#25 - 7 Habits of Highly Effective Creators: Creating is combining
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Top creators earn significantly more than average creators. But what sets top creators apart from the rest? What can we learn from them?
The best creators have adopted several key habits that improve their odds of success in an extremely competitive field.
1. Consistent production
2. Sweat the right details
3. Know your audience
4. Scaling output
5. Creating is combining
6. Embrace different mediums
7. Enjoy the process
This is part 5 — Creating is combining.
Creating is combining
Successful creators arrive at their best work by combining in 3 primary ways: copying / transforming, assembling building blocks, and collaborating with others.
1. Copying / Transforming
As David Murray says in Borrowing Brilliance: "First you copy, then you create. All brilliance is borrowed."
What may seem at first to be novel ideas are always constructed out of existing ones. Original ideas are those that combine part of one existing idea with parts of another. The end result is something that has never been presented or combined in that way, therefore original.
Copying and transforming necessarily precedes combining. Only by having a solid grasp of the fundamentals can we successfully join ideas together in a cohesive way.
Copy: No one starts out original. We cannot create anything new until we have a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding in our line of work. Copying is how we learn.
Transform: Taking an idea and creating variations. Major advances are usually not original ideas, but the breaking point in a long history of progress by many different individuals.
Every craftsman and creator also starts by copying, and only some of them will ever move on to transforming.
Transforming requires a certain level of mastery. When they get there, creators are able to add their own sense of style to slightly evolve the source material. Cover songs, fan fiction, and cosplay come to mind when it comes to transforming.
As an example: Millions of people have played and collected Pokémon cards. Everyone has drawn as a kid, and many people still do as adults.
However, Lunumbra was among the first to transform Pokémon cards by painting over them. Specifically, they extended the background in the cards to make the environment fully immersive. They captured this as content, overlayed the video with lo-fi music, and created viral content that drew in Pokémon fans from every corner of the world.
This also resulted in commercial success as Lunumbra racked up 215K followers on Instagram, along with a constant demand for paid commissions.
2. Assembling building blocks
When creators go beyond transforming, they begin putting together pieces from different sources. Often, this expand beyond a single domain to incorporate the best inspirations from multiple categories.
Effective creators assemble building blocks together perfectly to create magical experiences that feel fresh and “new”.
As an example: Interviewing is a very frequently seen concept for video creators and podcasters. VTubers (Virtual YouTubers) are a commonplace tool for creators to use an avatar to represent themselves in content. Audience interactive elements are bread and butter for all live streamers.
But these concepts remained largely segregated until CodeMiko wired up a 3D character rig, programmed a viewer interactivity model that lets the audience do stuff to her character and environment via chat messages, and parlayed the hype from her entertainment value to get interviews with dozens of popular creators.
By combining these concepts, she formed one of the most entertaining and most popular VTubers on the internet. Congrats to her on winning VTuber of the year!
Assembling can feel like coming up with new winning formulas, which takes creativity, skill, and luck. But the base act of putting pieces together is getting easier every day — a bit more on this later.
3. Collaborating with others
Creators are leaning into collaboration more than ever: TikTokers and Live Streamers are living in shared houses to jam on ideas and content. Podcasters and bloggers are inviting other creators to be featured guests on their shows. Emerging creators are joining forces in talk shows featuring ~10 people.
They do these things because great collaboration is a positive-sum endeavor. Creators that complement each other, inspire one another, and vibe together will make magic happen. Through collaborating, creators learn from each other, push themselves to be better, and combine their talents to make something greater than the sum of its parts.
The practical angle is that no matter how talented creators are, it's impossible to master every skill. And since creators need skills beyond their own capability, they have to work with others to achieve success.
Collaboration is also important because it has the potential to increase reach and visibility. When creators team up with other creators, they tap into new networks and audiences, exposing themselves to new people. This can be especially valuable for creators who are just starting to build a following.
There are plenty of examples of great collaborations, Still D.R.E. is one such example. It has a mind boggling 1.2 billion views today, and exemplifies how musicians work together to make hits that neither could make on their own. You may not know that both Dre and Snoop’s lyrics in this song were written by a young Jay-Z. Collaborating with others elevates the recognition of your work among peers, which played a significant role in Jay-Z’s career.
A note on creating / assembling with AI
I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard the waves being made by impressive generative art AI (Stable Diffusion, Midjourney) and conversational AI (ChatGPT). They are causing as much excitement as anxiety.
The good news and bad news are the same: We’re going to see an explosion of new creators generating a huge volume of “new” work. IMO, as they are today, these AI tools are simply powerful tools. They can enhance how we create, but they cannot replace the best human creators. Three thoughts here:
AI falls short on out-of-the-box (beyond training data) creativity and emotional intelligence. AI is great at analyzing data and performing tasks with a high degree of accuracy, but it is hard constrained by the data that goes in.
Human creators are able to tap into their own experiences and emotions to create relatable, resonant works of art. This means that when it comes to creating compelling content with a human’s experience and perspective in mind, AI cannot compete with human creators.
The creative process is a human one. The struggle of putting down an idea and molding it into a compelling form is an iterative expression of individuality. To create collaboratively further amplifies the need for a human touch. Even if AI produces technically impressive content, it lacks the human element that is essential for amazing art that can be fully appreciated by people.
The ability to think outside the box, to connect with an audience on an emotional level, and to express individuality are all uniquely human qualities. While AI tools can copy very efficiently, the human aspects of transforming, assembling and collaborating are the exclusive territory of human creators.
What creative combinations and remixes have you seen from creators? What do you think of AI’s potential to replace human creators? Let me know in a comment below, or on Twitter.
P.S. It’s been a while since my last post! I’ve been busy building Server Subscriptions, which is currently available for community builders and creators in the U.S. If you run a community that provides value directly to members, now you can earn from it right on Discord :)
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