History is littered with examples of what is known as simultaneous discovery, or simultaneous invention. It’s a phenomenon in which multiple people, sometimes in the same era, and sometimes over different spans of times, come up with the same idea without ever having met one another. Things like calculus, paper, slavery, pyramids, the steam engine, and the compass were all invented in multiple places by different people, over different periods of time, independent of one of another.
This phenomenon not only applies to discoveries and inventions, it also applies to stories. Some variation of Jesus Christ’s story has been told in multiple continents over different periods of time, and they all include: virgin birth, performance of miracles, and a resurrection. Joseph Campbell refers to this as the “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” In the literary community, many people say that there are only seven stories, and that every story is some variation of those seven stories.
In one of my screenwriting workshops, we had one of those guys that kept saying, “Yeah, but that movies been done before.” To which my screenwriting coach would say, “Yeah, well, that doesn’t really matter. What is important is her unique way of telling that story.” I am sure we’ve all run into a person in some workshop who always goes out of his way to point out how your style of writing, or photography, or painting, or even product line already exists. Even in my own family, whenever we brainstorm new business ideas, there’s always that one member of the family that says, “Yeah, well, there’s already a dozen of those.” My simple retort is, “So what?”
Think of the many variations of the following businesses that have popped up in the last 20 years: yogurt shops, cupcake bakeries, copy centers, hamburger joints, and pizza shops. Think of how many movies and books you’ve seen in the following genre in the last 20 years: zombies, marital arts, westerns, boxing, vampires, and superheroes. When you drill down into, let’s say, each vampire franchise, they each fall into a unique sub-genre or method of delivery: comedy, teen, period, graphic novels, movies, TV series, etc. Media empires and bankers care more about market share than they do about originality. If an original genre or a business idea pops up, people are sure to capitalize on it, but only if there is a market share for it.
Do not let the idea of trying to be the first to market prevent you from writing, or painting, or inventing. It doesn’t matter if someone’s written it before. Make it your own, and give it your own unique voice. It doesn’t matter if your business idea has been tried before. Establish a unique market share.
The greatest inventions and discoveries were all made through a process of doing, not through a flash of genius. Some would argue that a good idea is waiting for the right person to discover it. What matters most is that you take your vision, and turn it into reality with your unique perspective and style. It is through the process of doing that you make new discoveries, and possibly discover something new about yourself.