Innovate, not imitate.
That’s the key to success – in business, art, and life.
Creativity can be sparked by imitation when one is learning something new, like a technique or how to use a new material. Imitation is a valid part of the learning process. However, creativity is ultimately muted by extended imitation – if one keeps walking the same well-trod ground, new vistas can never be obtained.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” – Oscar Wilde
Often we are told that someone who copies our efforts is paying us a compliment. That is all well and good until that person tries to make bank from our hard-won creative successes. However, you have to keep in mind a few things when you are on the receiving end of these sorts of “compliments”:
- Generally, people who copy your work lack their own ideas. They will only ever get so far.
- You are an Innovator. All growth in a field multiplies exponentially from the successes of a few. Your innovations can become building blocks for those who follow you, just as you have learned from the example of those who went before.
- Being forced to keep up your innovative spirit will keep you fresh. It’s a bum deal that someone else might profit from your hard work, but it hones that creative edge pretty well.
- There’s little in life that’s truly new. And innovations often happen in waves – several people in different areas may come up with and release the same sorts of creations concurrently. Learning to roll with it will help you sleep better at night.
So… what do you do when you feel like your creations might be coming too close to a colleague’s work?
This is when you become the Innovator.
Here’s how I try to keep fresh. First, I take an honest look at my work, and consider these questions:
- Is this a technique that is considered a standard in my field? [coilspinning, plaid weave, brioche, etc] Am I using it in a “traditional” way? Am I being innovative?
- If I am being innovative, is this something I saw somewhere else? Does it feel familiar?
- If I’m using a technique/style I learned directly from someone else, did I explore it fully, putting my own spin on it, before I used it in a piece that will be released to the public? [inspiration over imitation]
- Does this feel *good* and *right* in my gut?
If you’re not sure, it never hurts to talk to a mentor, a colleague, or a teacher for advice. Integrity is everything! You can absolutely copy an artist to learn from their work – it is what you do with that knowledge afterwards that matters. We are all always learning from each other. Let’s take those lessons and work toward paving our own paths to original outcomes. Let’s grow together!
Want to join me in pursuing innovation? Take the pledge [and steal my badge if you like!] I’d love it if you’d post below and share about your experiences in dealing with imitation, from others or yourself.