On originality

by The Editor

TheThingAboutSERIES: Few things are better able to excite the human mind than originality. It is the result of curiosity, the force behind creativity and impulse that drives discovery. Truly it is a glorious thing, the very touchstone for innovation and, with it, progress and betterment. But why is it so important? What is its nature and effect? What is it about originality that makes it such a powerful – and rare – attribute and why is it we should place such great value upon it?

On originality

By: Gareth van Onselen

16 April 2013

Few gifts are greater than originality. To conceive of something new is to add to human knowledge and what could be more wonderous? Whatever the quality of that contribution, there is something marvelous about the discovery: that, out of nothing, now there is something; hence the euphemism, ‘creativity’.

That characteristic alone necessitates further curiosity; for a new idea must be assessed, its strengths and weaknesses interrogated and, should it suggest some further consequence, an enquiring mind will seek to explore that possibility too.

This – the possibility inherent to discovery – is responsible for the excitement originality generates. That is both enlivening and captivating for anyone interested in ideas. So originality is a catalyst, self-replicating and thus the spark capable of igniting a powerful intellectual current. It is the result of curiosity, the force behind creativity and impulse that drives discovery.

Originality has a penetrating affect on conventional wisdom, breaking it up as a jackhammer might crack open a pavement and reconstituting it in some new fashion. Other times, it can reveal an entirely different universe, wholly unrelated to accepted thought. This is perhaps originality at its most powerful, rare and exceptional; in turn, at its most majestic. It is one thing to offer a new insight into an existing paradigm, quite another to provide the world with an original frame of reference. The greatest thinkers have done this and for that reason their works stands out like beacon in the dark.

There exists a platitude: genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. It misrepresents originality. Remove originality from that equation and all you are left with is hard work, and that is easily replicated. Remove hard work, however, and you are left with originality – even if only a drop in the ocean, the unique difference, capable of transforming dedication into invention, and so a different unit of measurement should apply.

Originality is a rare talent indeed, and a more precious commodity you will struggle to find.

An abbreviated version of this column first appeared in the Business Day. For more columns from The Thing About series, click here.

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