Copy, Transform, Combine.

Here in the advertising business, we believe that we can tell, see, and even feel what creativity is. There’s awards shows for it, we have entire departments dedicated to it and we certainly like to pat ourselves on the back when we’ve achieved it.

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But what if in fact, by our definition of creative, our ideas are all in fact borrowed, copied or stolen?

According to Kirby Ferguson and his TEDx Talk – creativity is based on the idea of the “remix.” And obviously he’s aware he’s not the first to point this out. By using comparisons to Bob Dylan – one of history’s most prolific folk singer/songwriters, Kirby demonstrates that his idea of creativity is based off a model of copy, transform and combine.

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Using this theory, there’s really nothing that’s completely original. Everything that we create is actually built somewhat off the work of others, and true creativity is “property we’re all building on,” rather than something that anyone actually owns.

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“Good artists copy, great artists, steal.” – Picasso

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It’s easy to see the model work in the example he gives of Danger Mouse’s 2004 The Grey Album, where the artist copied songs from The Beatles White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album, transformed them by cutting the pieces he wanted to use, and finally combined all of the parts to make new songs and a new album.

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In a world where social media rules, and content is king, how can any one idea not be influenced by everything around it?

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Brands do this regularly, as they take pieces of popular content and transform them into parts of a branded campaign. If you’ll remember – the Harlem Shake, and it’s many imitators. And even now the seeds of that same stunt still grow as seen here with Tim Hortons’ Chillin, Winnin’ Spot. The TVC never uses the song, but riffs off the random rave that came of it.

It creates a very interesting debate over whether building upon borrowed content is actually in itself creative? Or are the users of the original product just stealing good work?

 We suggest watching Kirby’s presentation, and deciding for yourself.

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