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Erik Young on Creativity vs. Natural Inspiration, Stealing in Art, Taking Chances, and Learning from Your Mistakes – Cracking Creativity Episode 91

Erik Young is one of my friends from high school. In this episode we broke from the normal format of the show and talked about our thoughts on creativity, inspiration, the education system, and learning from your mistakes. We also talked about some of the projects he’s worked on including his children’s book and work as owner of 7Mangos.

Here are three things you can learn from Erik:

Being Creative is Different Than Being Naturally Inspired

One of the things that always comes up when I talk to creative people is whether or not we are born creative. Most people who don’t think they are creative will tell you they just don’t have it in them. They think you are born creative, but that’s just not the case.

Erik has one of the best explanations I’ve ever heard about natural born creativity. He believes anyone can be creative. The thing that artists, musicians, and writers have in common is that they are naturally inspired people. And that distinction makes all the difference.

“I think that people confuse being a creative person with being a naturally inspired person and somebody who is an artist or musician… they’ve had that. They’re just naturally inspired people. They can pick up a musical instrument and without a lot of thought, they can just come out with something cool… and they can probably put that into a song that makes people feel a certain emotion or think a certain thing. What a cool medium of artistry and creativity.”

Erik’s time spent in the marketing world helped him see the difference between being creative and being naturally inspired.

“While I wouldn’t say creativity isn’t necessarily the thing mostly at play there, it’s probably that this person has a natural inclination to inspiration. Then what I look at in my experience in digital media… and marketing and working for companies, and things like this, is now I’ve encountered the other type, the professional creative.”

People who work in marketing and digital media are creative, but they develop these ideas through a formalized process. They aren’t naturally inspired, so they have to find different ways to be creative.

“What I hear from that side of the railroad tracks is that listen ‘I can not stay naturally inspired. I just can’t. I’m not going to even try,’ and so what they’ve done is they’ve developed these formalized processes to seeking inspiration. And so it’s not something they expect to come naturally.”

Just because creative professionals use a formalized process for their ideas, that doesn’t mean they aren’t creative. As long as the end result works, the way you get there makes no difference.

“Inspiration, I feel, by creative professionals… they have to out of necessity develop these formalized processes to achieving it. and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s literally the way creative professionals function and continue do their jobs.”

There’s No Shame in Stealing From Other Artists

One of my favorite all time quotes about artists is “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Unless you are an artist yourself, it’s hard to understand why this quote makes so much sense. Stealing in most cases is bad, but when it comes to art, stealing is a necessity.

I am a true believer in the idea that there is no such thing as original art. Every piece of art derives from art and ideas that came before it. That is why we must steal from those we admire.

The one caveat is, you must add your own twist and imagination into the equation. Take ideas from those who came before you, but also inject your own ideas to make the art truly yours.

“There’s no shame in taking something that you really admire, another piece of work, that could even be from the exact same medium as you… and using that to make what you need to make. It’s not theft. You are not any less of an artist by doing that as long as… you are going through this process. And the process is an analyzation of the elements of the thing that you like and then identifying what it is about it that you like and amplifying that and filling in the cracks with just your own imagination. And filling in the cracks on something is way easier and way more fun and that might even be the thing that is truly enjoyable to the person that consumes the creative product, but the genesis of the idea could have been totally “lifted” so to speak.”

The best example of this can be seen in the music world. The Axis of Awesome wrote a wonderful song called the Four Chord Song. In it they show how most of the popular songs you know were all written with the same four chords. Just because you share elements of something with art that came before you, doesn’t mean your work isn’t valid.

“Like in music production… if you really like a song, and you’re like ‘Oh God, I would really like to make a song like this,’ there’s nothing wrong with figuring out, well what is the chord progression in this song, and yeah, I’m gonna use these chords. I’m going to do it note for note, but then I’m going to build a brand new song on top of that.”

Take Chances and Learn from Your Mistakes

The thing that holds most of us back from success is our fear of failure. This fear stops us from experimenting. It stops us from making bold choices. It stops us from moving forward.

That’s why the creative life requires bravery. No matter what happens in your career, at least you know you gave it a shot. Unlike many creative people who complain about their lack of success, you can live without regrets. Even if you end up failing, at least you didn’t hold back.

