Thought Over Thievery: Steal Like an Artist

Great artists steal, but greater leaders inspire.

Aaron Webber
Oct 10, 2018 · 4 min read
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It’s a shame ideas don’t actually look like this when you get them!

There is a book entitled Steal Like an Artist, which is very trendy at the moment. It’s a good book and the author, Austin Kleon, has some great ideas. But I’m very mindful of these “flavor of the month” tomes that teach a concept to everybody in the universe.

One of the advantages of a life in business is being able to have an idea, strategy or mindset that is slightly different to another person. That’s what gives you the advantage in the marketplace. So when everyone is reading the same book and employing the same strategies, I always smile just slightly, because where’s the differentiation?

I like the concept of Steal Like an Artist, but I would rather rephrase the premise of the book to “Be Inspired Like an Artist.”

I’m well aware that the book’s title and concept of “stealing” are being used to a hyperbolic effect, but I never like alluding to stealing in any professional sense. It would be silly of me to pretend that theft doesn’t happen in business or that it doesn’t lead to success.

It does more often than we’d all like to admit; but I’d like to not normalize it any further.

I think there’s far more value in honing in on what inspires you, rather than trying to sneak ideas out of other places.

I find my own inspiration in many places: when I travel, when reading or watching stories, when talking to different people of different backgrounds and opinions. All these inspirations give me a better framework on how to attack problems and find best solutions.

When a painter or a photographer looks at a beautiful scene, they are inspired to frame it just right, and turn what is real life into something artistic that’s equally as inspiring.

When they finish one work, they move on to the next, which may be inspired by its predecessor. Sometimes inspiration falls into your lap or builds upon itself like a snowball rolling down a hill. Sometimes it takes effort to find.

Ultimately, a true artist never stops wanting inspiration because they have an innate desire to keep creating and honing their craft.

It’s the same principle in business and leadership. If you’re not so arrogant to believe that you have all the answers, you can be inspired appropriately by the ideas and activities of others. If you get in that habit, then you can also be in the habit of leading others to inspiration.

There’s great value in gestating, pondering, poking and being inspired by ideas, and then having others do the same to re-inspire you. Harnessing different perspectives like this allows you to build something ultimately better than that which inspired you originally. Artists usually try to capture and reproduce the brilliance of their inspiration, but creating something greater than the source is even better.

I think there is some classically great advice from Socrates when he said that the things we should spend our time on in order of priority are ideas first, events second and people third.

All too often in today’s world, we do that exactly opposite.

But if you try to discipline yourself, to focus primarily on ideas, to spend your time thinking and looking for ideas and sources of inspiration, you will produce more. If you spend creative energy pining over the end of a task or providing commentary on other people and their social media feeds, then you aren’t being inspired and you may as well just steal ideas to get on with your life.

Always bring things back to the ideas themselves. You can worry about events and other people later. Use those sources of inspiration in that priority and you will produce better outcomes, have a better quality of life and have better inspiration to produce greater, more valuable ideas.

Aaron Webber is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Webber Investments LLC, as well as a Managing Partner at Madison Wall Agencies.

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