What does it take to be truly innovative? To create a one of a kind perspective, product, or story. Moreover, how do we make that innovation thrive and withstand the ever-evolving winds of change that sweep us to and fro without a moment’s notice?
And where, oh where, do we find all this mental stamina to stay ahead?
One of the most compelling quotes, which has consistently influenced my life both in professional and personal arenas, is attributed to the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats, “A poet who writes more than he reads is no poet.” This was likely a rejoinder to the prevailing Irish culture to engage in poetry, with apparent varying degrees of skill.
Wait a second. So you’re telling me that to be truly new and exciting I have to read what other people think?! Won’t that cramp my own inner genius? If I want to be a poet, shouldn’t I be off communing with the woods, or even better, lock myself in a basement in Brooklyn with nothing but the cadence of my own voice and roaches for company? How can I learn the technique and styles of others without my individuality becoming an echo?
Well, ladies and gentlemen this is what I’m here to share with you today. The continuing practice of gleaning and growing in knowledge is the key to creative and successful production.
In my early 20’s, I applied this concept to songwriting. And the only reason the music of some self-taught songwriter like myself received even a modicum of success was because I spent every free moment of my youth listening to the music of others. From Pink Floyd to Bocelli to Chasidic melodies. The mere act of listening changed the way my brain thought. I began to understand how to create tonalities, rhythm, and verse. I developed a “musical mind.”
All that music, which had been stored up inside me for years, was improving my ability to produce music of my own—without sounding like someone else. And after I left music for business (more about that next time), I began to read.
I read a lot. Every morning, I set aside at least one hour to everything from biographies, self-help, psychology, business books, and my all time favorite: headline binging on the latest and greatest in technology. The key is to be receptive. To open yourself to new—and even “old”—concepts and experiences.
In the 1950’s, American journalist and author, Hunter S. Thompson, typed up, word for word, both “The Great Gatsby” and “A Farewell to Arms” in their entirety. Why? Didn’t he have anything better to do?
While most of us might not consider spending our free time re-writing “The Great American Novel,” Thompson was clearly onto something. He wanted to know what it felt like. Like a musician learning Chopin or covering the Beatles, he completely immersed himself in their styles to grow as a writer himself.
In doing so, we access different perspectives, learning how others engaged risk and perhaps even more importantly, which questions they asked of themselves and of the world. By ever expanding our pool of knowledge, we build a set of armor—emotional and mental armor—so that when we find ourselves in a similar situation we are equipped with the tools we need to make the best decision.
By keeping the following in mind.
We must understand what has happened before us. How others avoided mistakes and dealt with mistakes—in different times, different places, and different scenarios. We may not be able to meet these courageous individuals, but we can live inside their head in the minutes and hours we spend reading their books.
In so doing, we finally synthesize the creativity and mental stamina to rise.
Gary Vaynerchuk famously stated, “I don’t consume content.” For us viewers hearing this, it can be an unhealthy attitude to adopt. Vaynerchuk is unique in that he possesses years of success, knowledge, and experience that got him to where he is now. But even if you do reach that level of success, I hope that you, dear reader, will still be hungry for new thoughts and ideas. Because when we stop learning, we can only repeat what we already know.
The secret is to stay curious. To cultivate a consistent habit for seeking knowledge that will not only help us grow as human beings, but will also make us more inventive and prolific in all aspects of life.
Thousands of years ago, before you, before printing presses and e-books, an ancient biblical king once said: “There is nothing new under the sun.” No matter the developments, the trends, the iPhones and Game of Thrones, we are all essentially the same. There has always been someone who has stood where you stand today.
You just have to absorb the sounds of the universe to find them.