There Are No More Original Ideas. Now What?


Yesterday at Copyblogger I posted The Jersey Shore Guide to Irresistible Personal Branding. It was a somewhat quirky piece about how those greasy Jersey Shore kids have used their oddities, drama and knack for polarization to create their own platform and personal brands. I wrote it after noticing that each of The Jersey Shore cast members now has his or her own product to hawk, from vodkas to T-shirts to bestselling books. A day later, I was really happy to see the positive reaction the post sparked from the Copyblogger audience.

Well, except for the one gal who thinks I ripped her off.

Click for full comment thread. It gets better.

Ahlam Yassin has a blog called ProWriterInc where she says she’s ‘changing the world one word at a time’. Last month she wrote her own Jersey Shore-related personal branding post. Ahlam thinks I saw her post and then ran to Copyblogger to copy her, writing and publishing mine.

Ah, if only I was that clever. Or had that much time.

You probably won’t be shocked to learn that Ahlam and I are NOT the only ones on the Internet to see a connection between The Jersey Shore and marketing.

Perhaps none of us were riding the originality train with that post, but it doesn’t matter. Because it’s not the idea that means anything. It’s the execution and what you do with it.

  • You want to launch a flower shop in your neighborhood? DUDE, ALREADY DONE!
  • You want to quit your job and become an entrepreneur? BEAT YOU!
  • You want to write an SEO blog where, every day, you share tips and advice for how to optimize your Web site to help you attract clients? Pfft! The Web’s LITTERED WITH THEM!
  • You want to write about your life, your kids and insights about the things around you? Um, the mommyblogger train has LEFT THE STATION!

Frankly, your idea isn’t worth the paper you write it on. What you do with it is different. The hard truth is that no one stole your idea, they just executed better. If they hadn’t, you would have even noticed it.

I live in an echo chamber. I write about SEO, social media and branding. So does everyone else. But, at Outspoken Media, we stand out.


Because of how we do it.

We’re interesting, we’ve built a platform, and we use what’s unique about us to get your attention. We don’t just write about The Jersey Shore’s Guide to Personal Branding – we live it. That’s the difference. You can accuse me of copying you, call me a fake – whatever. There’s a reason you saw my post on the topic but maybe didn’t see Aslam’s.

The reason isn’t because I’m smarter, but because I put mine where you’d notice and wrote it in a way to make you care. It’s not the idea. It’s the execution. And trust me, I’ve found myself on the wrong side of that equation more times than I’d like to admit.

But this isn’t about dueling blog posts, it’s about business: Don’t stray way from doing things just because your competitors did them first – just have a plan for how you’ll do it better and in a way that stands out and demands attention.

True innovation or that one MAGIC idea is pretty rare, if it exists at all. A few months ago, Dawn and I were trying to think of the last original marketing idea for Alan K’nect’s book contest. Ultimately, she decided she hadn’t seen one in her lifetime. Typically what you’re competing on is your ability to deliver a better experience, better quality, a better way of doing something. It’s nothing something never before seen.

Coke or Pepsi? Mac or PC? NSYNC or Backstreet? They’re all the same until you show me they’re not. Who cares about your idea? Show me what you can do with it.

Your Comments

  • Andy Nattan

    Great. I’ve written a post about how all blog ideas end up being recycled, and you’ve stolen it. (

    Gee, thanks Lisa.


    (really though, that guy was unintentionally hilarious. Bless him)

  • netmeg

    I’d tell you my original idea, but then someone would just steal it.

  • Michael Dorausch

    Lisa, I love that you bring this up, because it’s an important topic that I don’t think I’ve seen discussed before. Original idea maybe?

    I can tell you how many times I’ve published a Seven Best Ways to Do Something post, only to find someone else has done something very similar. Sometimes theirs was was published before mine, sometimes theirs was published after.

    People are going to believe what they are going to believe, but the reality is it is a very big Internet, and loads of ideas are being shared online, many of them even simultaneously. Add to that, the fact that like it or not, we are exposed to the same ideas day in and day out. It’s almost scary to believe that others think like us (how many times I’ve been pissed off that you posted something I was specifically thinking about that day) but that is the nature of our universe.

