During the past three weeks, the water cooler talk here in Greenville has invariably turned to the musical Wicked’s stint at our local performing arts venue—The Peace Center. And, while I could drone on & on about its many virtues – the music (I have been caught singing Defying Gravity at the top of my lungs while sitting at a stoplight more times than I care to remember), the plot, and the set—they can’t compare to the creative spirit the production represents. And, it was that creative spirit that spurred some interesting thoughts and discussion about original thinking.
Gregory Maguire’s book which inspired the musical is a parallel novel to The Wizard of Oz books written by Frank Baum and tells the classic story from a totally different perspective – that of the two witches. While all of us struggle to create original and innovative ideas, I would argue creating a parallel thought to a classic and timeless design sometimes may seem more daunting. How do you borrow from a masterpiece without appearing that you are shamelessly stealing? How do you retain the integrity of the original concept while giving it your own signature? Many times we shy away from turning to classic ideas for inspiration because we don’t want the output to seem contrived.
Just as Maguire did when he wrote his novel, the best way to reinvent an idea is to shift perspective—I refer to this as “mind-flipping.” Use great artwork for your inspiration, but turn it on its side to view it through a different lens. Listen to a great piece of classical music, but try to imagine how it would sound if you were to incorporate it into a hip-hop or rap song. Read or listen to an opposing viewpoint’s opinion in order to form a more complete opinion for yourself.
Starting with somebody else’s concept as the foundation for your own does not automatically dictate that you are compromising originality. Even the authors of the US Constitution turned to philosophers such as Locke and Montesquieu (among others) for inspiration to create what is arguably one of the most innovative documents ever written. In the end, your unique perspective on a timeless idea can produce creative, original—and sometimes even wicked—results.