In the latest New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell talks about ideas being free-floaters and how as a result many things get invented over and over again.
He never quite says the obvious: that ideas are nothing unless you can do something with them. And then he conflates the having of an idea with actual creation:
You can’t pool the talents of a dozen Salieris and get Mozart’s Requiem. You can’t put together a committee of really talented art students and get Matisse’s “La Danse.” A work of artistic genius is singular, and all the arguments over calculus, the accusations back and forth between the Bell and the Gray camps, and our persistent inability to come to terms with the existence of multiples are the result of our misplaced desire to impose the paradigm of artistic invention on a world where it doesn’t belong. Shakespeare owned Hamlet because he created him, as none other before or since could. Alexander Graham Bell owned the telephone only because his patent application landed on the examiner’s desk a few hours before Gray’s. The first kind of creation was sui generis; the second could be re-created in a warehouse outside Seattle.
Well, sure, but heaps of people could (and do) get the same ideas as some great musician or writer or artist. Getting an idea is not the same thing as creating the work of art. Lots of writers have told the exact same stories. Many composers have written variations on particular folk tunes.
It’s not the idea; it’s what you do with it.
This is one of the reasons most writers (and other artists) never know what to say when asked “Where do you get your ideas?”
Because it doesn’t really matter.
The idea is the least important part of writing a novel. You can have the best idea in the history of the universe but if you don’t do anything with it or you write a crappy novel out of it? Well, then it wasn’t that great an idea, was it?
No matter what your field—science, engineering, the creative arts, cocktail making—ideas are in the air for the grabbing. All you has to do is the hard part:
Turn them into something real.