    • Lisa Barone

      Oh god, definitely. For example, I was going through my feed reader last week and found this post on Search Engine Journal about Social Media and the Law:

      My first reaction? Crap! Did they post that before I posted my Quick & Dirty Legal Guide For Bloggers?

      The answer is no. I posted mine first. But does that mean Todd copied my post? No. It means we both noticed there have been A LOT of court causes, content farm wars, etc, that have made it a timely topic. When you’re doing the same thing and reading the same things as other people, sometimes you come out with the same types of content or use the same phrases because they’re hot in the moment. It’s happened often and I’ve found myself on both sides of it. It’s a job hazard, really.

      • Todd Heim

        Seriously, though… there’s bound to be crossover NO MATTER WHAT you’re writing about.

        My post was meant to put a “current state of” social media and the law & to try to succinctly cover all of the hot button areas (though it’s not complete by a longshot). And yet our posts are very different…even if the topic is similar…

        • Ben Cook

          Todd, your last sentence is what makes reading blogs (as well as writing them) so interesting. Yes you covered a similar topic, but you both brought your own opinions & style to the posts.

  • Ahlam

    First, Ahlam is not a guy but a woman. You’re right, who is truly original? The beauty of the internet is not about who is most original but who says what and live to their words. It’s not a matter of “ripping off” it’s a matter of turning to a place for their original content and inspiration to find that, eh, maybe not today.

    It’s not a matter of being offensive, it’s a matter of speaking my peace. You are doing what you can in your sphere as I am in mine.

    Ironically, I’m originally from a place not to far from the Jersey shore (Philly) and am not afraid to say ‘bring it.’ However, what I will take away from this experience is the notion of confused orignality, what many are seeking but few are able to invent.

    • Lisa Barone

      Gah, sorry about the him/her thing. I missed the testimonials on your About page and wasn’t sure. I’m usually right when I guess male. Failed this time. Corrected above.

      I’m not sure how to respond to the rest of your comment. Yes, bloggers cruise the Web looking for inspiration. That’s the nature of the beast, especially for those that put out content on a daily basis. I just think it’s odd to see someone write a post on the same topic you did and assume it was lifted or that you inspired it. I wasn’t offended, just amused, if anything. There are TONS of posts about marketing and The Jersey Shore because we’re all watching (at least the news around it that we can’t escape) and it’s not so hard to see the lessons.

      I thought the conversation going on at Copyblogger was an interesting frame to a larger issue that many businesses face, though — All the “original” ideas are taken, so what we do? We do the old ones smarter and better than before.

      • Hillary O'Keefe

        I’m so entertained right now! And isn’t that (drama, being memorable) exactly what you were both writing about in your “original” posts… which is what led to this highly entertaining exchange over what is “original” on the Internet? If I didn’t know any better, and don’t worry, I do, I’d say this was a well crafted mini “conflict” designed to emphasize your point about drama. Have either of you considered pitching this to MTV? ;)

  • Kristin

    Good thoughts Lisa!!

    A lot of it comes down to presentation of the posts as well. I subscribe to a number of blogs and I couldn’t even tell you the name of some of them, but I actually visit sites such as problogger, copyblogger, and outspoken media individually each day to read the new posts because the sites are not only easy to navigate but the authors that contribute tend to have a more up beat feel to their posts.

    Different writing styles appeal to different people as well… You could take 10 authors and have them write about the same topic and everyone would have something different to say about it. Each author would probably get a different set of reactions from people reading their posts as well. I don’t think its a bad thing that we have multiple people writing about the same topics!

    • Lisa Barone

      It’s unavoidable that people are going to write about the same topics and be thinking about the same things. We’re all in the same industry, exposed to a lot of the same material, feeling the same cycles. And you’re right, 10 people can write about marketing and Jersey Shore and they’ll come up with totally different posts. That’s the idea. It’s funny this thread broke off a personal branding post because it feels like that’s what personal branding IS. Being the one that gets remembered from the crowd. ;)

  • Patrick

    Jersey Shore is just a rip off of Gilligan’s Island anyway.

