Original Thought

A long time ago I heard a statistic that 99.9% of a person’s thought are not original. And that was before the Internet. Before people were being fed all this information non-stop by computers, tablets, and phones. I’m guessing now that percentage has sadly increased.

When I googled the question ‘how much thought is original,’ I couldn’t find that statistic. But I did find hundreds of thousands of articles written on the same topic, confirming just how unoriginal my thoughts are. There were a bunch of philosophical answers…and while some tried to argue that all thought was original because we’re all original, they all basically agreed that there was zero original thought, with the exception of Einstein and a few artists and musicians. The rest of us are all clones.

Shockingly, the fact that very few of our thoughts are original is not depressing to me…it is actually relaxing. Because it tells me that our problems aren’t new or different. And people overcame the same exact obstacles that you and I have in front of us, and were wildly successful and important and did great things in their lives after doing so.

Original thought though, is the ultimate goal. It is what is needed to create something special. It’s what moves the world in different directions. And in smaller terms, it’s what gets you and I ahead, by leaps and bounds, in personal growth, in school or at work…in anything.

I wrote yesterday about finding role models and mimicking their behavior. This is not separate from that. All of us absolutely need great habits in any area we want to be great in. This gives us a base expertise that is mandatory. And copying other’s work ethic and best practices will help get us get that.

Original thought is how you take something that is a regular skill…and create an art form. This is Brad Pitt’s character in a River Runs Through It (I didn’t read the book, sry) breaking off on his own to create his own fly-fishing style. And he became one of the best fly-fisherman around. He started with a baseline of expertise, then add in his own original spin on top of it.

Finding original thought wouldn’t be considered the samurai way, yet without original thought, we wouldn’t have had the samurai at all. There had to be a first samurai, right? Who came up with the curved sword blade? Who came up with the masks they wore in battle? Miyamoto Musashi had a ton of original thought. And if we are mimicking the best, and Musashi is the best, shouldn’t we try to mimic the fact that he had original thought as well?

I am not Albert Einstein. I will never come up with a scientific theory that is groundbreaking in this world. But I can create ideas that are new to me. Original thoughts…to me. They are also ‘original’ to most of the people around me. Ideas that maybe even feel groundbreaking to some people (probably just the toddlers and the feeble-minded, but still.)

When I came up with the idea for urban samurai, I considered it very original. I never thought of it before or heard of anyone doing it before. As I started down this road, and saw all those people in kendo and iaido class, and met so many of you on this site, I realize this wasn’t original at all. But it was original (read: strange) to everyone I knew. And to some of you that are now here. And this has been the best thing I’ve ever done. Original to me.

So the real question becomes how? How then do people come up with original thought? Now this, is nothing I could really find any information on in a brief online search. Maybe this is an original question…although I doubt it. Admittedly, this isn’t anything scientifically proven, but let me tell you how it works for me.

Picture a DJ, combining styles from radically different musical genres…taking weird beats from some small African nation and combining them with weird twang from some kid’s banjo in a small town in Georgia. Meshing them together would probably give you an original sound. That’s what I do.

First, I put my brain in places it has never been before. Read a book I would never read. Watch a weird show on the Discovery Channel or History International. Find some freaky foreign movie. Go to a foreign (to me) city or town and just observe people and things. Hang out with people I would never, ever hang out with. Find the weirdest web sites I can find and actually read what they have to say. Go to a concert of a band totally away from my music tastes. This throws my brain off-balance. It stirs up thoughts and heightens my senses to the world around me.

Immediately afterwards, I spend alone time in the quiet, maybe driving in the car with the radio off. Or sitting in my room with the TV off. I shut my phone off for a few minutes. And my mind just races.

All thoughts about what I just experienced. All new thoughts to me. Original to me. And with my background and pre-existing knowledge of my whole existence combined with this new experience, maybe these thoughts will be original-ish to the rest of the world.

This technique isn’t going to find you a cure for cancer or win you any Nobel Prizes, but this will start to get your brain to think outside of your comfort level. These will be original thoughts to you. It’s something we should all experience on a regular basis.

Who knows…maybe you move the world someday. At the very least, maybe you can move your own world.