How to be creative in your craft?

Customers or Audience do look for originality in anything we create – It could be an app, a website etc. Creating something great is hard. It takes lots of work and sacrifice.

Should one take a look at other’s work and learn from it or avoid looking and go on our own? The opinion is divided. There are successful companies on both sides of the spectrum.

Facebook did watch and copied Snapchat, it is clear that Zuck did look at all their competitors and ended up buying Instagram, WhatsApp and others. It has worked out very well for them.

In the case of Apple, they don’t seem to take inspiration from other companies and mostly focused on building things on their own. It is like a religion where the inspiration has to come from within.

As in Microsoft, they too have bought companies and Gates did use to look at a variety of companies and was really excited to learn everything new that’s happening in the space.


Quotes on Creativity

Let me share some quotes on creativity.

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.
– Albert Einstein

The original quote has been revised from the times of Voltaire and there is a detailed post on originality of this quote.

1926: the height of originality is skill in concealing origins
1933: originality is little more than skill in concealing origins
1938: originality was merely skill in concealing origins
1953: originality has been described as the art of concealing origins
1970: originality is the art of concealing your source
1985: creativity is the art of concealing your sources
1989: the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources

From the popular modern creative genius behind our iThings.

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.
– Steve Jobs

I’d like to share a TED video on creativity that makes the point that post-enlightenment, creativity has become the sole responsibility of the creators. In historical times, people used to think of creativity as something that just happens to them and not something that they actively do. I believe the current norms and expectations create more pressure on creators.

Walt Disney used to study what’s going on in the market and figured out what things are missing to advance his craft. e.g. In the cartoon world, there were wolves and other animals when Disney came up with Mickey Mouse.


An Element of Surprise?

Jay-z proudly says in his Blueprint album.

Hov’ on that new sh*t, nigg*s like “How come?”
Nigg*s want my old sh*t, buy my old albums
Nigg*s stuck on stupid, I gotta keep it movin’
Nigg*s make the same sh*t, me I make The Blueprint

– On To The Next One (The Blueprint 3)

He is very successful in his craft and he has gone on to produce 3 “Blueprint” albums, which is going too far to make a point on creativity. If you’re not bringing your surprise of adding your magic, you’re probably not being creative. I don’t mean to say just adding some spice (masala?) but bringing a real surprise that makes it special compared to others. I think this is a lot of hard work.

Pablo Picasso on Creativity

No discussion on creativity or originality is complete without mentioning Pablo Picasso given that he has changed art and brought us many forms of new work in the light. He has invented cubism.  Pablo has inspired Steve Jobs to Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel and continue to inspire very many library and services from Android’s Picasso library to Buffer’s Pablo service which creates art for social media.

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

– Pablo Picasso

He clearly asks to keep learning but not duplicate someone’s work. I think it’d be stupid to make a carbon copy.

At the same time, It is okay to learn and steal great parts from other’s work and use them on your own.

My perspective on Creativity

I personally believe that there are things in every industry which are hard to change. These things are fundamentals of that industry/space. One must learn what’s not changing and the reason why it isn’t changing and if it is the right time to change a particular thing. e.g. Disney came up with the character of mouse or WhatsApp focused on the App while completely ignoring the web.

It does help to understand and analyze the past and current successes to be able to understand what parts of it are exciting, what parts are missing/wrong and what can be added to improve the outcomes/success of the craft/product. The ideal possibility is coming up with a product/design that makes the current success look historical. It’s easier said than done though!

If I were to rewrite above quote on creativity, it’d look like this.

The secret to creativity is understanding and outdoing your sources.


Does this seem to be limiting?

It may sound limiting to you because the reality does pose limitations on our work.

Studying and analyzing existing success gives some idea of reality/fundamentals but one can always think beyond. Hope you enjoyed the discussion. Feel free to express yourself in the comments.

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