August 17

The Value of Copying

What’s the worst comment you can make about a piece of creative work? Probably, “That looks just like…”

No one wants to be accused of copying others. And yet that’s pre-

cisely how we begin the process of developing our own voice. We look to others who are already doing what we want to do, imitate them, learn from their style and experience, then over time begin to take small risks and find unique ways of expressing ourselves. This is true of every- thing from design to writing to management styles. Most early managers largely imitate their own managers prior to figuring out how to find their own leadership style. It’s perfectly natural to do so.

If you feel stuck or want to develop a new skill, the best way to do it is to find someone who is already great at that skill and simply copy them. (A quick caveat: Don’t do this in public work or work for hire! We’re not talking about plagiarism but about skill development.)

Imitation is, indeed, the best form of flattery. It’s also the first step toward growing as a professional and, eventually, being someone who is copied by others.

We develop our craft through strategic copying.


Who does work you admire, and what elements of their work can you copy and practice to help you develop your own voice?

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