February 8, 2023

No, Your Idea Doesn’t Need to Be Original to Be Successful

Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman’s new book Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius makes the argument that a humble work ethic is the key to success – or, at minimum, a decent life. Sure, the short stoic biographies apply to our modern day world. The most powerful entrepreneurial point in the book, though, is about a more recent scribe: Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard would later make the distinction between a genius and an apostle. The genius brings new light and work into the world. The genius is the prophet. The creator. The apostle comes next – a mere man (or woman) who communicates and spreads this message.

Both the genius and apostle, or, in modern terms, the originator and the advocate are equally important. Unfortunately, we often view originality as power and advocating an idea as not powerful enough. Here’s why this is wrong.

Genius isn’t in your control

Creators create, and chances are most of what you come up with will not fly. They will be derivative, or they will not be timed well, or they just won’t work. It is part of the process.

The averages of hitting a home run eventually go up, though. It is not only from continual practice, building what time management expert Laura Vanderkam calls being paid dividends on your craft, but from pure odds. Simply, the more you show up, the higher your chances of success.

However, what happens if you limit what you do to just the so-called genius moments? Two problems immediately occur.

Striving for genius means you’re less likely to follow through

First, you increase the pressure on yourself to create a best-seller, a hit product, or a groundbreaking idea, and that pressure can block you from actually executing creative ideas.

As I share in my TED Talk on perfectionism, studies show we are less likely to finish an idea if we believe it has to be great. An OK idea? A let’s see what happens idea? We’ll get that done, simply because we believe we can do it.

Real artists ship, as Steve Jobs said, and your genius pursuit means nothing if you don’t serve your intended audience.

And advocacy can be just as powerful as genius

Second, you are more likely to shut down simple ideas that may not feel “genius” at first. If you believe you have to be genius or, worse, believe you are a genius, then your idea standard becomes too thick to actually see where a not-so-original idea goes.

The Beats by Dre headphones idea grew from a simple brainstorm, just one of many conversation business partners’ Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine had over the years. They obviously didn’t invent speakers. By their own admission, it didn’t feel extraordinary.

What they did, though, was advocate for a higher quality listening experience. The timing worked. Just a few years after launch, they sold the company to Apple for $3 billion.

As Holiday and Hanselman say throughout Lives of the Stoics, showing up every day is the best way to create success. The unwavering dedication to your craft – not genius ideas or wholly original work – is how to make a mark on the world.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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