I grew up thinking that all successful people were geniuses. In my mind, innovation and wealth were only achievable through inventing elaborate gadgets, making groundbreaking realizations, or creating complicated systems.
Though this can be the case, I’ve recently realized that this is an unproductive and incomplete view of value creation.
Once you forfeit the pressure to be original, a world of opportunity presents itself.
Many successes are often explained as the consequence of adding one improvement to a pre-existing, awesome concept.
Here are a few examples of valuable yet mostly unoriginal work that succeeded by borrowing awesomeness.
Ryan Holiday: Old Ideas + New Examples
Ryan Holiday is best known for writing popular business books based on stoic philosophy. His success as an author has opened doors for him as a highly sought after speaker and strategist.
One of his most popular products is The Daily Stoic, a book of 365 quotes collected from Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus. Each page has one stoic quote followed by 1-3 paragraphs of Ryan’s commentary.
Ryan didn’t need to invent an entire school of thought to launch a career as a writer. Instead, he just needed to share quotes and “translate” them into terms that make sense to the 21st-century reader.
Unoriginal components (borrowed awesomeness): All of stoicism (99.99%)
Ryan’s original contribution: Explanation through modern examples (.001%)
By having the single insight of adding modern examples to ancient ideas, Ryan piggy-backed on the coolness of all of stoicism and launched an epic career.
Sales: Someone Else’s Engineering + Your Effort
In this week’s episode of my podcast, my co-host Kyle asked our guest what new business he would start if the goal was to make a lot of money in one month.
Our guest, Pierre, provided a deceivingly simple answer: find a great product and sell it for a commission.
In most cases, one month is not enough time to create anything from scratch. Physical products need distribution networks, new software needs to be tested for bugs, and info-products typically require an audience or a large budget.
Unknowingly, Pierre was saying that your best bet is to borrow awesomeness.
Whether it is a service, an app, or a high-end knife set, it is amazing to be rewarded for generating demand for something you’d have no clue how to build on your own.
Unoriginal ideas: The incredible amounts of labor and specialized knowledge involved in creating the awesome thing you are selling (99.99%)
Your original contribution: selling it (.001%)
By having the single insight of recognizing a great and under-distributed product, you can stand on the shoulders of someone else’s skills.
Netflix: Other People’s Content + Modern Software
Netflix is a dominant tech company with hundreds of millions of users.
In the early days, Netflix didn’t make original content.
Their single insight was modernizing the business model of movie rentals.
By innovating on delivery medium (mail and digital vs a DVD store), Netflix became the go-to place for accessing movies.
By being the preferred place to access content that there was existing demand for (movies and TV), they won the big prizes of their industry.
Unoriginal components (borrowed awesomeness): All of the incredible movies, TV shows, and documentaries other people created (99.99%)
Netflix’s original contribution: A nice website (.001%)
By having the single insight of digitizing the movie rental, Netflix piggy-backed on the coolness of all of its underlying content and launched an epic company.
(Interestingly, Jeff Bezos followed a pretty similar pattern except with books).
Step One- Find Something Awesome
Step Two- Use Your Skills To Add or Skew Value