No one has ever had an original idea. Every idea worth having has been had thousands of times already. All the great subjects, all the great ideas, have been had already. What can be original is your unique perspective on it. It means that trying to come up with some completely original idea is pointless — if it’s ‘completely original’, it is probably worthless. If few thousand years of human civilisation have not yet produced that idea in any form, there’s probably a good reason.

How About Startup Ideas?

Now, extending this to start-up ideas, if you have a brilliant idea for a start-up, chances are someone has already had that idea somewhere in the world. If no one has had it at all out of 6 billion people, chances are it’s not brilliant, and probably not worth pursuing.

Most great business ideas are not “original”, but twists on existing ideas, putting an existing concept into a new perspective. So even the first person to come up with a new twist is still just coming up with a new twist to an old idea.

In fact, it’s incredibly difficult to start a business based on a unique idea because you have to create a market for your product. It’s a lot easier (especially for your first business because you’ll likely fail) to target an existing, already established market and start there.

Elon Musk wants to reinvent cars and live on Mars. These are not novel ideas. Steve Jobs made candy colored computers, opened a music store, then reinvented the phone. These are not novel ideas. The measure of an entrepreneur is in the ideas they can execute, and it really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.

Most successful business ideas are just a better version of the previous idea or iteration. For example:

  • WhatsApp: people are texting, how can they do it better?
  • Instagram: people are sharing pictures, how can they make it easier?
  • Skype: People are already calling each other, how can I make it cheaper?
  • Quora: People are asking things to Google, how can I get real answers?
  • Uber: Taxis have a very bad service, how can I improve it?
  • Airbnb: Hotels are expensive and overbooked, how to change it?

So, again, rather than striving to come up with a truly original start-up idea, it’s more worthwhile to hone the ability to take whatever idea and make it into a working business model i.e. the ability to execute it.

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(Thanks Tim for the inspiration)

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