by Richard Branson
Few ideas are truly original. We borrow all the time from those who came before us. The trick is to make an idea your own and run away with it.
The aphorism “Good artists copy; great artists steal,” is usually attributed to Picasso. Over the years, many people have misconstrued this to mean that the famous painter blatantly duplicated other hard-working artists’ ideas.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There is a huge difference between copying and “stealing.” Someone who copies merely replicates something, while someone who steals takes an existing interpretation and runs away with it. Eventually, he makes it his own.The aphorism reminds us that it’s very rare for anyone to come up with a truly new idea. We are all products of our environments. We borrow from those who came before us, and we benefit from the lessons that they learned by walking similar paths.
Simply put, all of us are influenced by everyone else.Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, understood what Picasso meant. As he once explained in an interview: “[At Apple,] we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”My team and I at Virgin built our brand by making ideas our own: We look at industries where an existing product or service has been lacking, fill that gap with a standout offering, then slap an identifiable Virgin mark on it.
Selling records, for instance, was not a new concept when we started Virgin Records, but we found a way to streamline the process and make music more accessible. Air travel was definitely not new when we entered the airline sector, but it hadn’t reached its full potential, especially in terms of customer service, so we disrupted the industry by focusing on fixing that.
Our best ideas usually come from firsthand experience, but in recent times we’ve been using technology to help us incubate great concepts. I try to post on my blog at least twice a day on weekdays, and I use social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Vine and Instagram to get my messages out.
Often, the posts start debates and provoke feedback, complaints and more conversation.Over the past few years, these conversations have sparked many thought-provoking ideas. I love reading comments to see what slivers of information might turn into inspiring business propositions. One tremendous advantage is that these conversations take place worldwide.
In the past, if you needed to understand a country’s cultural landscape, you had to book a plane ticket; today I can simply check my blog. While some business ideas that come from online conversations are country-specific, many translate across borders and have the potential to make a huge global impact.
When I’m not debating ideas in person or perusing the comments on my online profiles, I enjoy visiting the website IdeaPod – a social media platform for sharing ideas and collaborating. I met the site’s founders late last year and have been hooked ever since. By offering a space where people can bounce ideas off each other, IdeaPod increases everyone’s chances of coming up with game-changing concepts.
A few weeks ago, I logged onto the website and noticed a discussion about what businesses Virgin should enter next.
The ideas varied from producing a low-carbon fuel to making ride-sharing more efficient to launching online education programmes.
We have already launched some of the businesses that participants on the site mentioned; other ideas caught my interest, and we may look into them further.
If you’re an entrepreneur in search of new ideas, remember that innovation is an endless quest, and few products and services are so good that they cannot be continuously approved upon. This is why there is so much to be learned from listening to people’s hopes, frustrations and points of view.
So start a blog. Get on social media. Visit an entrepreneurial hub, a cafe or a pub. Ask questions. Spark a debate. Join the conversation.
Then ask yourself: What are people talking about? What are your friends and family talking about? What are people passionate about? Which issues are currently creating news? What did that interesting article that you read the other day say?
And, importantly, how can that be applied to the product or service?If you keep your eyes and ears open, you’ll be sure to find some great ideas. But remember: Don’t copy them; make them your own. – distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
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