Most of us begin by imitating our heroes.
Some of my early heroes as a guitarist were Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and Nuno Bettencourt, and I learned a great deal from each.
But there always seems to come a point when drawing from the same wells of inspiration doesn’t yield new results anymore.
You can go and find new heroes, of course, which is what most us do. But these new heroes often end up being extensions of well-traveled paths. So, there’s a limit to how much more we can learn from them.
Legendary British jazz fusion and progressive rock guitarist Allan Holdsworth was known as the most technically adept guitarist to ever live (he passed just four years ago in 2017).
The irony? He hated guitar. He always sought to imitate the saxophone.
I’m not sure whether his secret was that he took inspiration from an unusual source, that he worked hard at is craft, or ultimately, both. I think we can agree, though, that all these factors were important.
Here’s another example that makes the point:
You can hear bits of Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, West Montgomery, and others in virtuoso guitarist Eric Johnson’s playing.
What is fascinating about his playing, though, is that his style was also influenced by the piano. Which is why you rarely see him just strumming chords, as many rhythm guitarists are known to do.
This might seem restrictive to some, but it’s clear to see how it would fundamentally shift how you think about your instrument.
These are key lessons as applied to developing your creative projects and businesses too.
It’s fine to take inspiration from your peers and competitors. It might even be prudent, given that imitating another’s brand can sometimes give you instant trust and recognition.
But let’s be real here. As author Todd Henry often says, “cover bands don’t change the world – you’ve got to find your unique voice.”
There’s a great deal of inspiration that can be found in completely unrelated industries, niches, practices, and disciplines too.
My main niche is music, but I’ve started taking inspiration from:
- Japanese variety shows
- Political and geopolitical podcasts
- Online drum lesson memberships (this one obviously has a closer connection)
- Internet marketing and online business sites
- Conspiracy theorists
Now, if we want our projects and businesses to be successful, we can never ignore who we’re talking to or the language they’re using to describe their problems. That’s the main way we’re going to ensure our mission is sustainable.
But there may be opportunities to create better products and services by taking inspiration from unrelated niches.
The key is to approach all that you consume with open loops. When you do, you’ll find answers to questions in unexpected places.
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