“There’s no shame in going ahead and trying something and kinda seeing how it goes. I think that’s kind of been at the core of everything that we’ve talked about today, like experimentation. I think that having that creative approach to life, it requires experimentation which requires audacity. It requires, maybe this is self-congratulatory but, it takes a little bit of bravery because you might stink a little bit, and that’s alright because you’re trying. You’re going for it. You’re asking questions and you’re asking why not. Why not this? Why not me? And I salute people that have that approach to life and that’s why I try to do it myself.”

If you never experience failure, you will never learn the valuable lessons it can teach us. Most people don’t succeed because they are better than us. They succeed because they got back up after falling flat. They succeed because they learned from their mistakes. They succeed because they used their experiences to their advantage.

“And that’s really going to be the differentiating point. It’s not even how quickly you improve using that method, but it’s like are you even aware of that method (of improving from mistakes) at all? Are you aware that this one first attempt or this one failure even is invaluable in nature because it might be the blueprint that you need to be successful the next time.”

One thing you should do, whether you succeed or not, is to document everything you do. This documentation is invaluable knowledge, not only for you, but for those who come after you. The greatest gift you can give to the next generation of artists is the knowledge you gained along the way.

“Try and once you go on to the inevitable next step, which is either succeeding or failure or some combination of the two, then just document. Document what the experience was. Pay it forward because that’s what everyone out there is looking for and that’s what’s really cool about the internet is, if you document it, then at some point, someone somewhere might be able to search for it, find it, and learn from it, and maybe they’re going to create the next thing that changes the world in a really good way.”

Shownotes

  • about Erik
    • owns and operates media company 7Mangos
    • used to do educational group travel
      • managed trips of people’s trips
      • doing digital marketing/videos for these sites
  • my own work
    • We Are All Creative book
      • writing the book
      • example of Beatles not coming out of nowhere but following the 10k hour rule (Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers)
      • working on the book in three phrases
  • can anyone be creative?
    • creativity is not just for artists, it’s for everyone
      • ex: business, finance, cooking
    • Carl Rosa
      • trying sushi for the first time
      • tour trips to Japan
    • being dedicated to a mission
    • Jiro Dreams of Sushi
      • dedicating yourself to a craft
    •  Sounds of 7Mangos
    • creativity is a frame of mind/approach to life that is learn-able

34:28 “Creativity isn’t really a binary genetic predisposition. And I think that’s the big misconception among a lot of people that I talk to in life.  Is that they’re either I am or I am not a creative person.  And I think that my general thesis is that… it is not that at all. It’s not that  you are or are not, and that it is simply a frame of mind or really an approach to life rather, that is totally learn-able. And some people have a need to have that approach to life because they work in a creative professional field or they have a desire to have that approach to life. And conversely there are people that have absolutely no desire to approach life that way and they rather just take things as they are. But I think that approach of creativity in life kind of stems from the idea that all things are negotiable. That you can do anything, any way, and that’s sorta interests some people and it doesn’t to some other people.”

  • one right answer in the schooling system
    • Erik’s mantra: “When you’re faced with one way or another, why not both?
      • education system: the one right path to the one right answer
        • in the workforce the opposite is valuable
        • teach kids skill set to arrive at right answer but also challenge students to approach things in different ways
    • add creative approaches to things in the education system
    • emphasis on creativity and subjectivity in higher education
    • the way classes are taught
      • teach the way people learn the best
      • have students teach future students
    • one complaint from teachers everywhere is that there are too many tests

37:50 “Why don’t we teach kids the skill set of all arriving at one answer or one way and then also challenge them in other scenarios. ‘Hey there’s so many other ways that you can approach anything.’ and kind of foster both mindsets and have the ability to kind of switch back and forth between the two because perhaps in life you might need those skill sets to be able to function on a singular path and on a multi-faceted path as well.”

  • apprenticeship model
    • pushing back on the idea that you have to go to college
    • the rise of vocational schools
    • Erik’s friend being a creative person, not an artistic person
    • creativity being a learn-able skill

59:52 “I think that people confuse being a creative person with being a naturally inspired person and somebody who is an artist or musician… they’ve had that. They’re just naturally inspired people. They can pick up a musical instrument and without a lot of thought, they can just come out with something cool… and they can probably put that into a song that makes people feel a certain emotion or think a certain thing. What a cool medium of artistry and creativity.”

1:00:45 “While I wouldn’t say creativity isn’t necessarily the thing mostly at play there, it’s probably that this person has a natural inclination to inspiration. Then what I look at in my experience in digital media… and marketing and working for companies, and things like this, is now I’ve encountered the other type, the professional creative.”

