Steal like an artist
Nothing is original
(Read web version.)
Many of us want to be more creative. However, a common belief is that there is nothing truly original. How can we square these things? This post suggests ways to help address this conundrum.
I draw upon ideas shared by Austin Kleon in his delightful book Steal Like an Artist.
Steal like an artist
The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from. - David Bowie
Creators, including artists and even I, get asked, where do you get your ideas from? The honest answer is, they are stolen. Creators figure out if something is worth stealing then move onto the next thing. What good creators understand is that nothing is totally original and ideas build on what has come before. Once we get comfortable with this idea then the burden of coming up with something different lifts. We stop trying to make something out of nothing and, instead, celebrate influence. Every new idea is a mashup of previous ideas. To illustrate this, genetically, we are a product of our parents genes and our characters are influenced by many experiences.
Practical ways to steal like an artist include, staying curious, exploring lots and logging materials. Sources are many and varied, e.g. books, blogs, podcasts, conversations, photos, wild life, films, websites and social media. Find a mechanism to record extracts and other insights from these sources that works for you. This could be the Notes app on your smartphone, Google Docs or a physical notebook or folder. If you find something worth stealing then put it in your swipe file. Later, when you are seeking inspiration open up your swipe file for a treasure trove of ideas.
Don’t wait to get started
Starting is hard. Many of us are prone to self doubt and procrastination. We tell ourselves that we are not good enough. Our friends and family will laugh at our efforts. Everything of interest has been done before. We can always start next week. If this is you then you are not alone. Anyone doing truly creative work does not know where the good stuff comes from. They are just in the habit of doing their thing. You don’t learn then start. You start then learn. I started this blog in September 2020 and publicly committed to sending out a new post every Sunday morning. I do not know what shall be covered every week, but will write about subjects I find interesting and believe others will too.
Hobbies are important
The activities we find ourselves doing when we’re relaxed are often the things that can really take off into something bigger. It’s good to have many hobbies or side projects on the go at the same time. When tired of doing one then we can move onto another; later we can bounce back to the first. There may be subtle links between them. Two of my hobbies are walking and developing mobile apps. While walking the Cotswolds Way with a Golden Retriever, the idea for Nip To (finding bins and other public amenities) came to me. The next big business ideas are likely to be considered little more than toys today. Very few realise their potential.
Steal Like an Artist - TED Talk video by Austin Kleon
The next big thing will start out looking like a toy blog by Chris Dixon
How to get startup ideas essay by Paul Graham
This post suggests that remixing and reinterpreting stolen ideas is the way to develop your original ideas. Next Sunday’s post explores our unfair advantages.
Until next Sunday, see what you can steal to put into your swipe file.