Forget originality.^500 The term is garbage.^500 Ideas are not original.^600
Ideas are made from stuff.^700 They are made from every little
thing you have ever put inside your head.^800
This book is about the people who put stuff inside their head.^700
I call them consumers.^700 They devour old films,^100
new films,^100 music,^100 books,^100 random conversations...^1000
First they consume^300 and then they steal what they have consumed.^1200
In writing this book I have practised this philosophy. ^800
I have drawn consciously and unconsciously from one million
outside sources.^1100 My ideas are nothing more than a new
combination of old elements.^1100 I have highlighted the text I
have stolen to demonstrate this principle.^800
Appreciate how heavily we are influenced by what we consume.^800
If any author was totally honest their work would look like this.
Forget originality. The term is garbage. Ideas are not original.
Ideas are made from stuff. They are made from every little
thing you have ever put inside your head.
This book is about the people who put stuff inside their head.
I call them consumers. They devour old films,
new films, music, books, random conversations...
First they consume and then they steal what they have consumed.
In writing this book I have practised this philosophy.
I have drawn consciously and unconsciously from one million
outside sources. My ideas are nothing more than a new
combination of old elements. I have highlighted the text I
have stolen to demonstrate this principle.
Appreciate how heavily we are influenced by what we consume.
If any author was totally honest their work would look like this.
The consumers’ philosophy is simple: if you want to increase the
quality of your work – your output – you must increase the level
of your inputs. Your input is knowledge. The more pieces of
knowledge you have at your disposal, the greater the opportunity
for explosive connections and the better ideas you will create.
It is that simple.
Knowledge can come from information. It is what you learn from
books, blogs, documentaries, films, radio, podcasts.
Knowledge can also come from experiences. This type of
knowledge can’t be read about in a book. You have to discover
it for yourself. It is as simple as watching the sun come up in the
morning or asking the cashier about their day or volunteering for
First you choose what to consume and then you consume it
properly. This is how you populate your mind with valuable
pieces of knowledge.
And that is is all that creativity is: populating your mind with
valuable pieces of knowledge which rotate, invert, evolve, and
finally combine to produce new ideas.
There is no shortcut. Ideas do not magically pop into your head.
You have to put them there. You construct them block by block,
chunk by chunk, using all the information and experiences that
you have taken in. The process is just as definite as the production
of Ford cars on an assembly line.
Everyone takes in information and experiences. It is impossible not
to. But it is the type of information and experiences that you take in
that differentiates the consumers.
Frank is twenty years old. He drives to work every morning, Capital
FM playing. Work starts and Frank attends a few meetings before
firing off some emails. Lunch break hits and he checks Facebook.
Frank reads about his 271 friends: what parties they are attending,
where they went on their last holiday, their views on the latest
election. Frank arrives back from work, turns on the T.V. and
watches a re-run of Top Gear. Gordon Ramsay is the star in the
reasonably priced car. Ramsay talks about his latest series of
‘Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares’ and has some banter with Jeremy
Clarkson about women drivers. He goes round the track in one
minute fifty-four seconds. The crowd applauds.
Next day, during lunch, Frank has a conversation about last night’s
Top Gear episode. The same people say the same things. Frank
makes a joke about Clarkson being ‘the blokes’ bloke’. The joke
has been told before. But it still gets a good reception.
The days are long, but the years are short. One morning, Frank
wakes up and he has turned sixty. Forty years hitting him in one
big birthday. Frank blows out some candles. Happy 60th.
How you spend each day is how you spend your life.
What you consume in this hour and then the next is what your
mind ends up being made from.
I am urging you to do stuff. If you do stuff, you fill your mind with
stuff. And that is what ideas are made from.
Day in and day out the best consumers are doing stuff. They are
consuming more useful information and experiences. They have
a greater quality and quantity of knowledge in their minds and so
they can make more explosive connections.
They aren’t more creative. They produce great work because they
have consumed great work.
The hen lays just one egg each day. And the rest of the time, she
goes around and she feeds on things that fuel the next egg.
Do not crowd your day with excessive labour. Go out into the
world and gather your raw materials.
Let your curiosity guide you. Let it take you down alley after alley
regardless of whether they appear blind or not. Be intrigued by
cloud formation, by hieroglyphics, by the rules of badminton. Pile
up information, both specific and miscellaneous. And one day it
will return to you tenfold.
The things that you put inside your head are like lego blocks. If
you are trying to build with just with one shape and one colour
your creations will always be limited. The more blocks you
have and the more diverse their shapes and colours, the more
interesting castles you can build.
