Why you should avoid quotes for inspiration (most of the time)

“Often be wary of quoting someone else’s ideas if you do not have ideas of your own worth quoting.” – Tanner Christensen

You’ll find that even some of the greatest thinkers of our time will often quote somebody else’s words.

Why are these brilliant men and women using other people’s words to summarize or promote their own ideas? To quote the incredible writer Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” If these thinkers – Seth Godin, Steve Jobs, Malcolm Gladwell, Vint Cerf, Michael Michalko, and plenty others – are as genius as we must be led to believe, can’t they each find their own words to state what needs to be stated?

Well – and this is the part you came for – yes and no.

Quoting others can, in the more useful sense, provide validity to a point, among other things. If I’m a scholar and I want my audience to give me their trust first-hand I can relate my teachings to the knowledge of a former genius of philosophy, for example.

Quotes, it turns out, are a great way to enforce trust quickly in those around you or to whom you are writing, or speaking, or teaching.

But looking for quotations as a source of creative inspiration? That’s where trouble starts. If you are simply looking for quotes in order to feel wise or for the sole purpose of having something that validates your ideas, then you’re already off to a bad start.

Seek to understand the quotes you are reading from time-to-time and you’ll be better off. Further, still: don’t quote anything you haven’t deeply thought about or understand yourself. You may find that you not only learn something, but also that you have your own words that can speak a phrase much better than anyone has before you.

You can quote me on that.