1:01:08 “What I hear from that side of the railroad tracks is that listen ‘I can not stay naturally inspired. I just can’t. I’m not going to even try,’ and so what they’ve done is they’ve developed these formalized processes to seeking inspiration. And so it’s not something they expect to come naturally.”

1:01:58 “Inspiration, I feel, by creative professionals… they have to out of necessity develop these formalized processes to achieving it. and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. That’s literally the way creative professionals function and continue do their jobs.”

  • downsides of naturally inspired
    • have a plan and develop a process for creative ideas
    • there’s no shame in having a process for your creative ideas

1:03:56 “For the person that has  benefited  from natural inspiration their entire lives, they may look down on the person that uses some type of a formalized system.”

1:04:20 “Once you have developed a system to seek things that help to give you ideas to work on projects, then you find that you might actually achieving natural inspiration more easily. So one thing can kind of lead to the other.”

  • creative process
    • looking outside of your own creative industry
    • ex: creativity of chefs
      • preparation for meals and preparation for your own project
    • look at the mastery level of any field and incorporate that into your own work
    • Quentin Tarantino mixing and matching scenes shot for shot from many other different movies
    • good enough to steal book
      • what do you do when your profession requires inspiration?
    • rap as one of the most prevalent examples of using other artists’ works
      • sampling in songs
      • Kanye West as a master sampler

1:08:54 “There’s no shame in taking something that you really admire, another piece of work, that could even be from the exact same medium as you… and using that to make what you need to make. It’s not theft. You are not any less of an artist by doing that as long as… you are going through this process. And the process is an analyzation of the elements of the thing that you like and then identifying what it is about it that you like and amplifying that and filling in the cracks with just your own imagination. And filling in the cracks on something is way easier and way more fun and that might even  be the thing that is truly enjoyable to the person that consumes the creative product, but the genesis of the idea could have been totally “lifted” so to speak.”

1:09:59 “Like in music production… if you really like a song, and you’re like ‘Oh God, I would really like to make a song like this,’ there’s nothing wrong with figuring out, well what is the chord progression in this song, and yeah, I’m gonna use these chords. I’m going to do it note for note, but then I’m going to build a brand new song on top of that.”

  • copyright infringement and creativity
    • Blurred Lines – Marvin Gaye’s family thought the song was too familiar
      • started important conversation about creativity
      • criminality and the creative process
    • all pop songs use the same chords
    • there are very few people who intentionally steal for profit
    • writing his own music and wondering if he came up with it himself or took it from somewhere else

1:13:07 “Where is the differentiating point of something that is stolen versus something that is inspired?”

1:18:26 “To me it all comes down to the intent, and I think as long as we are all intentionally trying to seek inspiration through legitimate processes and attempting to create our own thing and a new piece of art moving forward, then it’s all good.”

  • other creative things he does
    • wrote a children’s book with his wife
      • realizing his book wasn’t very good
      • he could tell it was a first attempt
      • turning the book into a Youtube video because his brand is videos
      • Santa’s Elves Go to Florida
  • your work isn’t going to be perfect when you start out
    • learning from different experiences
    • brother is successful podcaster and Patreon user
      • releasing tabletop card game The Contender
        • like Cards Against Humanity but making political points
      • also released 12 part podcast series on why the project failed
        • used publicity from failure to release new card game

1:26:49 “There’s no shame in going ahead and trying something and kinda seeing how it goes. I think that’s kind of been at the core of everything that we’ve talked about today, like experimentation. I think that having that creative approach to life, it requires experimentation which requires audacity. It requires, maybe this is self-congratulatory but, it takes a little bit of bravery because you might stink a little bit, and that’s alright because you’re trying. You’re going for it. You’re asking questions and you’re asking why not. Why not this? Why not me? And I salute people that have that approach to life and that’s why I try to do it myself.”

1:27:55 “And that’s really going to be the differentiating point. It’s not even how quickly you improve using that method, but it’s like are you even aware of that method (of improving from mistakes) at all? Are you aware that this one first attempt or this one failure even is invaluable in nature because it might be the blueprint that you need to be successful the next time.”

1:32:13 “Try and once you go on to the inevitable next step, which is either succeeding or failure or some combination of the two, then just document. Document what the experience was. Pay it forward because that’s what everyone out there is looking for and that’s what’s really cool about the internet is, if you document it, then at some point, someone somewhere might be able to search for it, find it, and learn from it, and maybe they’re going to create the next thing that changes the world in a really good way.”

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