Harnessing Creativity in the Digital Age

Harnessing Creativity in the Digital Age

Steal Like an Artist By Austin Kleon


With the heavy infiltration of AI into society and software applications, I found myself reflecting on a book I read a few years back. “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon is a manifesto for creativity in the digital age.

Although the book was written over a decade ago, I think its message is as relevant as ever in this digital age where the lines between AI-generated content and human-generated content are becoming blurred.

With the sheer number of tools and resources at our fingertips, it's arguably easier than it's ever been to render content. However, let's make sure to remember what keeps us human and whole and always set aside time to be creative.

Chapter 1: Steal Like an Artist

i) How to Look at the world (Like an artist)

  • Look at the world like an artist would. When you do this you stop putting things in a "good" or "bad" box and instead think in terms of what ideas, concepts, designs, etc are worth stealing and what aren't.

ii) Genealogy of ideas

  • Your ideas stem from your upbringing, experiences, and content you let into your life and are the mashup or sum of these influences.

  • Take ideas from anything that resonates with you. Pick things that make you feel something and are influential as this will keep your product authentic and true to you.

iii) School Yourself

  • Always be learning. Use your curiosity and thirst for knowledge to grow. It'll help you get ahead in life.

Quote of the Section 💬

"If we're free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it." - Austin Kleon

Chapter 2: Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started

i) Make things, Know thyself

  • If you wait to do something until you think you're qualified, you'll be waiting your whole life. This is where imposter syndrome runs rampant and tries to convince you that you can't do something. Try your best to fight against those thoughts.

  • There's a ▶️ gap between where you are and where you want to be. Make progress towards your goal by doing the things you want to be doing now. Don't start when you think you're ready. Sure, it may be intimidating but it will slowly inch you closer to your goal.

ii) Fake it ‘til you Make it

  • There are two ways in which you can interpret this common phrase:

    1. Pretend to be the thing you want to be until you are that thing and you are successful in it and people recognize that you're good at said thing.

    2. Pretend that you are creating the type of content you want to be creating until that comes to fruition.

Chapter 3: Write the Book you want to Read

i) Write what you know Like

  • Create the content that YOU want to experience. Don't only create things you know or see, but rather take what you know and like and make it into something that you would enjoy. Don't create something just because you think that's what people expect you to make. But instead, focus on what you want or like, which will be your unique creation.

Chapter 4: Use Your Hands

i) Step Away from the Screen

  • Something engaging happens when you aren't doing all your thinking and creating in front of a computer screen.

  • The computer is great when you have a finalized copy of your creation that you want to share with the world or just reference. Oh, and it's good for editing ideas. However, computers aren't so good when it comes to generating ideas.

  • By stepping away from the screen and using other methods to express and create, we engage more senses and therefore can create more freely.

Quote of the Section 💬

"The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us -- we start editing ideas before we have them." - Austin Kleon

Chapter 5: Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important

i) Practice Productive Procrastination

  • Stop trying to be so damn productive all the time. Take the time to unwind and not think every once in a while. Just be in the moment and let your mind wander and occasionally try and experience boredom. You may just come up with your next big idea.

ii) Don't Throw Any of Yourself Away

Note: I typically paraphrase or summarize but this section had so many good quotes, that I just have to use them directly.

Quote #1 💬 (This is one of my favorites throughout the book 🔥)

"It's so important to have a hobby. A hobby is something creative that's just for you. You don't try to make money or get famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy. A hobby is something that gives but doesn't take."

Quote #2 💬

"If you have two or three real passions, don't feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don't discard. Keep all your passions in your life"

Quote #3 💬

"Don't throw any of yourself away. Don't worry about a grand scheme or unified vision for your work. Don't worry about unity—what unifies your work is the fact that you made it. One day, you'll look back and it will all make sense."

Chapter 6: The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It with People

i) In the beginning, obscurity is good

  • Embrace obscurity in the beginning, as it allows you to experiment, have fun, and do what you want without pressure. Attention is ideal only after you're producing really good work.

ii) The Not-So-Secret Formula

$$ not-so-secret-formula = "Do-good-work-and-share-it-with-people" $$

Two-step process:

  1. Wonder at something

  2. Invite others to wonder with you

Benefits of posting your content online:

  • Find your voice

  • Incubate ideas that aren't fully formed

  • Share what's on your mind for others to learn and benefit from

Some ideas of what to share:

  • A little bit of what you're working on.

  • Sketch or a doodle or a code snippet

  • The process you use to do things

  • A tip you learned while working

  • Links to interesting articles

  • Book summaries

  • A piece of advice or words of wisdom based on past experiences

Quote of the Section 💬

"Think about what you have to share that could be of some value to people...If you're worried about giving your secrets away, you can share your dots without connecting them." - Austin Kleon

Chapter 7: Geography is no longer our Master

  • Create a world that allows you to take time to be creative. Your physical location does not restrict your ability to create great things.

  • Leave home every once in a while to experience different things.

Chapter 8: Be Nice. (The World is a Small Town)

i) Stand next to the Talent

  • Surround yourself with influential people who inspire you, and learn from them. Observe their methods, the topics they discuss, and the individuals they engage with.

ii) Write Fan Letters

  • Instead of writing a literal letter or message to someone praising them for their work, try the approach of public fan letters. (Examples of this include writing a blog post about someone's work you admire and providing a link to their website or product.)

  • The person you admire may never get a chance to see your work or respond to it. The important part to glean from this is that you showed your appreciation without expecting a response in return. Plus there's the bonus of creating new work out of that appreciation.

iii) Keep a Praise File

  • A praise file is a collection of positive feedback, thank you notes, and other expressions of appreciation that you've received over time. It's a way to archive and revisit the kind words that people have shared with you.

    • Examples of this can include things like nice Slack messages or emails, favorable tweets, or appreciative comments on a blog post.
  • This praise file should be relatively easy to access so that when those inevitable days roll around when you feel like 💩, you have something to reference that can bring a smile to your face.

Quote of the Section 💬

"The best way to get approval is to not need it" - Hugh MacLeod

Chapter 9: Be Boring (It’s the only way to get work done)

i) Take Care of Yourself

  • It takes a lot of energy to be creative so make sure to take care of yourself.

ii) Get Yourself a Calendar

  • Having a calendar helps you keep on track and plan out what you're gonna do so that you can have a path to achieve your goals.

iii) Keep a Logbook

  • A logbook isn’t a journal or diary, it’s just a place where you can log the things you do every day.

    • Examples are projects you worked on, people you visited, places you ate, etc.

Quote of the Section 💬

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work” - Gustave Flaubert

Chapter 10: Creativity is Subtraction

i) Choose What to Leave Out

  • You can’t do it all. Having abundant information at your fingertips can sometimes stifle growth because you don’t know where to start.

  • Accept the fact that you can’t learn it all and limit what you let in so that you can start doing something.

  • Make use of the resources in front of you and start creating. Don’t make excuses.

El Fin 👋🏽

I highly recommend reading Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon as it's a great reminder to take a step back, embrace our creativity, and make the most of the resources, people, and environment around us.

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As always, thank you for reading, and happy coding!