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Why Steve Jobs Was Wrong About Creative Inspiration

3 min read

Jeremy Carson is an Associate Creative Director, working in the advertising and design industries for over 15 years.

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

That’s the most bullshit line I’ve ever heard.

Until I dug deeper, and found out there’s more to the quote.

See, there’s one thing I’m asked more than anything else: “Where do you find creative inspiration?”

I never responded...it’s such a cliché question. But when I heard someone else answer with the old “great artists steal” line, I looked into it.

Maybe Steve Jobs made it famous. But T.S. Eliot probably noted it first when he said:

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal…”

But we never hear the second part:

“...Bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.”

In short: “Only steal if you make it better.”

That’s where I get my inspiration.

I steal it.



Where Do Ideas Come From?

I’m not a typical creative.

Because in my career, I’ve met some amazing creatives that have this ability to conjure up ideas out of nowhere.

It’s amazing. I’m in awe every time I’m around them. I’m jealous of that skill. To consistently come up with brilliance.

But I feel like it’s terrifying to have to be that kind of creative.

See, in 2009, there was a documentary called “Art & Copy”. In it, Hal Riney said: “The frightening and most difficult thing about being what somebody calls a creative person is that you have absolutely no idea where any of your thoughts come from, really. And especially, you don’t have any idea about where they’re gonna come from tomorrow.”

Scary, right? You don’t know where your ideas come from and you don’t know if they’ll be there tomorrow.

That’s not who I am, though.

I Steal Inspiration

I’m the kind of creative that knows how things work.

I can look at an idea, even the smallest nugget, and understand what makes it good or bad. I can find the insight that the person never knew the idea came from and build on it in ways nobody even considered.

I’m a builder.

I know how things work and I make them better.

Sometimes I build off of my team’s ideas. Sometimes my partner’s.

But a lot of the time, I build off of the rest of the world.

I steal its ideas.

Well, I steal its inspiration.

But like T.S. Eliot required, I make it better. I improve upon it. When I’m done with it, the idea has become something else entirely.

It’s become my own.

See, I hate doing things others have done. I want to be completely unique. But I just spent hundreds of words describing how to steal others' ideas!

Because the interesting part is, to build like this requires a paradox...



Being New By Being Old

You need to be completely open to everything.

You have to remove all biases. Don’t consider the medium. Don’t consider the source. Don’t even think about the execution.

Most people are blinded by those things. They don’t see potential in ideas because of that. But strip it all away and you’ll see brilliance in places others won’t. And sometimes, like I’ve said, they’re diamonds covered in shit.

But you have to be able to innovate.

Because that thought is just the beginning. I see an idea and I dissect it. I rip it apart. Then something else triggers in my head and it attaches. Like a puzzle piece that fits perfectly with another.

And those pieces find another to fit with.

And another.

Until that idea is completely unique. Indistinguishable from its origin.

The World Is Inspiring

Steal the world’s ideas. And be open to them being anywhere.

It might be in literature. In movies. In games. Art. History. Society. People. Conversations. Data. Math. Science. Space.

It can literally be anywhere.

Just find it.

Steal it.

And make it better.

Thanks for reading!

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