David Perell on innovation:
It’s counterintuitive, but the more we imitate others, the faster we can discover our unique style. In the entertainment world, there’s a long lineage of comedians who tried to copy each other, failed, and became great themselves: Johnny Carson tried to copy Jack Benny, but failed and won six Emmy awards. Then, David Letterman tried to copy Johnny Carson, but failed and became one of America’s great television hosts.
Reflecting on his own influences, Conan O’Brien said: “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”
Modern creators do the opposite though. They refuse to imitate others and stubbornly insist on originality, which they hold as their highest virtue — even when it comes at the expense of quality. They might deny their ambition toward originality when you talk to them, but they reveal it in their actions. In general, creators spend much less time imitating their heroes than they do trying to make something new. I call it the Originality Disease — a pervasive plague that makes creators feel scared to imitate other people’s styles.