How we choose to pay attention, and relate to information and each other shapes who we become, shapes our creative destiny and, in turn, shapes our experience of the world.
Maria Popova, Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity
Knowing and honouring our creative influences is how we connect with our legacy and passions and take them forward. A key theme in my ebook ‘36 Books that Shaped my Story‘ is an exploration of how creative influences shape us, our world and our own creations.
’36 Books’ goes through a personal journey of reviewing the books that have impacted me over the chronology of my life. I selected key books of influence and ordered them into a sequence. Then I revisited each book and honoured its wisdom and learning, reflecting on the narrative as it unfolded in my life.
The creative influence of what we love
I’ve always been acutely aware of creative influence and how each book I read makes some kind of impact on me. Perhaps it’s my INTJ personality and that mix of Introverted Intuition and Extraverted Thinking; or maybe it’s my language and literature background. But from a young age, I’ve always read deeply, kept notes and chronicled influences – whether it be music, the written word, images or art. Many of us seek ways to capture what influences us, what speaks to us, what leaves a lasting impression in ways that make sense for us.
Think of the musicians or writers, books or songs, that we love. Why of all the musicians and writers do some speak to us so directly and passionately? Why does Daphne Du Maurier – her books, where she lived, everything about her – capture my heart so much? When I hear The Cure’s ‘A Forest’, why do I get all shivery each time I even though I’ve listened to it many times? Why do I cry every time I hear ‘What a Wonderful World’? And why does the song, ‘Witchita Lineman’ do things to the top of my head that I can’t even explain?
And visually, why do artist Edward Hopper’s austere landscapes and solitary figures connect with me so intensely? Why do I feel like I exactly understand ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch? And why does the light in Ansel Adam’s photographs bring me tears?
I guess you could say I’m just sensitive. But all of us have had that feeling of reading, listening, seeing and engaging with all of our senses, witnessing something deep, visceral and connected with an artist, writer or place. Those influences stay with us and they gather, coalesce and merge into something unique within us, connecting with other aspects of our personality and passions.
In her fabulous Creative Mornings talk, Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity, Maria Popova explores the notion of creativity as a combination of influences. This is something I’ve long felt and honoured. So it was beautiful to read Popova’s piece articulating this and curating her own influences and thoughts on this concept.
Popova introduces us to the idea of florilegium, from the 14th century. These were:
compilations of excerpts from other writings, essentially mashing up selected passages and connecting dots from existing texts to illuminate a specific topic or doctrine or idea. The word comes from the Latin for “flower” and “gather.”
Popova provides examples of where knowledge or skill in one sphere influenced and sharpened another. For example, novelist Vladimir Nabokov was a butterfly collector which he believed helped with creating detail and precision in his writing.
There are a few concepts tied up in this idea of combinatorial creativity. One is that different areas of knowledge and influence can come together to impact on each other in new ways. Another is that nothing is completely new from the ground up, but more a consequence of influences coming together and how we integrate or collate them in our unique way. And a third is that all that connected knowledge and skill creates a body of mastery we can call on to connect the dots further into new creations.
Books, narrative and story connections
I explore this concept in my ‘36 Books‘ analysis of the books that have impacted me and my narrative:
And story is the shape the words make – the narrative we weave through the body of work that we create through career, our creative endeavours and our passions. This story is unique – no one has read the same books as you in the same way; no one has the same life experiences as you; and you are the only one to combine your passions and experiences in the way that you do.
I focus on books in my exploration but that becomes a filter of so much more. The books we choose to read at any time, their influence on us, the ones that make a huge personal impact and the interaction of this with our context and story, all play critical roles. It’s fascinating to step back and reflect on the books that really moved you and why; the ones you keep close by and why they are always there.
Sage Cohen, whose essay ‘Honor Your Lineage’ in ‘Fierce on the Page‘ ignited my ’36 Books’ journey, talks about books as teachers. Just as special teachers and mentors in our lives impact on us and leave a legacy we take forward, so books are special teachers whose messages we need to honour.
How do you honour your influences?
So how do you honour your influences? I am a big believer in acknowledging my influences and the impact of others on me. I think it’s important to take the time to acknowledge who has influenced and helped you.
