Original Ideas Don’t Exist

by mikekarnj on April 27, 2010

“There are no original ideas. There are only original people.” – Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

A couple of weeks ago, I met with a passionate entrepreneur who pitched me an idea that he was working on for the past couple of months. He was in the “feedback” stage of his idea, which is when entrepreneurs tell everyone they know about their idea to hone down their pitch, and gather feedback to fill holes in their idea.¬†As we talked about his idea, it resembled another idea that was already launched, which I briefly mentioned. Surprisingly, his enthusiasm went from being extremely excited to utterly disappointed within a couple of seconds. He couldn’t believe that another company was executing something similar to his idea.

At this stage, most entrepreneurs will dismiss their idea because they believe “it’s not original or innovative” enough if someone else is doing it. Most¬†entrepreneurs fall into the trap of killing off their ideas way too early before exploring all of the possibilities that can lead to true innovation.

In poker, there are simple rules you can follow to put yourself ahead of 90% of other poker players. One of my favorite rules revolves around removing any attachment to the value of poker chips. When playing poker, the chips in front of you have absolutely no value, they’re just a medium for you to win chips from other poker players. Most players don’t play their A-game because they’re trying to “make the money” and don’t want to risk losing all their chips (which they end up losing anyways).

Last weekend, Rafe Furst told me a story about Dewey Tomko who is an amateur golfer and professional poker player. Dewey has issued a $1M challenge to any golf pro to a round of golf, which he usually wins for two main reasons. First, none of the professional golfers are used to betting $1M of their own money, so they succumb to the pressure of hitting clutch shots (they are too attached to the amount of money on the line). Secondly, Dewey doesn’t think about the $1M stakes as he’s become immune to attaching himself to the value of chips or bets. Framing the way you play poker with this simple rule can increase your odds of being successful.

I’ve followed a similar rule to frame creativity and innovation: For every idea you come up with, there are probably ten other people in the world executing that same idea.

Once you just embrace this rule, you won’t worry too much about what other people are doing. Just think of it as part of the process of being an entrepreneur. Look at Coke & Pepsi, which are almost identical products but both billion dollar companies. There’s no such thing as original ideas, only original people. Don’t fall into the trap of killing your idea off too early because it can change, morph, and turn into something truly amazing.

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