How to be more original

A reflection on originality

Hi everybody,

Below is this week’s reflection, on how to be more original.

For those interested in machine learning in healthcare, I shared another video this week - link at the bottom.

Have a great week!


On originality

This week I want to write about originality.

This won’t be the first time someone has done so.

So, I guess, the question is: Do I have any original insights about originality?

🔍Noticing patterns

After having consumed vaguely ‘self-development’-type content for a while, I’ve noticed that certain ideas and articles come up again and again.

I think one of the reasons for this is that it’s so hard to be original.

But it got me thinking; how can you be a more original thinker?

People that come to mind when I think of ‘originality’ include Derek Sivers, Seth Godin and Tim Urban.

What is it that they may be doing differently?

I certainly wouldn’t consider myself the most original thinker, but I spent some time this week thinking about how to foster originality. This is what I came up with:

📖 (1) Consume less

The mantra “create more than you consume” really resonates with me.

I often notice that after periods of ‘high consumption’ (ie. reading a lot of blogs, watching a lot of YouTube, etc), it really limits my creativity.

It seems that, in-part subconsciously, by seeing what other people have done, it creates a framework in my mind of ‘how things should/can be done’.

Then, when I think of what I want to make or create, the ideas are more of the nature “what X person did, with twist Y” rather than just “idea Z”.

In his most recent email newsletter, Matt D’Avella wrote:

When I first started my YouTube channel I really had no idea where to start. I didn’t watch a ton of YouTube videos back in those days and I could probably only name two creators off the top of my head (can you guess them?).

That actually gave me a massive opportunity. I wasn’t burdened by what I thought YouTube was “supposed to look like”. I was able to throw a bunch of shit at the wall to see what would stick.

This resonated me, and I think there’s a lot to be said for a blank slate.

One thing I’ve found helpful is to deliberately enforce breaks from certain types of consumption for sustained periods of time - sometimes several months. These are often my most creative and original periods.

That being said, there’s still a lot to be said for getting inspiration from seeing what others have done (as long as it doesn’t drown out your own internal creative voice) – which brings me on to my next point:

(2) Diversify your input

I personally find it really easy to fall into the habit of listening / reading / watching the same people.

Maybe it’s the sense of familiarity, or the mental effort required to engage with new ideas and a new point of view.

But, whatever the reason, I find I will default into this pattern unless make an active effort otherwise.

And again, I’ve noticed that consuming content too much from the same people also limits my originality.

I think the law of diminishing returns applies to understanding somebody’s thoughts and world-view. Initially, it’s very different and opens your eyes to a new approach. But the more you read / listen, the less novel it becomes and the slower the rate of new insights.

There’s something to be said for continually exposing yourself to new perspectives and ways of thinking about a particular problem. And perhaps ‘originality’ is nothing more than assimilating the perspectives of others, and adding your own style.

So the more people you learn from, the higher the chance you’ll have something interesting to say.

Easier said than done, of course.

🌃 (3) Give yourself time and space

I don’t believe that ‘thinking well’ just happens – I think it needs to be fostered, with habits.

And for me, that means making time and space for me to brainstorm and explore ideas. It’s just me, my mind and usually something to write or type on.

In periods of time where I forget to make this space, I often look back and notice how little ‘progress’ I feel I made. Perhaps I got stuck on a problem for a while, or just went through the motions without thinking of anything original.

And it always comes back to finding that time - to sit down and think things through.

I’m often surprised at how quickly I might solve a problem that’s been in my head for weeks, with some focussed thought. Sometimes even within 5 minutes of sitting down to think and write.

Other thoughts

Those are the top three ways to ‘foster originality’ that I came up with. Other notable contenders, which didn’t make the cut (to not break the rule of three + because I’m out of time) were:

  • Don’t repeat what’s already been said: If you’re seen someone say or do what you’re trying to, and you can’t think of something that distinguishes yours from theirs, then don’t bother.

  • Don’t force it (which overlaps a bit with point 3 above)

This week’s links:

(1) Steal like an artist (a book)

Continuing from the subject this newsletter, this book explores how to combine ideas and styles from others, to help create your own original work.

(2) How to come up with good business ideas (a podcast)

An interesting discussion on the “My First Million” podcast, including a framework for thinking about and testing new ideas

(3) Technology explained in plain English (a series of blogs)

I came across this site while preparing content for my ‘machine learning for healthcare’ video series. It has fantastic ‘no-nonsense, plain English’ guides on loads of technical subjects, including machine learning, cryptocurrency, augmented reality and more.

This week’s video:

In this video, we cover different elements of machine learning and why it's well-suited to disrupting healthcare.

A job opportunity

A friend is looking for a data scientist with experience of NLP using Python - if interested hit reply and I’ll put you in touch

If you liked this article, you might like this one too: The input-output framework (the practical system I use to regulate my consumption and creation).

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About Me

Hi! I’m Chris Lovejoy, a Junior Doctor and Data Scientist based in London.

I’m on a mission to improve healthcare through technology (particularly AI / machine learning), but along the way I want to share learnings that are relevant no matter your career choice or background.

In this weekly newsletter, I share my top thoughts and learnings from each week, as well as links to the best things on the internet that I come across.