’36 Books’ is a deep analysis of this around the books that have shaped my story. This is something I did also on the post My Seven Stars many years ago which thanked the role models who started me on this journey. It was a feature also of my welcome post when I relaunched my blog as Quiet Writing nearly a year ago. My regular Creative and Connected series here acknowledges the influence of what I’ve listened to and read as well as engaged in via social media. It’s a deep value of mine to acknowledge your influences and their inspiration.
I also believe strongly in acknowledging other’s work you are referring to, drawing from or weaving into your own. Perhaps it’s my academic background with all those essays and bibliographies and references annotated. Though in the workplace too, I would always acknowledge the contribution and influence of others. I’d talk about the outcomes of projects as the collation of the team’s influence as much as any leadership on my part. Such is my antenna about valuing influence.
Tips for knowing, honouring and acknowledging your influences
So here are a few practical tips for knowing, honouring and acknowledging your influences:
1 Take the time to identify your influences:
- Pull the books off the shelves that are special influences, collect them and find ways to honour them by writing about them, connecting their messages and spending time listening to what they have brought to you.
- Collect influences from different genres in your life (music, books, movies) and see how they connect to identify the common themes in your life.
- Identify the people (eg famous figures, online connections, teachers, family, friends) who have had the most influence on you. Think about the impact and why it was important.
2 Thank your influencers:
- Publicly or privately (or both), take the time to acknowledge and thank the people who have influenced you for their contribution to your journey.
- We don’t always know when we are having an influence. Taking the time to tell others of their impact can be something that buoys their creativity for their next effort. It gives strength to their work and channels more energy for their contribution.
- Sometimes we might not be able to thank people directly. But show gratitude for their work in some way such as acknowledging sources in a written piece. This allows others to learn from them and integrate it into their own creative journey.
3 Acknowledge influence and the source of ideas in your own work
- If you quote someone else’s words or reference someone else’s thoughts, make sure it’s properly and correctly attributed.
- Don’t claim others work as your own. Honour the creator by quoting and attributing their words correctly.
- Don’t be afraid to mention who has influenced you because it’s all part of that rich combination of ideas and dots that brings new connections to life.
4 Wear your influences with pride and originality
- Boy George was a judge on the ‘The Voice’ television program in Australia recently. He said to one of the contestants after their performance: “You need to wear your influences – they make you who you are.” As you connect the dots of your influences in new ways, wear them in ways only you can to create your unique work in the world.
- Just as we can dress creatively, putting together different styles like modern and vintage, wear your unique influences confidently and proudly. Make your own Style Statement.
- Look for connections, common themes and even the tension of opposites as sources of creativity. In this way, you can create your personal signature in how you work and present yourself.
5. Work through jealousy and envy
- A huge killer of combinatorial creativity is feeling jealous about the work of others that draws from similar influences. You have a great idea and then you see someone doing a very similar thing. You can feel gutted and overcome with envy.
- Work through this so your unique perspective is not lost. You might have very similar sets of passions and influences to someone else. But the way they are blended with your unique personality and experiences will always be individual. So find your own way and have confidence in your unique remix and personal style.
- You could connect with the person and celebrate their strengths. You could share their work, see how you can work together and find new ways to co-create from these shared influences. Acknowledge the envy and work from a sense of abundance, not limited thinking.
Have the courage to do your own work
At the end of the day, we also need to have the courage to do our own work. The best way we can take all those antecedents and influences forward is to honour them in new creations. Finding ways to identify our special perspective, our niche, our unique way of working is a creative act all of its own.
As Steven Pressfield reminds us in The War of Art:
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
Sign up + get your copy of ’36 Books that Shaped my Story: Reading as Creative Influence’
Just pop your email in the box to the right or below and ’36 Books’ will be with you soon! It’s a 94-page reflection on the creative influence of what we read. It takes you on a journey through my own influences. Find out which 36 books influenced me and why!
What are your creative influences?
Ok, so what or who has that visceral effect on you – book, song, movie, author, singer, artist? What has had a huge impact on you and how has it influenced you? Would love to hear!
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Butterfly image from Shutterstock.com