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Weekly 3: Learning from your heroes


Idea Journal Weekly 3

June 30 · Issue #93 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Stare at who you want to become. Amplify your differences. Acknowledge the limits of hero worship. (~5 min read)

#1. What would your future self do?
Author Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent that if you were to visit what he calls “talent hotbeds,” you would be struck by how much time the learners spend observing top performers.
Not passively watching, but actively staring – “the kind of raw, unblinking, intensely absorbed gazes you see in hungry cats or newborn babies.”
Coyle writes that we each live with a “windshield” of people in front of us, and a key source of motivation is to fill your windshield with images of your role models and your future self.
As Coyle points out, even a brief or indirect connection to a role model can vastly increase a person’s motivation. 
For example, in 1997 there were no South Korean golfers on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LGPA) Tour, and now there are dozens.
What happened?
One golfer, Se Ri Pak, won two major tournaments in 1998, and through her, “hundreds of South Korean girls were ignited by a new vision of their future selves.”
As the South Korean golfer Christina Kim later put it: “You say to yourself, ‘If she can do it, why can’t I?’”
#2. How are you different from your heroes?
Artist and author Austin Kleon writes in his book Steal Like an Artist that it’s important to study and imitate your heroes as you develop your own skills. 
But a convenient flaw of human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies: “Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives.”
For Kleon, a key part of identifying and developing your unique talents is imitating your heroes, examining where you fall short, then amplifying and transforming the difference into your own work.
He offers the following examples: 
Basketball player Kobe Bryant has acknowledged that all of his moves were stolen from watching tapes of his heroes. As Bryant puts it, “There isn’t a move that’s a new move.”
But when Bryant initially stole a lot of the moves, he realized he couldn’t replicate them exactly because he didn’t have the same body type. He had to adapt the moves and make them his own.
Conan O’Brien has acknowledged the same phenomenon among fellow comedians. Johnny Carson tried to be Jack Benny, but ended up as Johnny Carson. David Letterman tried to copy Johnny Carson, but ended up as David Letterman. And O’Brien himself tried to emulate David Letterman, but ended up as a different and better version of Conan O’Brien.
As O'Brien observes, each case shares a common lesson: “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”
#3. Don't let the weight of your hero's influence crush your inspiration
In his book The Accidental Creative, author Todd Henry writes that although it’s important to be willing to learn from your heroes, you should ensure that their influence doesn’t cause you to condemn your own abilities.
Henry calls this tendency “expectation escalation”: as our perceived expectations escalate, we can become paralyzed by the thought of not measuring up. If we don’t see our work stacking up to that of our heroes, we may be less inclined to spend the necessary time improving it.
But as Henry points out, this perspective “ignores the reality that all brilliant executions began as infant ideas and had to be tweaked and developed.”
He notes that expectation escalation is a particular problem in the design world. Many designers and creative directors feel constant pressure to match the work they see on the covers of industry magazines. Some companies will cut these pieces out and hang them on the walls as a form of inspiration, but these displays can sometimes have the effect of feeling like your parents asking you, Why can’t you be more like your older brother?
Henry cites the violinist Stephen Nachmanovitch: “It’s great to sit on the shoulders of giants, but don’t let the giants sit on your shoulders. There’s no room for their legs to dangle!”
Quote of the Week
“Invention, using the term most broadly, and imitation, are the two legs, so to call them, on which the human race historically has walked.”
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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