In a world dominated by the pursuit of the next big thing, it might seem counterintuitive to advocate for creative borrowing as a pathway to innovation. After all, we often hear the maxim ‘think outside the box’ when discussing innovation. However, what if we told you that thinking ‘inside’ the box – by remixing existing ideas, products or technologies – can be a potent source of innovation?

The concept of remixing has deep roots in the worlds of music, art and pop culture. It involves taking existing elements, recombining them in novel ways, and producing something entirely fresh. And just as DJs have turned classic tracks into chart-toppers and artists have created masterpieces through collage and montage, businesses and individuals are finding that they can drive innovation by creatively borrowing from what’s already out there.

“Stealing ideas from one person is plagiarism; stealing from many is research.” – Wilson Mizner

Remixing: The innovator’s secret sauce

Remixing is a fascinating approach to innovation because it starts with the assumption that everything is a remix of something that came before. This perspective allows innovators to stand on the shoulders of giants, building upon established knowledge and ideas. Remixing is about finding new connections between old things, resulting in products, concepts or art that surprise, delight and even disrupt the status quo.

Remixing in music: Beats, rhymes, and innovation

In the world of music, remixing is nothing new. Artists and DJs have been taking samples of existing songs, chopping them up and reassembling them to create entirely new tracks for decades. Consider the genre of hip-hop, where artists have turned iconic beats and riffs into the foundation for their own chart-topping songs. The result is a rich tapestry of creativity built upon the creative borrowing of musical elements.

Notable examples like Puff Daddy’s ‘I’ll Be Missing You’, which samples The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, showcase how remixing can pay homage to the past while bringing innovation to the forefront.

Remixing in art: A collage of innovation

Artists, too, have embraced remixing as a way to push the boundaries of their creative expression. Collage is a classic form of artistic remixing, where artists combine various materials, images and ideas to create something entirely new. One of the most renowned artists in this space is Pablo Picasso, who famously said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal”. Picasso’s work often borrowed from African, Iberian, and other artistic traditions, remixing them to give birth to his groundbreaking style.

In the contemporary art world, Jeff Koons is celebrated for his innovative approach to ‘borrowing’ everyday objects and elevating them to art status, challenging our perceptions of value and aesthetics.

Remixing in business: Innovate or imitate?

While the creative borrowing of remixing is often associated with the worlds of music and art, it also has its place in the business world. Some of the most successful products and companies in history have embraced the idea of remixing. Consider Apple’s iPod, which borrowed heavily from existing MP3 player designs but added a sleek interface and integrated ecosystem. This remix, while not entirely original, was a game-changer for the digital music industry.

Another example is Airbnb, which fundamentally remixed the concept of accommodations by connecting homeowners and travellers. By borrowing elements from the sharing economy and hotel industry, they created a transformative and disruptive innovation.

Innovation through remixing: Making it work for you

So, how can you harness the power of remixing for innovation in your own life or business? Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Embrace the art of curation: Curate a diverse range of influences and ideas from various sources to remix effectively. The broader your palette, the more possibilities you have for creative combinations.
  2. Break down silos: Encourage cross-disciplinary thinking in your organisation. Often, the most innovative ideas come from combining insights from seemingly unrelated fields.
  3. Challenge assumptions: Question the status quo and don’t be afraid to remix or reimagine existing processes, products or concepts. Innovation often thrives when you dare to break with tradition.
  4. Collaborate and iterate: Work collaboratively with a diverse team to bounce ideas off each other and iterate on your remixes. The more perspectives, the more refined your innovation will be.
  5. Respect intellectual property: While remixing can be a powerful tool, always respect copyright and intellectual property rights. Proper attribution and, when necessary, permission, are crucial.

In a world that often idolises novelty, it’s easy to overlook the value of remixing. Yet, history has shown us that some of the most significant innovations are rooted in the creative borrowing of existing ideas. So, the next time you’re seeking inspiration for an innovative project, remember that sometimes, the old can be the best source of the new. After all, in the words of Steve Jobs, “Creativity is just connecting things”.