How to Copy

Originality is the presence of new ideas, not the absence of old ones

From Paul Graham's "How to do Great Work" on how to copy existing work.

  • There's a good way to copy and a bad way. If you're going to copy something, do it openly instead of furtively, or worse still, unconsciously
  • Projects rarely arise in a vacuum. They're usually a reaction to previous work
  • Danger to copying: Tendency to copy old things — things that were in their day at the frontier of knowledge, but no longer are
  • when you do copy something, don't copy every feature of it. Some will make you ridiculous if you do.
  • the features that are easiest to imitate are the most likely to be the flaws.
  • One of the most powerful kinds of copying is to copy something from one field into another. History is so full of chance discoveries of this type that it's probably worth giving chance a hand by deliberately learning about other kinds of work.
  • Negative examples can be as inspiring as positive ones. In fact you can sometimes learn more from things done badly than from things done well; sometimes it only becomes clear what's needed when it's missing