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Steal Like An Artist: The Psychology Of Creativity And Starting


The society we live in has a long standing illusion for anything original. It puts an unjust demand on us to create something out of nothing. Along with drumming out creativity and ingeniousness from our kids this same society puts limit on what creativity is as well.

Whatever perpetual obsession our society holds for original, creativity does not follow that rule. James Young Wood, in his 1939 vintage book, eloquently prescribes the core principles of generating idea: “The second important principle involved is that the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations, depends largely on the ability to see relationships”. Thus the job of a person looking for new idea is not looking for idea at all instead grappling to gain this capacity to see connections and put those connections together. Although our society loves to create classes and put a bar between people who are talented and who are not but in reality you don’t need to be genius to generate ideas and make things happen. Instead you need to know the rules, understand how things work and proceed without fear.

Austin Kleon’s ‘Steal like an artistis a perfect response to our perpetual obsession for genius and a manifesto for people who believe they can make things happen. The book gives you practical tips on approaching art and creation without undermining value of entertainment. At the very beginning of the book Kleon claims:

What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.

Steal like an artist

Curiosity drives our aspiration for everything. You have to be inquisitive to understand things and create something remarkable:

You have to be curious about the world in which you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. Go deeper than anybody else—that’s how you’ll get ahead.

Echoing Francis Bacon’s famous proclamation ‘reading makes ready man’ Kleon invite us all to get back to book. He argues that mere closeness to books can become good food for our creative mind:

Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.

Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Filmmaker John Waters has said, “Nothing is more important than an unread library.

If you wait for perfect moment, perfect preparation, perfect team, perfect situation to start you would never be going to get started. The best way to start is to start with what you have and best time is now. Kleon Says:

You’re ready. Start making stuff. You might be scared to start. That’s natural. [...]Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done.

There is no free lunch. You have to walk the path. Work harder and work harder than the person next to you. That makes all the difference. Miracle comes from hours-how many hours you put in it:

It’s a two-step process. Step one, “do good work,” is incredibly hard. There are no shortcuts. Make stuff every day. Know you’re going to suck for a while. Fail. Get better. Step two, “share it with people,” was really hard up until about ten years ago or so. Now, it’s very simple: “Put your stuff on the Internet.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Cover). Click on the image for more

Echoing the mesmerizing findings of G x E, eloquently elaborated in David Shenk’s bestseller book The Genius in all of us: why everything you have been told about genetic, talent, and IQ is wrong, Kleon proclaimed you are as good as your environment and people you live with:

Remember “garbage in, garbage out”? You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with.

Steal like an artist is an immensely useful and entertaining book in its entirety. This- slim, hip, inspiring, and sometime full of new thoughts and ideas-book will give you entirely new perspective on creativity, starting-up, and making things happen.

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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