  • Garry Polmateer

    I’ll use an analogy that I heard a while back while taking drum lessons. I asked my instructor “Bob, have you ever invented any brand new drumming techniques”. Bob looked at me and said “Garry, there are millions of drummers. Millions. It’s all been done before.”

    I was a bit sad by that, thinking that I’d never be anything. Next lesson I brought up the topic again and his response was more hopeful. “Just because it’s been done before, does not mean you can’t put your own personal spin on it, or do something creative with it that’s new. Or at least new to your audience”.

    Every thought I’ve ever thought has probably been thought by someone before, but it depends on what I do with it and who I share them with that will make them unique to people. I think that’s the same with the Jersey shore blog kerfuffle. Multiple people saw the same thing and independently wrote about it, and someone decides to make a stink about it. Sigh. Keep it up Lisa, don’t let trolls get in your way. (I don’t think that you do ha!)


  • Joe Hall

    Lisa I am a true believer that you are most certainly one in a million. Which means that on the internet there are 1,966 Lisa Barones.

  • Marlee


    This post if flippin’ fantastic! It is all about execution. It is all about implementation. You put this so well and entertained my pants off! Again, a testament to your ability to execute, because as noted above this topic has be written about before. Yet, I’m fairly certain it will get incredible exposure and resonate with many minds.

  • Nick LeRoy

    Good point Lisa. I can honestly say that a lot of my posts come from building off of others posts. Sometimes I just think there is a better way to get the same information out and other times I just think more detail is required. Could be this non original material? Yes. However, not all ideas or thoughts succeed the first time around. More importantly, over time facts change. For example, look at all the 101 lists you see. A post created 3 years ago may still be valuable, but one created today could offer even more value. Is it original, I could argue both ways.

    It’s the interwebs, not much is original these days. If you truly come up with something original and valuable I sure hope your not blogging about it. Go cash in on it! :)

  • Michelle Lowery

    It’s definitely what you do with the ideas that counts. But another part of this is attitude. You can choose to be miffed and try to make a “what’s fair is fair ” argument. Or you can choose to be pleased that someone with a longer track record and a larger audience saw some of the same things you did, take it as a sign you’re on the right track, and keep heading in that direction.

  • Naomi Niles

    Oh, the irony of it all makes me laugh. Sigh. :)

  • Jennifer

    Not to be a fly in the ointment, but I recall an incident a year or so ago where you accused another blogger of ripping off your content and/or using a really similar image. That blogger made the same claim you’re making here, that she didn’t rip you off, it was just coincidence. She publicly apologized and changed the image, but you didn’t seem to buy it (publicly anyway).

    Just wondering what the difference is here?

    • Lisa Barone

      I do remember that. It was virtually the SAME post (which is not the case here), used the same image and was posted 24 hours later. She didn’t really apologize, she just changed the image after I brought it to her attention. The difference there (to me) was how similar they were, how close they were, and a pretty good likelihood she saw my post because of how well tweeted/passed around it was. None of that was the case here. I said something to her after many people messages me saying she ripped the post. But point taken.

  • Daniel Redman


    Thanks for the inclusion, and great post.

    This is a relevant topic to any blogger anywhere, but it also lends itself to a much larger thought-train. If you think that you are being unique, you probably aren’t. This is a gigantic place (earth) with billions of ideas every second. Claiming something to be original is about as arrogant a thing as you can do. We are influenced by the same/similar media and that bleeds into copy, thought, actions, etc.

    Considering that should be paradigm shift. Why are your ideas better? What is your distinction? Innovate or be eaten.

  • bluephoenixnyc

    As someone who’s super-protective about content (from inception to execution)…I would see the point she had…except for the fact that both of you are addressing totally different phenomena of the ‘Jersey Shore’-marketing industrial complex.

