Why Stealing is Sometimes Good

Image Credit: EvinDC

We are all told that stealing is bad, but not all stealing is bad. Sometimes stealing can be good. The great artist, Pablo Picasso, once said that good artists copy while great artists steal. In a previous blog post, I discussed the concept of creativity as a remix. I argued that everything created today is inspired by something in the past. James Burke stated that we look to the past to prepare for the future because there is nowhere else to look. In this post, I intend to explore the notion of good creative stealing as advocated by Austin Kleon who just released a book called “Steal like an artist”.

Picasso is regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. He was an artist that drew inspiration from many sources which influenced the works of art he produced. He stole what he needed from other artists and influences but recreated them in his own style.

Steve Jobs admitted in a 1996 PBS documentary that Apple has always been shameless about stealing great ideas. The images below show how Apple stole some great ideas from Braun products designed in the 1950’s and 1960’s by Dieter Rams and adapted them for Apple products. Both Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive (Apple’s Industrial Design head) have admitted to being big fans of Dieter Rams. They took Rams’ concepts for Braun speakers and radios and applied them to Apple’s monitors and MP3 players (iPod).


Braun T1000 radio and PowerMac G5/Mac Pro.


Braun T3 pocket radio and Apple iPod.


Braun LE1 speaker and Apple iMac. (source: Gizmodo)

The goal of good creative stealing is not to plagiarise what you find interesting or inspiring but to steal the thinking behind it which you can then repurpose in your own style. This is the difference between ripping off something and remixing it. This requires you to take apart (reverse-engineering) the interesting idea, concept or object in order to figure out the thinking behind it as well as identifying how it works. This knowledge helps you come up with ways to take the idea or object forward.

I love this simple chart (below) by Austin Kleon in which he outlines the differences between good creative theft and bad creative theft. A good creative thief steals from many sources, credits his sources, and remixes all these influences to create something new while a bad creative thief does none of these. Strive to be a good thief.

More Stealing Quotes:

“Steal from the best.Kurt Vonnegut (author)

Don’t be afraid to steal, just steal the right stuff.Mike Monteiro (designer)

God knows my influences are eclectic. There is hardly anything I have not flinched from at some time or another.Edward Gorey (Illustrator)

I don’t create. God creates. I assemble, and I steal from everywhere to do it.George Balanchine (choreographer)

Every writer is a thief. Some of us are more clever than others at disguising our robberies.” Joseph Epstein (author)


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