It’s All Derivative

“Creative theft can be incredibly positive, so long as it’s honoring instead of degrading, crediting rather than plagiarizing, and transforming instead of intimidating.” – Austin Kleon

It’s been said before. Not by you. Say it anyway.

It’s been done before. Not by you. Do it anyway.

It was liberating to me to get clear about two essential truths of creativity. The first is that our perspective, our point of view, our output is derivative of something or someone else. When we experience something that moves us – inspires us – we take it in and allow a transformation to occur. It becomes our own. It can’t work in anyone else precisely the way it works in us. That doesn’t mean it stops being what it was when we first discovered it. It does mean that it has taken a new shape in us given how it bumps up against, gels with and otherwise makes a home inside of our experience.

The second truth is that no one can say it quite like you. I have it heard it said that one way to become a writer, singer, artist, leader or creator of any kind is to start by copying the work of someone you admire. Copy their work as a starting point for the formation of your own. The road to your own expression comes through repetition, habit, experimentation and a willingness to be a beginner. Parroting someone else’s style and form as a way to support the vulnerability of your own exploration can be a scaffolding for your efforts. As your confidence increases so will your ability to let go of the parts that are not authentic to you while you hold onto and continue to shape those parts that are becoming central to your expression.

I vaguely remember a conversation about this with a fellow attendee at a conference some years ago, probably 2007 or 2008. I must have been expressing my aspiration to write and speak along with my doubts about finding my own voice in doing so. I distinctly remember feeling totally capable and totally paralyzed at the same time. Brilliantly and thoughtfully she asked me about reading to my kids before bedtime. She asked if I ever read them “The Cat in the Hat.” Of course I had. She asked if I thought anyone had read it to them quite like me. Of course not.

My ideas about leadership, learning, culture, change and awareness – the ideas and stories I share here, in my talks and in the classroom – are derivative of all whose work has moved me and shaped my thinking. And no can express them quite like me.

With thanks to James Clear for the inspiration to write this.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world, especially the parts where he doesn’t handle it very well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s