It’s all been said before

It’s all been said before

How often do these words rattle around in your skull?
It’s all been said before

Sometimes the words are the building blocks of a good excuse. I use this all the time with blog posts and ideas for books. Some might call it writer’s block, Merlin Mann would call it an excuse: I can’t possibly write anything new… it’s all been said before..”

Sometimes, the sentiment is a reactionary damper on an idea that struck you as revolutionary; a manifestation of deep-seated disbelief in our own abilities. There’s no way I came up with that; I’m sure someone has already done that before.

Sometimes, it’s an opportunity.

You don’t have to dream it up every time

I was recently chatting with some folks who specialize in leadership education. As we went through leadership topics, from Lifehacker to Zen Habits to Gretchen Ruben’s Happiness Project – we encountered a recurring theme. Little of this is new information. It’s all been said before! And It’s true; many of the realizations from The Happiness Project were already summed up by Dale Carnegie – decades before Gretchen ever realized she was sad.

Does that make her book any less valuable to her readers?

Does that make it any less valuable to her as a New York Times best-seller?

Or did she make it new by saying it in her own way?

I’ve often looked at Malcolm Gladwell and wondered if he’s ever had an original thought in his life. But, now I realize I’ve been falling for the trap of it’s all been said before. Does Gladwell simply tells stories, facts, and figures that were already told by other people? Certainly. But does he make it all new by saying it in his own way? The sales of his books seem to indicate he does.

If Seth Godin were to read about the cage of it’s all been said before, he’d likely attribute it to the lizard brain; a vestigial apparatus on our brainstem designed to protect us from taking big risks. And he’d probably be right, after all, he did write a book about it. But guess what – that’s all been said before too. Steve Pressfield wrote about this extensively in The War of Art; and Paul McLean discussed the different parts of the human brain as early as the 1950′s.

So if it’s all been said before, what are we supposed to do?

That’s the secret

Don’t worry about it.

I remember a discussion I had with a singer about a song on his latest record. “It’s one of the best songs I’ve written in years,” he said. “I worked on it for a week, until I had it just right. And then, I realized, parts of the melody sound like something I released 5 years ago”.

You know what he did? He released it anyway. And no one noticed. The new song had new lyrics, new emotions, and new melodies on top of a familiar sound. It was a new experience.

Whether you’re building marketing campaigns, writing a novel or building a website – stop worrying about whether it’s all been said before.

Unless you were given a photocopier instead of a mind – remove the phrase from your vocabulary. Take whatever thoughts come to you, apply it to the context of your world, paint it with your brushes, in your colours, and let it go.

We’re not always blessed with world-changing new ideas, but apply your context and your spin, and your story can make all the difference in the world.

And when you do have one of those rare ideas that no one has ever had before? Maybe, if you’re lucky, someone, someday might give it new colours, new life, and make it resonate differently with an entirely new audience.

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  • dragosilinca


  • dragosilinca

    Very good points. I don’t quite understand why people want new information all the time when they’re not applying the old stuff.

    It’s the same everywhere, from changing your habits to measuring social media. Everyone keeps asking for better and faster ways to do things, without even trying out the stuff they already know.

    “It’s been said and done before” they’ll say. Sure, but doesn’t that mean it actually works then? Instead of learning some new way, why not go and apply something, build something.