There is a theory out there called the Mimetic Theory, coined by René Girard; the Theory makes claims about human behavior, culture, and perhaps most importantly about ideas.
Mimetic Theory summed up says that we are all influenced by each other, especially those closest to us, and it also means that society, in general, is a closed-loop of ideas. Society has no real new ideas, relatively speaking than what it could be if we were not so influenced by each other. Girard also says that the idea space and opportunity space are infinite, but we don't see it. It is hidden in plain sight. Because we are so attracted to each other's ideas or alternatively attracted toward refuting each other's ideas, we all end up landing somewhere in that societal space of no new ideas. Girard believed there are very few exceptions to this, people who can break free and seemingly ignore everyone else, all of society, and generate something new.
Here is another much more captivating summary via Reddit:
The shocking part, and the insight, of the theory, is not just that people influence each other because we can all accept that to be accurate, but that the effect is so strong and systemic that no idea is new.
The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones. - John Maynard Keynes
The takeaway from this is that it is incredibly challenging to break away from other people's orbit and come up with truly original ideas. The big reason I think is it takes far too much freedom (wants, needs, family obligations, and so on), that most of us do not have, to break away and think about the universe without the influence of others. The theory also states that the desire for the other is so intoxicating to us that even if we have the freedom, we may never break away.
If that is all true and the Theory is correct, that there is a closed loop of ideas in society and we are influenced by the ideas of those closest to us, then reason says that we should get as close as possible to what we want to achieve in this world and be in this life. We should get close to the people who are where we want to be, pay attention to them so that their ideas and the ideas of those they got close to rub off on us. If we ever want a shot at having the sort of freedom needed to generate some new ideas in this world, then reason says we should pick the people whose ideas we allow to rub off on us carefully.
Reason also says that we should probably do this even if we never desire to have original ideas because being around people with bad ideas or no ideas will lead us to that same set of ideas and places in life.
In the age of the internet and the advent of social media, we can choose who we follow. We have access to a broader set of ideas than we've ever had before, even if the set turns out to be finite. We can find and handpick the people that influence us more deliberately than ever. We can understand their thought process, their ideas, find their influencers, and let that influence us rather than a random set done by proximity.
My point being here is that we should probably be more worried about not adopting bad ideas, that obviously don't work, than we are about generating new ones.
Girard's Theory gives the old Albanian proverb, "Show me your friends and ill show you your future," a whole new meaning.
Below is a partial list of people far away, in no particular order, whose ideas have influenced me the most over the last 10 or so years.
Naval is a modern day Philosopher, with a background in physics and a successful track record as an entrepreneur and investor. His ideas about how to build wealth, what role luck plays, and just general great insights into life have influenced me greatly.
Nicholas Taleb is also a modern-day philosopher, a modern-day Plato I should say. He has written a series of books about society's fragility and how we can deal with that and not get blindsided. Taleb's writings and ideas are not only great reads but also backed up by the fact that he made F*** Y** money on Wall Street and bought his freedom from society to sit and think about the world day.
If we have ever had producers of original ideas as a human race, Taleb is one of those producers.
He was better at risk management than the other money managers, quants, and traders that do that for a profession, and when the markets crashed due to unforeseen circumstances, he thrived while they were all wiped out.
The ideas that have influenced me the most by Taleb are contained in the books Black Swan and Skin in the Game. I highly recommend both.
Paul Graham is an entrepreneur, software engineer, and in some ways a modern-day philosopher who started and sold a company to Yahoo but then went on to found one of the most successful startup incubators in history, Y Combinator. His ideas, which are mostly in the form of free essays online, and the ideas of YC about building something people want and relentlessly focusing on that have changed the way I think about making things at a Startup or Big company.
One of his most influential pieces, I have to admit I read fairly late, by Paul is "How to Make Wealth."
But there are so many great insightful pieces by Paul over the years. Paul's essays are timeless, and Paul continues to teach and push new insights on twitter that influence.
