Simply Building Your Business

Where do Ideas Come From?


“Good artists copy; great artists steal.”  Pablo Picasso

I was having a chat with a few well-known bloggers and top marketers this week, and we were discussing “What is an Original Idea?”

Of course, there are many theories as to exactly what defines an ‘idea’ and even what defines ‘original’.

I don’t know about you, but I am very fortunate in that I’m never really at a loss when it comes to what to write about. My main problem seems to be recognising the good ideas amongst all the mediocre ones in the first place, and putting my energy into only the best.

In science as well as the arts, people have often leapfrogged their creativity from each other people.

Steve Jobs famously quoted Pablo Picasso in 1996 that “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” He has endlessly been quoted out of context ever since!

Steve is well-known to have hated plagiarism.  My guess is that he was acknowledging history and its endless source of ideas when he quoted Picasso, but not for one minute was he suggesting we steal each others’ work. Borrowing ideas and developing them further is quite different from selling somebody else’s work and claiming it as your own.

That’s called plagiarism

Here are a few well-known examples of famous ‘alleged’ plagiarists. (My lawyer’s details are available on request)


Charles Darwin is universally acknowledged as having developed the theories of evolution, but many of his core ideas were written about by other eminent scientists who came before him. Richard Owen was one such enemy, and they were constantly at loggerheads as to who wrote what and when. There were endless red hot debates at the time of Darwin’s publication which are still being discussed today.

Martin Luther King is widely thought to have ‘borrowed’ ideas both at Stamford University and in his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech. But it was he who delivered and fired the hearts of people. So whilst some of the words may not have been his own, the message certainly was.

Tony Blair’s ‘Dodgey Dossier’ needs no introduction but the jury is still out on him. In fact it hasn’t even convened so far!

 Jane Goodhall’s book “Seeds of Hope” contains passages lifted from many sources including Wikipedia, and some critics even think her book on Tanzanian chimpanzees should never have been published.

JRR Tolkien is also under suspicion, and is often accused of having lifted many of his ideas for the sacred ‘Lord of the Rings’ from the epic opera, ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ by Ricard Wagner. Pah!

Isaac Newton is cited for plagiarising the work of Ibn-Al Hazen. Here’s a summary by Douglas Green, a computer programmer with interests in technology and philosophy.

He says…

‘Sometimes the work of medieval Muslim scholars is given no credit, sometimes it is given too much credit. In this case, I think Ibn-Al Haytham (called Alhazen) should be given partial credit.

Three laws of motion

  1. An object in motion tends to remain in motion, called the law of inertia.
  2. The acceleration of a given mass is proportional to the force acting on it.
  3. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Alhazen, among others such as Avicenna, is given credit for describing the first law and part of the second law.
I don’t think Newton plagiarized anybody, though. Newton gave credit for his first law of motion, the law of inertia, to Galileo Galilei. Galileo is known to have relied on Muslim writings, including Avicenna, so proper credit is being given.’


Others on this endless list include TS Elliott, Dan Brown, JK Rowling and John Lennon.

Even the theories on the nature of our physical universe are riddled with Black Holes when it comes to who thought of what first

Ideas are usually the result of being inspired by something someone has said, written, filmed or photographed, played on an instrument or drawn with a pencil. They become seeds which grow within the creative areas of the mind and at the right moment, are spewed forth as original. Most of the time we are completely unaware of their origins.


What sparked off the idea for this post?

Well, I recently wrote a post on my blog, with a title which was based on a well known phrase. A respected marketer I know, commented on the post and liked what I had written. Then, a few weeks later I received an email from the same marketer (he either had forgotten I was on his list – or he didn’t see a problem). He had taken the basic title and theme of ‘my’ idea and pushed it off in another direction completely, developing the idea further. It was actually pretty good copy.


My reaction?

This will be hard for some people to get their heads around.

  1. To be honest, my first gut response was annoyance. I thought he had copied my post without telling me. 
  2. But after a bit of thought, I began to see that there were many things going on here.
  3. Because, of course,  we don’t really ‘own’ any of our ideas in the first place. And anyway – ideas are ten a penny. It’s making them real that takes the work.

My own understanding on the nature of thought is based on nearly forty years of meditation, that the mind is a universal tool which assimilates thoughts and recycles them. When we ‘come up with a new idea’ then what we are really doing is trawling through the soup of the shared mind and looking for matches. We latch on to anything that resonates with where we are at the time and we go with that.

There are no truly new ideas, just recycled ones. Our thought pool is literally just that – a pool into which we all dip and which we all freely utilise. The originality comes from our own personal passion and spin.

Given that this is true, we can assume that most of our ideas will have been used before in some form or another. Does that make sense?

Let’s continue with this idea.

If I need to write a post on this blog, and don’t have time to do the job well, I may be tempted to take the lazy option, and look for somebody else’s post and ‘rewrite it’. But it only takes one sharp person to spot this and my hard-earned reputation for originality is in ribbons.


I take great pride in knowing that all my posts are authentic. I hope this comes out sparklingly clear in my writing, cartoons and videos. Whatever people may think of my work, it is all completely authentic.

That way I am able to deliver 100% passion to it all.  In fact, the comment I receive most often is that people enjoy the rawness and reality of what I say and write. I am happy with that. People have an inbuilt BS Detector which can spot fake stuff a mile away. I know I can and do.

I don’t mean we all have to go off and create our own products and never promote anybody else’s. I promote other peoples’ stuff but I don’t take credit for their work.

This authenticity is a vital part of gaining a reputation, and nowhere more than here online. News travels fast and bad news faster… (That’s my quote by the way. I just made it up but there is a chance somebody else has said it before)

If any of this rings a bell with you, go to the top of the sidebar on my blog and register free on our next live cal. ‘ How To Earn By Giving Stuff Away’   (or just click here)


  1. Great post… it’s so true that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’. Well, for me at least!

    The best I can hope for is to be influenced by someone, or something, and repackage it, a bit like the guy who ‘borrowed’ your idea in his blog. He probably did not even remember where he had first picked up the idea.

    I do think though that it is the repackaging that is important. I am on a number of email lists and recently I have been getting an email from person A and then a day or two later getting the exact same email from person B. The second email adds no value and is in effect a waste of my time.

    I like to tell people that I lack originality, but that I ‘steal’ with good taste! I take things I like and then re-work them into my own unique take on the subject. Now, quickly, why you are not looking, where’s that control C.
    Tony Simms recently posted…My Latest Greatest Failure – Cause for CelebrationMy Profile

    • Hi Tony – Thanks for dropping by. You’re right. It’s a fine line between ethical reworking and blatant theft which we all have to pay close attention to. The good thing is that it’s entirely our responsibility how we market our stuff. Richard

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