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.

Seth Godin explains real creativity

When it comes to creative marketing, there is one man who stands out from the rest; he has written countless bestselling books, talked in front of the world’s fastest growing business (Google), and has even presented at one of the world’s greatest thinking conferences (TED). Of course I’m talking about Seth Godin.

On his world-famous, top-ranking blog, Seth Godin talks about business marketing, insider tips, and other creative insights into the world of advertising, but Seth also once posted about “real creativity”, what it is, and where it comes from. Here’s what Seth had to say about real creativity:

…Real business creativity comes from boundaries.

Inventing something cool that can’t be implemented isn’t creative. It’s mostly a waste. I think that inventing the unimplementable [sic] is a fine hobby, but it’s also a bit of a crutch. Yes, of course we need big visions and big ideas, but not at the expense of the stuff you can actually pull off. …If you’ve decided you want to create a breakthrough in your area of expertise (say …coding), then either be prepared to launch and run it when you’re done, or have a clear licensing strategy in mind, one where you’re not the first person in history to pull it off.

If you’ve decided to invent a great idea for a book, better be ready to write it too, and either find a publisher or publish it yourself. There’s no market for book ideas.

If you want to do creative ads, it helps to have clients willing to run them.

These constraints are the best part of being creative, as far as I’m concerned. I couldn’t imagine writing Superman comics. The rules are too vague. There are too many choices. In non-profits and organizations and even in politics, the rules are pretty obvious (sometimes they’re too obvious). So the real creativity comes in navigating those rules in a way that creates a breakthrough. …See the rules. Keep most of them. Break one or two. But break them, don’t bend them.

Real creativity comes into play when you accept that there are boundaries, you move around them (or completely break a few of them), and you find ways to implement your ideas. Any idea that sits in your thoughts or on a piece of paper is not as valuable as an idea that is implemented.

Constantly flowing creativity

Walter Russel, originator of the term ‘New Age’, was a very enlightened person when it came to creativity. 

Russel’s creativity grew into genius when he began to recognize what made other creative people into geniuses: the ability to generate a great amount of ideas.

Russel learned that all successful, creative geniuses try to produce a waterfall of ideas and work that is constantly flowing, rather than a leaky faucet of ideas which is turned off from time to time.

As Russel once said:

Every successful man [or woman] or great genius has three particular qualities in common. The most conspicuous of these is that they all produce a prodigious amount of work. The second is that they never know fatigue. And the third is that their minds grow more brilliant as they grow older, instead of less brilliant. Great men’s lives begin at forty, where the mediocre man’s life ends. The genius remains an ever-flowing fountain of creative achievement until the very last breath he draws.

Try not to take this quote the wrong way. Russel wasn’t trying to say that creative geniuses have constantly flowing creativity naturally, but instead Russel is saying that true creative geniuses produce ideas constantly out of habit… whether or not the ideas are great, successful, mediocre, crummy, or just downright stupid, creative geniuses produce idea after idea after idea.

Eventually your creativity will get use to producing ideas, to the point where you may not have to try anymore - thus becoming a creative genius. And the more ideas you come up with, the more likely you are to find a truly remarkable one.