Where Do Ideas Come From?

In the book, “The Educated Imagination” by Northrope Frye, he explores the idea that nothing is original anymore.

Any kind of story or idea that you can think of has most likely been thought of. It’s very, very, rare that someone gets an idea that is completely new and original, that changes the way we all think. New ideas, especially now, usually only come after years of study within a certain field, during which you read, absorb, and learn as much as you can about that field in order to develop the base knowledge needed so that you can even begin to know where to start with developing new and original ideas.

Most of the “new ideas” nowadays come from combining many different areas to create something new, and even then that requires that you have a sufficient background in all of those fields.

The point is, you are most likely not going to have your own original ideas, in the sense that it’s probably already been done before. Why not just go straight to “the source”, and get as many different ideas from as many different sources as you can?

One way to do this is to read as many books as you can, although you can get your ‘brain-food’ from anywhere, such as talking to interesting people, watching quality videos, attending educational lectures, and so on.

That being said, this doesn’t mean you should stop thinking for yourself and stop developing your own ideas. The only way you can really know for sure whether an idea is truly your own is by exposing yourself to as many related ideas as you can (mentioned above).

In doing so, you learn what other ideas people have had before you, whether it has already been thought of, and more importantly, you will begin to start getting certain insights about your thoughts and ideas that you have never had before. These thoughts and ideas are what can potentially be your own unique and original ideas.

But this only happens when you have learned a lot about something, and have had many experiences. You have to know what the rules are first before you start breaking them.

If you are not constantly changing your mind about your views and opinions, then it usually means that you are closed-minded. It’s impossible to tell in the present moment whether your thoughts or ideas are correct (assuming there is even a right or wrong answer), and the sooner you realize that there could be a potential flaw in your thoughts or ideas, the better.

One last important thing that you should remember is that reading and learning in general should never be a purely passive activity. Don’t forget to spend time actively thinking about certain ideas, debating with yourself the many different perspectives, and questioning everything.

The more you do it, the better you get.

Also published on Medium