The more information you consume, the more knowledge you will
possess, and the greater scope you will have for arriving at striking
combinations. And that is all creativity is: combining seemingly
unrelated pieces of knowledge to form a new concept.
Everything is a remix. Being a consumer is just making sure you
know all the best tracks so your remix sounds good. You are only
as good as your record collection.
If you are just a consumer of information, there is nothing you can
tell anyone that can’t be read in a book.
If I asked you about art you would give me the skinny on every art
book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s
work, political aspiration, him and the Pope, sexual orientation, the
whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like
in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked
up at that beautiful ceiling.
If I asked you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me,
right? ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends.’ But you’ve never
been near one.
You couldn’t tell me what it feels like, you could only tell me what
Shakespeare has told you it feels like.
On the 23rd June 1916 Wilfred Owen was struck by trench mortar.
For three days he was left, unconscious on an embankment,
lying amongst the remains of one of his fellow officers. Shortly
afterwards Owen was diagnosed with Shell Shock and sent to
Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh where he began to
write about his experiences.
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Owen’s poetry was not particularly original. His style was heavily
influenced by his mentor Siegfried Sasoon.
But originality is non-existent. It is authenticity which is
invaluable. And Owen’s words were authentic.
He was telling you what he had seen and heard rather than
regurgitating what some old war poet had seen or heard.
The experiences you consume do not have to be as remarkable as
fighting in a world war.
Iron some clothes. Walk the dog. Write a letter.
Talk to someone on the bus.
Sign up for a open-mic stand up spot at The Pig & Whistle. Jump
up on the stage and tell some jokes.
The best experiences see you throw yourself into the current,
knowing that you may sink. The great majority lower themselves
into the current with life-preservers around their necks, unaware
that more often than not it is the life-preserver which sinks them.
Go get yourself some roller skates and join your local roller derby.
The artist was sitting on a park bench and a lady came up to him
and asked him to sketch a portrait. After studying her for a moment
the artist used a single pencil stroke and handed the artwork to the
woman a few seconds later.
“It’s beautiful,” exclaimed the lady. “You have captured my whole
essence in just one stroke. Thank you.”
The lady got out her wallet and asked the artist how much it would
cost to buy the painting.
“10000 lira!” he exclaimed.
“But it only took you a few seconds,” argued the lady.
The artist smiled, and responded, “No, Madame, it took me my
The author woke up suddenly. More benzedrine, cigarettes, bowls of
pea soup and mugs of coffee to keep him going. He began telling his
story. Seven thousand words. Flat out. Then another seven thousand.
And then another. Three weeks later his book was finished.
The literary critics began circling. They were a calculative group
who would deliberate over every adverb, craft every simile, and
tear up draft after draft until they thought their work was perfect.
And so when they heard about this book that had been written in
just three weeks they dismissed it. They said that the author ‘could
not be a writer at all, but just a typer’.
The author tried to explain that he didn’t feel like he had really
written the book at all, just that he saw a few things and then it all
became quite obvious. That he could better connect experiences
and synthesise new thoughts simply because he had had more
experiences and thought about them more. The author explained
that he could write fast because life on the road was fast.
But the literary critics didn’t understand what he meant. They
didn’t understand the value of diverse experiences. No matter how
long they slaved away behind their typewriters they would never
have enough interesting dots to connect together and write about.
The author was on the road for seven years before he wrote his
book. He had experienced what it was like to live. That’s why he
wrote one of the most influential books of all time. The literary
critics spent those seven years behind a typewriter, bleeding out the
words for their reviews drop by drop.
They tried to write before they had lived.That’s why they would
only ever write about one of the most influential books of all time.
It was late in the day and still very hot. A long afternoon of
speeches, song and prayer, and finally the orator stepped up to
the lectern, ready to address the 250,000 people who had gathered
outside the Lincoln Memorial.
He began slowly, reminding the audience of the Declaration of
Independence, before condeming the state of race relations. The
crowd listened attentively.
Suddenly, during the seventh paragraph of his speech, something
incredible began to happen. The orator paused and pushed the
remarks he had prepared to one side. He started launching into
sentences blindly, not knowing how he would finish them.
He started talking about his dream.
And how can it be that the greatest speech ever written was not
‘ever written’ at all?
But it is true. The orator makes the second half of his speech up in
He makes it up in the moment and in every experience he has
consumed along the way. Every time he was forced to stand up on
the bus to make way for the white man, every week he spent in jail
through standing up for his beliefs, every letter he ever wrote to
his African American civil rights brothers and sisters, every night
he stayed up late twisting words together on hotel napkins, and
every morning he got up early to deliver these same words to
The orator makes his speech up in the moment and he also makes it
up from every piece of information and every experience that has
ever travelled through his mind.
