Remix Culture: Jumpstarting Creativity

There are no new ideas

Remixing, or the process of bringing together existing fragments of information and compiling in new and unique ways is as old as time. If you don’t believe us, just consider the American dream itself - “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” - was Thomas Jefferson remixing John Locke’s argument that the government exists to protect citizens’ “life, liberty, and estate”.  

Research analyzing historical US patent data has proven inventions are rarely if ever, created from scratch. They are almost always a combination of research and ideas that already exist. Relatedly, Paul Romer, an economist who has spent his career researching economic growth, has found economic growth does not come from new resources - it comes from rearranging ones that already exist to make them more valuable.

Remixing ideas and innovations makes us collectively stronger, which is pretty exciting because technology is making this increasingly easier.

We’ve been obsessed with the role remixing can play in shifting consumer behavior for a while, but we decided it was time to finally write something after we co-invested in a company that has remixing at its core - The Landing. The Landing is best described as Pinterest meets Canva. It’s a place where users can come and find visually beautiful designs, get inspired, and remix them to make them their own.

In this piece, we’re going to talk about the huge opportunity in leveraging remixing, some of the drivers that are enabling its acceleration, and why we’re so excited by it.

The Creator Continuum

Before we jump into discussing remixing, we think it's important to discuss where it sits in the creation process. We believe there is a massive opportunity for platforms to capture value in the creator stack earlier in the process. However, many of the creator platforms we are familiar with today would fall in what we would consider the creation and “enterprization” part of the continuum. An explanation of the continuum below:

  • Exploration: Passive observation, learning, and discovery of new things.
  • Inspiration: We agree with Zat Ranas belief that inspiration is born out of the will to freely explore in a nonlinear way. Inspiration is a motivational state that compels individuals to bring ideas to fruition. Research shows there are three core characteristics of the state of inspiration: evocation (stimulus/trigger), transcendence (gains awareness), and approach motivation (desire to act on it - being inspired by gives way to the process of being inspired to).
  • Remixing: The process of bringing together existing fragments of information and compiling them in new and unique ways.
  • Creating: The process of bringing together your thoughts or products into life and potentially sharing it.
  • Enterprization: When the creator and creation can become a product on their own - this doesn’t necessarily necessitate monetization but often does.

The Opportunity

  • Users avoid the cold start problem: Many of the current creator-focused platforms start at the creation part of the continuum. While there has been an increasing move towards community to make the process less “lonely” the products are skipping over the low friction “exploration” and fun “inspiration” parts of the continuum. This sadly creates more friction for users to create. Instead of users starting with a blank canvas, platforms can have them join a larger ecosystem where remix units are constantly evolving, mutating, thriving, and yes, perishing to get their gears turning.  In fact, research on open online communities has found the more “exploration pathways” there are to find new content, the more engaged the community is. Notions templates and TikToks For You page are great examples of this.
  • Growing the size of the pie: Most platforms today are hoping to capture most of the value of “creators” as they professionalize. For example, substack captures you when you are already ready to write something - it presumes you have an idea and are already to execute on it. By capturing the top of the funnel, increasing the space for exploration and inspiration, platforms can grow the pool of creators not just capitalize on those that already identify as one. This is why we see so many more kids starting their sticker, real estate, and t-shirt businesses on TikTok. Closing the gap between exploration and creation is key.
  • Increasing the number of remix units: When we think of a platform that has maximized the units to remix, TikTok stands out with sound, video, creator, the new creator, all being clearly distinguishable through duets, stitches, and hashtags. TikTok is the place where users can explore (passively), feel inspired by (any remix unit), remix (with various tools to do so), create (start new units that others can remix), distribute, and even make money.
  • Resilient communities: Psychologist Keith Simonton said “The odds of producing an influential or successful idea are a positive function of the total number of ideas generated.” In other words, the more remix units that can exist the more resilient the platform can become as trends, user personas, and use cases shift so rapidly in consumer-facing products.  

We believe remixing is important - why is this behavior accelerating?

  • Digitization of ideas and content: It’s a lot easier to find and transform bits than atoms. With most content production moving online and information at our fingertips, the ability to consume and transform content is easier than ever before.    
  • Improved creator and remixing tools: Many consumers, including ourselves, were not blessed with creative genes. 10+ years ago this would’ve been a barrier to creation, but with tools that allow amateurs to create compelling videos, photos, music, and more there is significantly less friction. TikTok is one of the best examples of this trend - users are given a place to get inspiration from one another, recreate viral memes, stitch and duet videos with one another, and then use the app’s video creation tools to easily make videos.
  • Normalization of collaboration: Digitally native generations are used to collaboration as the norm. Whether it’s through google docs, Notion, Figma, or many of the collaboration tools that have arisen in the past decade, collaborating is what many consumers are now used to. This expectation has transcended beyond the workplace to at-home behaviors.
  • Ability to track attribution: With most content existing online, it is much easier to track attribution and the original source of a remix. This is critical, because populations whose work has historically been appropriated, can now more freely share their work online to be discovered and transformed.

Why are we excited?

  • Everyone can be a creator: We all have something to contribute to popular culture, but the more artistically inclined of us can make it feel intimidating. With tools that make it easier to create, we will increasingly have access to the latent human potential that lives in each of us.    
  • New forms of community and subcultures: With the acceleration of remixing and collaboration of people who may not have otherwise met just a decade ago, there is the potential to arise new communities and subcultures that do not currently exist.  
  • Really, really big companies are going to be built: As we mentioned when we started, we think a massive amount of value is being left on the table by ignoring the first half of the creator continuum. As companies start to expand into that component in the continuum, we think massive companies like TikTok will continue to be built.
  • New ideas and innovation can spur - especially from those who have traditionally been left out: It’s estimated that if the US invested in women, minorities, and children from low-and middle-income families at the same rate as white men from high-income families, we could 4x the level of innovation in this country. Raj Chetty’s research suggests one of the most predictive factors for becoming an inventor is access to high-innovation spaces and role models - in a world where this can be done digitally, more equitably increasing this access becomes possible. Imagine what can be accomplished when we have more diverse voices at the digital table - talking, sharing, and building together.