Borrowing Brilliance Book

David Kord Murray’s book entitled Borrowing Brilliance is about the business of innovation. It posits that ideas are being conceived in our subconscious mind, only to surface through our conscious thinking as “aha” moments, sort of bursts of enlightenment. There is no such thing as a truly creative idea. All ideas are borrowed (you just have to give credit where it is due), and this is the reason IMHO why intellectual property (IP) like copyrights, trademarks and patents are the antithesis of innovation. IP only serves the greedy motives of profiteering. In the current scheme of things, you have to balance capitalism with a dose of socialism without destroying the free market ideals.

Why don’t creative people admit to borrowing brilliance?

Two reasons. The first is because society puts economic value on an idea and so no one wants to admit to borrowing. “The secret to creativity,” Einstein said, “is knowing how to hide your sources.” We’re told not to plagiarize, that it’s the opposite of creativity, when in fact there’s a fine line between the two. Borrowing is at the core of creativity. We’ve developed legal devices to protect the thinker, things like copyrights, trademarks, and patents. But these only confuse the thinker and make us hide our sources. The second reason is that creative people use the subconscious mind to construct ideas and so the ideas appear to them, as Stephen King says, “out of a clear blue sky.” However, the subconscious mind has been busy, in the shadows, borrowing and combining, so when it presents the idea to you, in an “aha” moment, you don’t see the borrowings and combinings, the idea appears to be completely new and original.

Are there any, truly, original ideas?

It depends upon how you define “original”. Before the Italian Renaissance of the 14th century there was no concept of “originality”. Creativity was thought to be a collaborative effort, one artist copied another artist and was expected to make improvements on the copy by combining and adjusting the existing idea. No one signed their work, the artist wasn’t important, only the creation. However, when the free market started to put a “price” on work from certain artists this caused them to start signing and protecting their creations. Copying became a bad thing. This drove the creative process, Dave says, into the shadows, laying a fog of misunderstanding over it. Soon, concepts like trademarks, plagiarism, copyrights, and patents arose … and with them the concept of “originality”. Therefore, originality is a concept born of economics, not creativity.

Notes: Chapter 3 mentions metaphors or frameworks upon which we based our ideas. Factors like exposure (environment) or genetic makeup (individual nature) may affect our ideas but ultimately, anchoring better explains our tendency on how we come up with our ideas. You may also read

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely on behavioral economics

Brain Rules by John Medina on how our brain works

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink on creativity and innovation

Everything is a Remix blog – by Kirby Ferguson

Copyright Turns 300 Today – an OSnews blog post about the history of copyright

…copyright today is about profit, and profit alone…

From a 1735 pamphlet against perpetual copyright:

I see no reason for granting a further term now, which will not hold as well for granting it again and again, as often as the old ones expire… it will in effect be establishing a perpetual monopoly, a thing deservedly odious in the eye of the law; it will be a great cramp to trade, a discouragement to learning, no benefit to authors, but a general tax on the public; and all this only to increase the private gain of booksellers.

Written in 1735, but still the truth today – only you should replace “booksellers” with “record labels” and “movie companies”. I’m even more impressed by the words of Lord Camden (fetching fellow, or what?), who said that “knowledge and science are not things to be bound in such cobweb chains”. Just… Wow.

This struggle between the idea that copyright is either natural or legislation-driven is still very much relevant today. Even though copyright is indeed a legislation-driven right, a state-granted temporary monopoly, many people view it as a natural right. While something can be said for the latter, society and mankind benefit more greatly from copyright eventually being lost.

Sadly, modern copyright is no longer about promoting learning; it is now all about ensuring endless profit for content providers. People like Lord Camden or the author of that pamphlet would be horrified by the world we live in today; a world bogged down by copyright, causing valuable works to be lost to erosion because nobody knows who the rightsholders are.


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