Dan Pena is an American businessman who made money in the oil industry. In the later part of life, he chose to become a motivational speaker but a lot more vulgar and raw than the traditional speakers we are used to. Dan is like a kick in the ass if you are procrastinating. He also has a lot of ideas and a methodology for acquiring businesses that he teaches people. Dan instills a sense of urgency in you to go out and do something with your life that is meaningful in this world. Even though he is very raw, and takes some getting used to, I have found a lot of truth to his sayings and advice which he doles out freely on YouTube and other places.
Marc Lore is an American businessman and entrepreneur I had the privilege of working for and learning from at Jet.com. As an early employee in the company, I got a front-row seat to see how Marc created and set up a company culture, with principles that I still believe in and follow with my teams. Principles such as Trust, Fairness, and Transparency. Marc has recently started sharing his ideas and putting out content on his thoughts about entrepreneurship, and I recommend listening because he isn't just talking, he has done it.
I saw him do it with my own two eyes, and watching someone become a Billionaire in front of your eyes changes you forever. It alters your ideas about what's possible in one lifetime, in a few years, in this great country I live in.
Ben Horowitz, is an American businessman, investor, blogger, and author. He is a technology entrepreneur and co-founder, along with Marc Andreessen of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Ben details his ideas across two different books, the first and original book he wrote The hard Thing About Hard Things goes into depth about what it takes to build a company. He recently wrote another book titled What You Do is Who You Are. The ideas within it about culture and leadership are enlightening.
Chris Voss, who was greatly influenced by Nicholas Taleb because he named his company Black Swan Group, is a former FBI hostage negotiator. His book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It has had a big effect on how I communicate and deal with all sorts of tough situations involving other people in life. The ideas presented in the book work whether you are negotiating a salary for a new job, a raise with your bosses, or negotiating funding with venture capitalists. It presents negotiations in a brand new light that most of us aren't usually tough or wouldn't figure out on our own, and although the book is very popular since it came out in 2016, a lot of these ideas are yet to gain widespread traction.
David Goggins and his book Can't Hurt Me have changed my mindset completely about how much punishment the human body and mind can endure and power through. David grew up with a messed up childhood and early life. He joined the military and joining some of the most elite units in our military, including the NAVY Seals. Past that, he became an endurance athlete that has successfully completed many ultra marathons. He teaches us how to cope with pain, suffering, and messed up situations. Through his pain and suffering, he developed techniques and ideas that we can all apply to tough situations.
David Epstein introduced me to many contrary ideas that go against what we were always taught about generalists. More specifically, his book range shows us why a jack of all trades does so well in the modern world.
Scott Adams takes the idea of the generalist to a whole other level. He introduces concepts such as skill stacking and talks about how getting pretty good at a few things can make you more qualified for something than being amazing at one thing.
Annie Duke, a poker player and Ph.D. Student wrote about how poker changed the way she looked at the world. Why poker is one of the most complex games we have, even more complicated than something like chess, and how getting good at that got her good at life. She spells out these ideas in her book Thinking in Bets; the book is excellent because it will force you to question everything you thought you were sure about in life. The moment we have to bet all your money on something, that is the moment we aren't so sure that it's true anymore.
Malcolm Gladwell is a social scientist and author who details his ideas about society incredibly well. His books Outliers, Talking to Strangers, and Originals changed the way I looked at many things in this world and were genuinely exciting reads. He does a lot of research on each topic in his books and presents ideas in an incredibly digestible form that sticks with us.
Steven Pressfield, the war of art, is a masterpiece that will pull us out of any procrastination that we may be going through. I have read it multiple times, and each time I am fired up about getting something done in this world.
Bill Walsh and his book The score will take care of itself is a fantastic set of ideas about why the little things matter. Bill and his teams won the super-bowl multiple times and created a formula for success that applies to many things we do in life.
I am, of course, leaving out so many other great people whose ideas have influenced me. I am leaving out those close to me who haven't necessarily published a book and don't intend to but have had a profound impact on my idea set and career trajectory. I wanted to keep the above partial list to easily accessible people to everyone over the internet.
The mimetic theory is a profound one and at first it can be down right depressing to think we cant come up with new ideas. I will argue the opposite we should be ecstatic to be alive in an age where we have access to so many people and ideas, we can pick and choose the best ones for us rather than letting randomness impose them on us.
I will leave you with a little more Girard below: