Sunday, April 25, 2010

#9: Can one good idea kill all other good ideas?

Riding on a wave of euphoria after deciding to keep some of my favorite VHS tapes (I wish I could quit them) I decided to watch Being John Malkovich, one of my all-time faves. One of the previews was for Unbreakable, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

It got me to thinking.

When Sixth Sense came out, everyone was convinced that Shyamalan was a complete genius, and you have to admit, that was a pretty good movie. But from my own personal perspective, Shyamalan didn't really ever top that. Signs was okay but a little too fatalistic for me. Also, as has been pointed out many times, why would aliens who hate water come to a planet that is 78% water-based? Ehem. The Village wasn't all that bad, but you were just waiting for "the twist" the whole time. The fact that the twist, again in my opinion, wasn't nearly as awesome as the one in Sixth Sense kind of was disappointing. The twist had been Shyamalan's big idea, but he set the expectation that everything would try to top that or at least meet it. And again, according to me, that gamble didn't pay off (feel free to disagree).

Thinking about the career of M. Night Shyamalan got me to thinking about ideas in general. In another movie (not nearly to the level of Sixth Sense but still pretty amusing and one degree of separation away because Bruce Willis is involved), Over the Hedge, the phrase "enough is never enough" is oft repeated. I think that's how we've gotten not just regarding material objects but regarding awesome ideas too.

Think about Google. Google started as this amazing way to organize this burgeoning internet, and everyone was amazed. Information accessible at your fingertips. That's amazing!! But that one huge idea wasn't enough for Page and Brin. We all know where Google is war over the Chinese interwebs.

A few posts ago, I talked about how Facebook is starting to concern people because of privacy concerns (with a touch of "crap, are THEY taking over the world too?!?). Facebook started primarily as an online yearbook. What a great idea! And when I first joined Facebook, I was stunned that it hadn't been thought of before. Well, okay, Orkut and Friendster had kind of been there, and MySpace sort of. But Facebook seemed different. It was easier to talk to friends and family spread all around the world. There were a few games to play. Fine. But look at how much Facebook has changed just in the last couple of years! Zuckerberg is looking for another idea as innovative as his initial concept of Facebook, but I can tell you from my own individual experience, all he's doing is freaking me out!

I think this needing to top a great idea is not just a symptom of celebrity and power. I think we all have this problem. Success is no longer an end-game. Wealth is no longer an end-game. Look at these athletes of ours. Do you really need a raise from $50 million to $75 million A  YEAR?! I mean, really? That $25 million is just keeping you back, right? If your business succeeds or has a good year, you want it to make the Fortune 500 list. If you get a promotion, you feel the next stop should be CEO. Anything else is unsatisfactory.

I'm particularly worried about this when it comes to the arts. How are we gauging success? I think some of our artists and actors are getting tired. That's the only explanation I can find for Chris Rock involving himself in a re-make of Death at a Funeral, a movie that was hilarious in its own right and, more to the point, is less than 3 years old. Surely he has more talent than that. Surely he has more original ideas. Is music going to continue to suffer because being a great artist is no longer enough? Are singers going to feel like they have to re-make the music industry with every song, every album in order to truly be a success?

There are some folks out there who don't seem to get paranoid about having the next revolutionary idea. The Coen Brothers keep cranking out masterpieces. Each is somewhat similar just because its them, but you don't really feel like they're trying to revisit old ideas. No Country for Old Men couldn't possibly be more different from say, Raising Arizona. Stephen Hawking keeps on writing and exploring, but you don't feel like he's trying to top A Brief History of Time. He just loves what he is doing.

Let's face it. Most of us are not going to have any world-changing ideas. But if you do...if you are able to think of something no one else has ever thought of, and if you are recognized for that accomplishment, will that be enough for you, or will you spend the rest of your life just trying to top it? Will enough be enough? Now there's a revolutionary idea for ya.

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