something from scratch; their “originality” emerged from the idea that they could do it better, not brand new. They did the groundwork at the previous company—experiencing the necessary trial and error, thought experiments, and systems planning—and were able to implement in the new environment.

We all want to be innovators, and I’m not suggesting we abandon this endeavor. However, innovation does not require re-invention. There is something to be said for not consistently creating the wheel. It’s why we study best practices and scrutinize over our competition’s lessons learned. Plus, it lowers risk and is cheaper than paying for mistakes. Let others discover the potholes; we can follow their lead, enhance it, and make it our own.

In the end, there may be self-satisfaction in saying we thought of it first, but think of how self-satisfied you can feel by thinking of it second while enjoying the riches of victory? After all, you are trying to lead your team to long-term success, not win a first-place ribbon.

Weekender: Dana Carvey on Prolific Creativity

dana carveyWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a girlie man of thought to start your weekend on the right track. Why just a girlie man? Because it’s the weekend…and we need to pump [clap] you up!

Leadership involves a healthy dose of creativity. We create strategies with creativity, solve employee issues with creativity, and make decisions with creativity. So what happens when our managerial responsibilities are sidetracked with a lull in innovation? Comedian Dana Carvey has seen this happen way too often.

In an interview on the podcast You Made it Weird, Carvey discussed the self-induced pressures young comedians put on themselves.

They’ve got Louis C.K. and all these superstars on YouTube and they’re three months in. ‘Well, its gotta be meta and its gotta be coming from me.’ Do everything, I always tell them. Originality is the death of creativity, especially in the early days. The mindf–k of ‘I can’t do that, I can’t do that, that’s been done, that’s been done.’… Don’t think someone else must of thought of this so I can’t do it.

Creating solutions that work demands a spice of creativity, but don’t confuse “creative” with “new” or “original.” Benchmarking, examining points of reference, and utilizing others’ past experiences are all necessary managerial tools that do not lessen or damage your reputation as an innovative leader. If anything, they improve your reputation because you’re learning from the past experiences of others, thereby helping you and your team capitalize on someone else’s wins and avoid their mistakes.

Before you feel the need to recreate the wheel, consider that there’s nothing wrong with standardization, so long as it allows for the ability to modify based upon current needs. When you find that a solution works, lock it down. Capture the process so you don’t have to start from scratch whenever its needed. It may not feel original, but it will be once you make it your own.

Missy Elliott on Making a Career Comeback

missy elliottFor those of us pushing towards success, it is not uncommon to occasionally hit a low point. Whether it’s the result of taking a risk, burning ourselves out, or facing personal challenges, we will inevitably face some form of rejection. The key is in how you bounce back. I don’t know about you, but I want to follow Missy Elliot’s path.

If you saw Sunday’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, then you witnessed the reemergence of an artist who has been gone for far too long. Katy Perry was great, but Missy Elliott stole the show. If you are unfamiliar, Missy Elliott is a Grammy Award-winning artist who has sold over 30 million records. With such hits as “Get Ur Freak On” and “Lose Control,” Elliott is the only female rapper to have six albums certified platinum, including one double platinum. Elliott has also produced and written songs for such big names as Whitney Houston, Aaliyah, Mariah Carey, and Janet Jackson.

After a string of hits, without warning, Elliott disappeared from the music scene. It is typical for once-hot singers to fade away or ruin their career due to personal demons. Elliott, however, was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease that made her so weak she could not hold a pen. Her symptoms stabilized and she made a comeback this weekend like none other – after this one Super Bowl appearance, sales of Elliott’s songs increased by 1,000%.

Without a catchy song or dance skills, how can the rest of us hope to make such a career resurgence? Here are a few tips that may help.


Elliott is a writer, singer, and producer. If she didn’t appear in the Halftime Show, she could have come back behind the scenes in a number of roles.

When I first started out in the music industry and went to Elektra Records, I didn’t go to be an artist, I went to get a record label started. And they said in order to have a label deal, I had to be an artist – so that’s what I did. – Missy Elliott

If you are only known for one thing, you have less ways to make a comeback and less to come back to. Before disaster strikes, become more well-rounded. Learn every façade of your job, company, and industry. Get involved in a variety of activities and become a Renaissance Man/Woman.


There is no other Missy Elliott. Her sound, style, and stage presence are all hers. You can’t make a comeback if everyone else can emulate what you do. What would you be coming back to do? If you want to experience a rebirth, you need a style that is all yours. Determine what makes you unique and promote it. When someone heeds your advice, experiences your customer service, or hears a bass line (in Elliott’s case), they need to associate it with you.

I don’t want to hear what’s hot and feel I have to copy it. I’ll just make up my own thing. – Missy Elliott


When you come back, do it big. Don’t try to build up a few small wins; that was useful when you were making first impressions. Now that you have a reputation, show everyone that you are returning as a winner. Come back with your next grand idea. Roll out an ambitious new initiative. Perform in front of the largest television viewing audience of all time. However you do it, be bold and entice others to care.

The stink of failure will only define you if you let it. When you return from your comeback, make sure everyone knows that you were only on a hiatus from greatness, not a permanent vacation. Missy Elliott came back from a life threatening illness. You can handle a little rejection.

Weekender: Leslie Jones’ Distinct Voice

leslie jonesIn an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, Saturday Night Live cast member Leslie Jones was asked how she found her comedic voice. Leslie, who has been a professional comedian for almost 30 years, said,

It takes ten years to become funny, first of all. You don’t start thinking about your voice until you REALLY realize that you’re funny. I pretty much know who I am as a person, so that’s why my voice is so real. Because I’m honest. It took me a long time to accept myself, people, and once I did, it was on and crackin’.

It takes time to find your voice. We generally start our careers imitating those with whom we are exposed to and/or admire. With experience (which can only be gained with time), self-awareness, and the ability to accept one’s strengths and flaws, we are able to develop a style of leadership that is honest and authentic.

Once again, getting to this point is a long road. If it’s not coming as easy or quickly as you’d like, give yourself a break. According to Leslie, it took ten years to become funny; and, if you’ve seen her perform, it was ten years well spent. Imagine how great you’ll be in 2025?