And yet when people talk of the artist, the author and the orator
they tell a slightly different story. They like to talk about three
geniuses. Three naturals who were placed on this earth to show
off their gift.
They prefer this story because it gives them an alibi. They
convince themselves that only a chosen few are marked out for
greatness. And this becomes their excuse. Their reason not to try.
But look one step beyond ‘genius’. Think of the author who spent
night after night analysing Shakespeare or the orator who covered
every mile of America to protest about segregation laws. And it is
clear that there is a far more basic similarity that ties together the
greatest producers of all time.
They are also the greatest consumers of all time.
The dots connect perfectly and you finally see it. Michelangelo saw
David, J. K. Rowling saw Harry Potter, Orvill and Wilbur Wright
saw a flying machine.
When the dots connect perfectly, what you see is the result of years
and years of knowledge accumulation. It is called your ‘eureka
moment’ but it has taken a lifetime to construct. Day by day, hour
by hour, you are unconsciously laying the foundations through the
type of information and experiences which you choose to consume.
That is my message.
Be a consumer. Take in information and experiences. Trust that the
the sum of knowledge inside your head will work everything out.
You will see your David, your Harry Potter, your flying machine.
And whatever you see, it is possible for you to create.
Your mind will never give you the idea without also giving you the
power to execute it.
Are you kidding me?
No, I’m not kidding you sport. That’s why I’m not talking about
some idea for a book I had twenty years ago and how I always
regretted not following through and writing it.
I used to drop in on extra classes for the fun of it. There was this
calligraphy class which I was fascinated by. It didn’t have a hope
of any practical application in my life but I would go every week
and learn about serif and sans-serif typefaces, different letter
spacing, proportionally spaced fonts. Ten years later when we were
designing the first Macintosh computer it all came back to me. And
we designed it all into the Mac.
Mum knitted me a special suit and we drove down to the Yuk
Yuk Club in Toronto which was a sort of open-mic stand up
comedy night. They called my name and I walked up to the stage,
feeling pretty nervous, I was just fourteen at the time. I tried a few
impressions and before I knew it the audience were booing and the
manager pulled me off.
All my friends said they wanted to be writers but I don’t think
they really wanted to be writers. They would spend all their time
talking and talking about these big ideas but nothing actually ever
happened. They never wrote more than a few chapters.
And I think that was something I did right. I would always be
writing. Even when I had nothing to write about I would sit behind
this old typewriter and re-type all of the old classics. I started with
The Great Gatsby which took about four solid days. From cover
to cover. And then A Farewell to Arms. And then some Norman
Mailer. This went on for a few years. I needed to know what it felt
like to write a masterpiece.
I used to visit churches a lot, for the history and to look at the
designs and architecture. Often they’d be locked but there would
be a sign saying which house to knock on to get the key. It always
seemed like too much effort so we just ended up walking back
home. Then I asked myself why I could never be bothered, and I
didn’t really know.
So this one time I read the sign and it said that the key was in a
house about half a mile down the road so I headed for it. It turns
out that the people had moved and the key wasn’t there so I
couldn’t get inside the church. But that’s not the point.
Everything is contained in the details, the small victories, the actions
of the everyday.
It is impossible to just ‘be’ anything.
You can’t just ‘be’ one of the greatest innovators of all time. But you
can drop in on an extra calligraphy class every day before college.
You can’t just ‘be’ one of the greatest movie stars of all time. But
you can walk into the Yuk Yuk club as a fifteen year old boy and
embarrass yourself performing stand up comedy.
You can’t just ‘be’ one of the greatest authors of all time. But you can
spend your weekend copying out The Great Gatsby word by word.
You can’t just ‘be’ anything. You can only do things.
My friends often ask me why am I bothering to write a book, why
am I bothering to learn web development, why am I bothering
starting my own business? I tell them that Steve Jobs did these sorts
of things. And they tell me that I’m not Steve Jobs.
Sometimes, when I’m questioning myself, I like to imagine what
Steve Jobs would have been like at twenty-one years old. I have
this vision of him ignoring the herd, pulling apart electronics in the
family garage, dropping in on extra calligraphy classes for the sake
of it. And his friends are asking him, ‘Why are you bothering with
all this stuff, Steve?’ And Steve tells his friends that Henry Ford
would do these sorts of things. And his friends would tell him, ‘But
Steve, you’re not Henry Ford.’
Genius is the product of the hopes and longings of ordinary
people. Destiny is a load of rubbish. Steve Jobs didn’t just
‘become’ the greatest. And neither did Henry Ford. They woke
up everyday, walked half a mile further than everyone else and
fetched the key to the church.