Discovering Your Life Being Cliché

You are browsing the internet in order to test – by anecdotal evidence – if your original ideas are that original or your most creative writing that creative.

Within milliseconds you detect that everything has already been told, shared, pictured, thought, sketched.

For every clever business idea I had, I found zillions of companies that already had implemented version 3.0 of this idea. Every super fancy domain I ever wanted to register was taken. Every utmost obscure and bizarre topic I wanted to write about was covered in 1000s posts, tweets, and doctoral theses. I believe that right now millions of people write about the true phenomenon or the illusion of (there is for sure a scientific term for it) all their ideas being published already by somebody else.

I once thought it singular to be

a physicist working in IT security

Then I discovered, in passing, not even searching for it, that there are discussion groups called physicists in IT security.

Then I thought it would be worth mentioning to be

a physicist working in IT security interested in the history of science.
a physicist working in IT security interested in the history of science and being a fan of Star Trek.
a physicist working in IT security interested in the history of science and being a fan of Star Trek, Douglas Adams.
a physicist working in IT security interested in the history of science and being a fan of Star Trek, Douglas Adams and Douglas Coupland.


You might discover that there are other intelligent lifeforms on this planet who indulge in enigmatic messages teleported via the search strings that make users hit their website just like you.

Probably it is worse than that. Maybe we are determined by clichés before we know it (sort of Minority Report style). I watched The Net with Sandra Bullock many years ago and this scene was the essential part of the movie!

I was not yet the only woman who calls herself a nerd (reference: a colleague) and I was not yet tracking down security issues in my hacker’s cave, fuelled by pizza and caffeine (source: self-assessment).

But I morphed into my favorite cliché wholeheartedly. I delved into it, and I accepted my destiny. I adore writers who make cliché the hidden recurring topic of their work; who are able to explain the zeitgeist of an era by describing trashy everyday stuff meticulously. As Douglas Coupland.

I have another theory that says this only works with clichés that have emerged after the ~ 1960s, because then it was possible to beam those most trivial everyday clichés down to people’s hearts and brains via TV.

Do I have to offer a solution apart from pseudo-postmodern analysis? Yes, but I will not tell you. Otherwise somebody who has come up with the same solution will google it and end up disappointed.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. In my professional experience you already belong to the rarest of breeds. A _female_ physicist. Ever since I focused on physics already at the last two years of ‘gymnasiale Oberstufe’ it was a boys only environment. Of the 150 students I enrolled with in Bayreuth, maybe a dozen were girls, and most of them focused on becoming a teacher. Then when working on my Master (Dipl. Phys.) thesis at the Forschungszentrum Karlsuhe it was again all men. There was one female engineering student. She was quite attractive, so guys always found a reason to stop by her lab. She told me at some point that going in, she didn’t realize how important her work was, but that she found that people were extremely interested in it, always checking on her progress. Yes, she was really that clueless.

    In part this contributed to my decision to go on to business school, it felt so refreshing to finally operate in an environment with a more even gender mix.

    1. And as to original business ideas – it seem to me that your sustainable energy business is quite clever. And if business school taught me anything then that originality is over-rated and execution is king :-)

      1. elkement says:

        It is true – I was also the only female student in my “cohort”. It didn’t change in IT security later – I can remember attending a conference with 100 participants, me being the 1% female participants. I have been told by curriculum designers that this hasn’t changed even today. I have recently completed another degree called Sustainable Energy Systems which was engineering garnered with some law, finance and the like. Primarily technical, but not that “hardcore”. Still – in 2013 – we were only 10% female students.
        I have sometimes served as a role model “woman in tech” and interviewers have asked me where there are so few women in science and technology. I always replied I am the worst person to ask – as it came naturally to me.

        Thanks for your feedback on my energy business – and I totally agree. In renewable energy there are so many fancy startups and academic ideas – often nurtured by abounding governmental funding. There are lots of “companies” whose business models are based on the perpetual clever utilization of governmental subsidies. I / we actually take special pride in the fact that we did our “research” as a side-project funded by revenue on other down-to-earth stuff.

  2. bizarrojones says:

    Great post!

    Also: well put, Peter.

    I remember reading an article years ago about how freelance writers write the same article multiple times, tweaking it just a little to engage a different audience, or to get a sale in a different magazine. I see this happening a lot with top 10 lists online. While there may be nothing new under the sun, relatively speaking, there are always new people to share the old with.

    1. elkement says:

      Thanks, bizarrojones! Yes, exactly. On researching whatever topic I have very often found that the same image and text snippet is shared and copied over and over. Despite the statement was false.

  3. Peter M says:

    It’s almost inevitable that someone has been there before you, no matter how original your idea may be. There are, after all, more than 7 billion people in this weblinked world of ours, and a fair number of them can think. But my impression is that many don’t think very long or very deeply, and this creates space for those who do. You may not be the first to think something, but if you can sustain and deepen your thinking, there’s every chance of breaking new ground. Whether or not a business idea results is of course another question.

    1. elkement says:

      Yes – well said. This effect might appear more pronounced today, as duplicate ideas would have gone undetected in the non-internet ages. It would be interesting to know if the option of researching competing ideas in detail has any negative or positive impact on innovation.
      Too much research may be demotivating, although – as you said – the so-called competing stuff is very often shallow. Feynman was reluctant to reading his colleagues’ work at all if I remember correctly (though one should probably not pick an outstanding role model). As for business: I made the experience that you make a difference by how you do your job, not by the uniqueness of the business idea.

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