Every single essay topic has the potential to be brilliant once you've moved beyond surface level.
This may very well be the single most common concern of hopeful MBA applicants…
“Is talking about (x) in my application essays going to come across as too cliché?”
And we usually have a very simple answer for that question:
“If you think you’ve gone and sparked up something truly original, think again.”
Brand New Concepts Are Impossible To Invent
Trust us when we say that whatever idea you’re considering writing about… someone has already beaten you to the punch; you can bet the farm on it.
Let’s say I decide I’m going to write a screenplay for a movie… perhaps a story about the triumph of good over evil.
“Good one,” you say sarcastically.
“What’s wrong with that?” I ask.
“Meh, that’s been done. It’s too cliché.”
Well, let me ask you this: If it’s the 1970’s, and I’m about to write Star Wars and I decide to junk the entire project because I think the whole “good versus evil” things has been overdone… well, then I’m obviously missing a big point, right?
Here’s another example. Let’s say that I’m a novelist. And I’ve been kicking around this idea about a troubled teen for a while now…
“Meh, how many times have we read THAT book, am I right?!”
So I tear up my manuscript called… The Catcher In The Rye…
In a final example (and I know you’re already getting the point, but this is kind of fun so indulge me for just a few more seconds), let’s say I make automobiles. And my last name is Mercedes. And I say…
“I’d like very much to make a nice car that has four wheels.”
“Meh, it’s just been done to death… this four wheel paradigm! Cars with four wheels are so cliché.”
The Idea Doesn’t Need To Be Original, The Execution Does
It’s not the novelty of the idea that mattered for any of the examples listed above. Mercedes executed better than most of its competition. No one cares that it, like many other cars, has four wheels and one steering column, and windows, amongst many other incredibly common components of a vehicle.
And guess what. At its core, Star Wars is about… good and evil. Are you kidding me? It doesn’t get much simpler and boring than that, right? Wrong. George Lucas captured the imaginations of millions of people around the world because of the novelty of the design and detail and nuance and overall execution (I could go on and on). Such that it took the most common concept imaginable… and made it not so common. I promise I’m not just rambling on about how much I love Star Wars right now. What I’m getting at is that you’re shooting yourself in the foot by wondering if your idea has been done before, or too often.
You won’t reinvent the wheel with what you write about. You’ll reinvent it by HOW you write it.
Helping The Reader Get Inside Your Head
Now. What exactly does “how you write it” mean? “How” has everything to do with what you reveal about your attitude. The way you write, your style, your tone, your structure, your editorial comments, your rhythms, your phrasing…
In other words… what are your thought bubbles at any given moment?
- What are you thinking and feeling?
- What are your reactions to things?
- How do you experience things?
- How do you process stuff?
- Why do you think the way you do?
- Do you question things?
- Have you ever questioned your own beliefs? Or are you yet to question them?
- Ever get really angry about something?
- Ever get super jealous?
- Ever get super happy?
- Ever experience utter confusion? About what? And why did it surprise you?
The Key Is: How Did You Process Whatever It Is That You’re Writing About?
When you’re writing and drafting and ideating… break it all down. Dissect it to the core. Pull it apart to the “what does this all mean” level. Analyze, scrutinize, wonder… see if you can figure stuff out. If you’re writing about a “sob story” – no one is going to be compelled by the content of what you’re writing about. All we’re interested in is how you processed it all.
- What were you thinking before?
- How did the event alter an attitude of yours?
- Did you ever think something inappropriate and hate yourself for thinking it?
- Did you ever feel numb?
- What did that REALLY feel like?
Give the reader an example. You’ve got to dig. Don’t just write at the surface “plot exposition” level. Surface level stuff like… this happened, then this happened, and then this happened… None of that is ever exciting or illuminating.
Channeling A Way Of Thinking That Brings Out Better Writing
Some of the above questions [there are MILLIONS of questions like those by the way – they were just examples] can help to develop a way of thinking about things that will bring out better writing. We’re talking about writing that goes below the surface. That’s where you move away from cliché-land.
It’s all about going beneath the surface.
No matter how hard you try, if you write honestly and passionately with attention to detail and specificity, it’s mathematically impossible to be cliché. The essays that end up having that trite, boring, uninspired feels are the ones that consciously endeavor to impress. The ones that think they’ve gotten inside the heads of MBA admissions committees.
So, for the sake of your MBA application, and your future success, don’t try too impress the adcoms and don’t fret too much about whether or not writing about a specific idea is too cliché. Just stay away from writing at surface level, dig deeper and let them see HOW you think and process things. Get personal.
Remember that EVERY SINGLE TOPIC has the potential to be brilliant. Expose the mad ramblings of your inner mind. That’s your ONLY chance of coming across as unique.