At a Loss for Creative Business Ideas? Start Stealing
by Stephanie Lee

Entrepreneur Stephanie Lee’s monthly guest column for self-employed travel agents often focuses on issues related to working from home.

I have a little notebook where I record quotes that catch my ear. At Minnebar, a tech conference I attended this month, one of the presenters had a gem of a quote during his presentation: “Real smart people steal from people.”

I love this because I love stealing. I am an unabashed Thief of Ideas.
 
So I wrote down his quote, saying to myself, “I need to steal that quote and use it somewhere.”

Copying vs. stealing
Good artists copy, great artists steal. – Pablo Picasso

Before I get into the details of how I steal – so you can start stealing too, of course – it’s important to emphasize the difference between copying and stealing. With one approach you leave your own creative footprint; the other route just ends up making you look silly.

Copying is taking an existing idea and doing nothing to it. There’s no beauty in it.

Now stealing, that’s a beautiful thing. That’s when you mash together different ideas and turn them into something that is (one hopes) better or different.

Your parents may have told you that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Ignore them; it’s not. It’s bad art. They probably also told you stealing is bad. Ignore that too.

If you want to be a successful business owner, you need to steal. You also need to paint your own picture, not someone else’s.

Creative business
For those of us who are self-employed, creativity is essential to running our businesses. How are we going to do things differently, set ourselves apart? Real smart people steal from people. We steal from people, that’s how.

We aggregate ideas from others, mix them together in a pot, add a dash of our own, and – voila! – out comes our unique contribution to the business world.

Acronym-lovers will say you need your own unique selling proposition or USP. I say: Steal and create to make a distinctive experience for your clients.

How I steal
I can’t really say I come up with new ideas. I’d be more inclined to say I’m an observant woman who writes down and takes pictures of things I like.

I also go out of my way to have new experiences.

I am also absurdly adept at finding ideas to steal via Google. I’m a master of searching and sorting through the ideas the search engine spits out at me.

Now I’m encouraging you to steal for the purpose of becoming a better businessperson. If you’re a newbie to creative thievery for business, here are a few things that work for me.

Keep notes
I write down things I like. These can be quotes, the flow of a conference schedule, the inspiring people I meet, an unusual or unique way that someone greets me.

I rip out articles, pictures, ads in magazines and newspapers that speak to me, even if I’m not sure why I like them. It may give me an idea for a future article or suggest the layout for an ad next year.

It’s the best of the best I’ve run across in life, all compiled in one place.

I use these notes for inspiration.

Use Google Images
Google Images is a rich repository of visuals that I use for creative inspiration. I pull aspects from different projects that I like and visually mash them up into my own project. This is one of my favorite sources.

Artistically challenged
I have no talent when it comes to art, at least not in the usual sense of talent. Luckily, the Information Age has made it easy for us non-artists; we have immense amounts of information we can access to help us create a vision.

For your vision to come into fruition you don’t need to be artistically gifted, you just need to be able to show your vision to those who are.

Proof in the pudding
Every “new” idea is built of old ideas. By now this shouldn’t come as a shocker; this article is full of stolen ideas, mixed into my own special concoction, and baked at 350 for 18 minutes.

As I said earlier, I’m a Thief of Ideas.

Now I’m encouraging you to do the same.

It’s only appropriate that I end this column by thanking everyone I stole ideas from. Thank you to: Wolf Loescher, the Minnebar speaker who sparked my interest with his quote; Bridget Lee, my sister who inspired the seed to this article; Pablo Picasso, for his quote and insights; Austin Kleon, for his book Steal Like an Artist.

Stephanie Lee operates Host Agency ReviewsSM, which features agent reviews of host agencies and tips for starting and growing a travel agency. Connect with Steph on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

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Steve    4/25/2013 4:00:26 PM
No need to "steal" - go to The Travel Institute and check out this book... 273 marketing ideas for travel agents

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The travel agency space is there for the owning, for whatever brand to become THE brand in travel. No one has done it yet. It's an expensive proposition, but there's a chance for a really big payoff.
 
Steve Cohen
VP of insights at MMGY.

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