It would be flat out crazy to discredit the originals just because there are much more copycats; yet this happens all the time: think about the startup scene, the investment scene (vc, pe), management theories and practices or if we want to go a little deeper, about philosophies and arts.
The problem is complex but it is worth addressing it for the benefit of those who are paid to make decisions that make a difference.
First off: there is no such thing as original! More precisely: originality cannot be attributed to an individual. An individual always thinks in frames determined by the era, the geography, social milieu, all that stuff which manifest sub and supra individualistic “currents”/tendencies which are much bigger than the individual. Looking into these in detail would lead too far; we have partially addressed them when talking about the emergence of identities.
Second: one of the main such currents of our era is precisely individualism: celebrating the limited, the small and confusing it with greatness. This has birthed a fascination with bigness in terms of size and numbers (quantity replacing quality); this confusion is the context for judging originality based on who is obeying actual/current trends and tendencies more blindly. Good examples are Warhol and more recently Hirst in the “art” domain and just about any rock/pop/musical/whatever sensation in the music domain for the past 60 years or so. Here the trends are clearly sub-individual: the pre-requisite for success is giving up the remaining integrative factors in the personality to PASSIVELY give room for the above mentioned disintegrative tendencies, fostering undifferentiation while complying with the already undifferentiated mass.
What about business?
A keen observer may easily recognize analogies between business and the examples above. Intellectual PASSIVITY has become the main style element in business as well that never goes beyond questioning what is popularly referred to as facts: academia gathers and organizes experiences (what has worked in practice), management consultants create “easily applicable” methodologies and management buys them and tries to implement them with the least amount of pain possible. Challenging all this typically result in the kind of hostility only the fearful may exhibit.
The same goes on in the startup and investment domain: module mentality. “We buy ready made stuff”. The tendency is social, green, whatever: within this we pick teams who already did it (most likely in a previous trend) and depending on our geography we try not to be the 5th, 10th, 20th player in the domain. This is what we do, this is what we don’t do. Simple. Best is if nobody questions the fundamentals in the whole process: not the founders/owners, not the advisers, not the facilitators (the limited partners never do and we comply with them).
To be absolutely fair: yes, most of the people who question the fundamentals do so because they don’t understand them, not because they do and see the inefficiencies. And this brings us back to our opening point: just because a lot of people don’t get the fundamentals, don’t assume that neither of them do (for example the whole concept of elevator pitch competitions is based on this assumption).
So what the hell is originality?
Like in everything else, there are two types: pseudo originality and real one.
Pseudo originality is all of the above mentioned music and arts examples. Let’s pick a popular one in the business domain too:
A significant tendency today in the Western hemisphere is the elimination of differences; one current of this tendency is sharing. Anything that has to do with sharing is going to succeed among the masses.
Original is whoever pursues this more aggressively. From this point of view facebook is more original than myspace or friendster was (both too specialized in music and dates respectively, thus not allowing maximum sharing) or linkedin is (also too specialized).
More original because it’s closer to the current, but only pseudo original from the point of view that it doesn’t capture the concept (of disintegration in this case) consciously but does so blindly and passively.
Somebody MUST be aware! Ideally it’s the decision makers: the investors, the chairman, the CEO.
Awareness is a key element of originality or authenticity; awareness of fundamental (original) concepts! These concepts have nothing to do with business.
The better one captures fundamental concepts (in other words principle based concepts) the more original and authentic one is.
Some fundamental concepts whose capture may result in authenticity: independence, differentiation, integration, loyalty, control, power, dominance, intelligence; they all have their negative pole that results in pseudo originality: dependence, uniformity, selfishness, manipulation, aggression, cynicism and arrogance, street smarts.
These are the ones that should be relatively easy to translate to the business domain, yet there is great confusion about them in business.
Without being aware of principle based concepts, nobody understands dominating tendencies; without truly understanding current tendencies, nobody can judge either people or business propositions and without this vantage point nobody leads anything.