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Lacking inspiration? Derek Handley on why you should steal, not copy

Lacking inspiration today? Trying too hard to come up with unique ideas that the world has never seen? Here’s an angle for you: ‘steal’ other people’s and put them together in a way that you and only you can.

I’m a true believer that nothing is really new in the world, it’s just a constant rehash of old or existing ideas. What’s new is how those old ideas are put together, mixed, mashed and clashed, and that is what makes things entirely new and special.

Steve Jobs didn’t invent the mouse, the graphical user interface, the digital music player, the phone – none of them. He just reinvented the way they were put together, and the contexts in which they were inserted into popular culture.

To be clear – it’s not plagiarism we’re talking about; and it’s not the stealing that gets you in jail or a reputation as a fraud – it’s basically seeing things and saying, “I love that. And I’m going to use it. But I’m going to put it here instead, and I’m going to do it this way and not that.”

Here is a classic clip of Steve Jobs speaking to this idea and of exposing yourself to the best things that humans have done across all spectrums of life, and bringing them into what you are doing in your particular discipline.

Jim Jarmusch is an indie filmmaker who puts it another way. “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.

Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.

Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.

And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

In the clip Jobs also speaks to something I think we all underrate and never do anywhere near enough of in the everyday world: clashing extremely diverse professions, thoughts and backgrounds around a challenge, in order to create a truly diverse outcome.

Far too often we revert to the same old ‘go to’ people who know about this and that, and are experts in this and that. But far too often they are dry, stale and have become a cog in their own machine – drowning in their ‘expert-ness’, they are hard pressed to think of the most obvious things. And often won’t come up with the most non-obvious either.

Experts and specialists often know too much to open up to broad creative thinking that sometimes requires less knowledge of a problem rather than more. So, when you bring ‘non-experts’ into the fold and ‘steal’ from their totally unrelated thought processes or expertise – magic can happen.

Great thinking often comes from the edge – the periphery of where the core activity is actual taking place. Get out of your own industry, take a walk to the opposite side where you’d never be expected to be found and get inspired by ideas both contemporary and historical to inspire you to rethink your intuitive daily rhythm.

Mix it up and you’ll be surprised how fresh thinking just lands on you. Be an artist for a day and follow Picasso’s charge: ‘Good artists copy. Great artists steal.’

Oh, and I don’t really have a specific “Three Reasons”. I just noticed all the LinkedIn Influencer articles have “Three Reasons” for this, or “The Five Things You Must” of that, so I thought why not borrow that and make it my own? 

Photo: Tom Munnecke / Contributor / Getty Images Clip: YouTube

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