    What’s surprising is how the other writer could’ve used this as a way to reach out to you, like, “Hey! We wrote about the same thing and be friends!” instead of accusing you of plagiarism. I think that there is the real missed opportunity.

    There’s nothing original in a 24-hour blogging news cycle where everyone and everything has a blog, many staffed by multiple writers.

  • Sully

    Actually, I wrote a Marketing Tips from the Jersey Shore post back in 2009…

    In the immortal words of the greatest Internet trolls: FIRST!

    3 Marketing Lessons Inspired by the Jersey Shore

    At the end of the time, the Jersey Shore is everywhere, and it isn’t difficult for a smart marketer to see the qualities (gag) of Snooks & the gang.


  • Daniel Dessinger

    Remind me to piss you off with my next comment. I need a traffic bump.

  • Alysson

    How many people had ever heard of Ahlam Yassin before she accused Lisa of plagiarizing her post? Compare the audience engagement on vs. that of Outspoken’s blog. There’s your answer.

    Show of hands: who think Lisa has the time to seek out totally unknown blogs to steal content from unknown bloggers? #justsayin’

    • Lisa Barone

      Heh. But that’s not even the point. What if I did? Is your next move to go to Copyblogger to whine that someone took your post idea OR are you going to write THIS point and use it to your advantage?

      That’s the difference. ;)

      • Alysson

        Had she handled it properly, she might have gotten her blog some worthwhile attention and maybe even a few new readers. Instead, more people know her name now than before, but not for the reason(s) she’d hope. She definitely played her hand poorly. And against the wrong player. :)

  • Alex @ DigiSavvy

    This post resonates with me because sometimes I really get on myself regaring my posts. The posts are mine, but they’re also-ran, me-too, articles. Originality left the building a long time ago; I just need to be easier on myself.

    I’d like to think that people really see the world as it is and don’t get offended when someone’s beaten them to the punch… We’re all in the same sandbox afterall. Yet some carry the notion that they are the axis around which the whole world rotate-th. Lighten up. Solid post Ba to the rone. =)

  • James

    I have a theory that Lisa is Ahlam Yassin and the whole thing was a ruse to bait Brian Clark into calling her vibrant.

    Well played, Lisa. Well played.

  • Mir Rooshanak

    “The Simpsons did it!” – South Park Episode 85 “Simpsons Already Did It”

    Worrying about IF something has been done is pointless. What you should worry about is if what you are putting out is quality work. You don’t control what people look at and you can’t erase the past. Even if it’s been done, the person reading your post may not have read about it elsewhere.

    It is useful to see if someone has written on a subject you are writing about in order for you to expand upon what they wrote or even play off of it, but you don’t have to. Most of the time there is so much content written about a topic that it would not even be realistic to do so.

  • Will Scott

    As far as I’m concerned this whole post is a vehicle for this one quote:

    Don’t stray away from doing things just because your competitors did them first – just have a plan for how you’ll do it better and in a way that stands out and demands attention.

    Great point!

  • Helen

    Hi Lisa,
    The first thing I thought of when I read your post on Copyblogger was that only they could “go there”. I didn’t realize the JS was such a popular topic. There have been a few times when I have written something, and then someone with a bigger readership writes or links to something along the same topic. My opinion is, hey cool great minds think alike, I’m in the know! It’s sort of confirmation that I am on the right track. The idea may not be original, but my spin on it would be. I may pick up on a few things they wouldn’t and vice versa. Thanks for the great post!!

  • Prateek Modi

    Hey Lisa,

    Came across this post from one the many emails I recieve from your blog. This is some really excellent writing! Frankly, I’m quite tired off all the “advice” that people give on blogs. Top 10 ways to do this and How to do that..All that means jack shit seriously. Out of those 10 things, doing even one properly and getting good results is a big task.

    Then I read posts like these and it kind of refreshes my mind. It makes me think that there are still ideas and ways in which you can write without always having to come up with a list of things to do.

    You have a really killer style of writing. I hope it gets better with age so that we can read more fantastic stuff!