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Why You Should Steal Like an Artist

It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.

So says, the late great Jean-Luc Godard, one of many influential thinkers highlighted in Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist.”

I picked up the short, pithy (and visually arresting) book mostly because the list format was appealing and the sketch-figure drawings promised something new and refreshing. Little did I know that this quick read — toted by artists and influencers in the writing community — would apply so aptly to real estate, and more specifically, those building media presence in the real estate world (read: GEB fans and real estate technology aficionados).

I couldn’t read this book without sharing it quickly with the GEB readership (a form of stealing I feel author Austin Kleon would very much condone). His advice to all creators is broken down simply into this succinct list, I have taken some creative liberties to modify in itals where necessary:

  1. Steal like an artist.
  2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
  3. Write the book you want to read. Create the site you want to use, or blog you want to read.
  4. Use your hands. This one still applies, think wireframes!
  5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
  6. The secret: do good work and share it with people.
  7. Geography is no longer our master.
  8. Be nice. (The world is a small town.)
  9. Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)
  10. Creativity is subtraction.

Whether you’re building your burgeoning real estate website, growing a blog or creating a loyal following on social media platforms, you, like me, are an incurable creator. And if you want to create something of value, I encourage you to read up on Kleon’s suggestions for doing just that.

Highlighted below are some of his more pertinent suggestions as they relate to our group:

1.) Steal like an artist

Study the websites you love. They don’t necessarily have to be real estate websites. They can be sites with great navigation, or engaging copy. What do you like about these sites? What can you steal? Clip these things mentally, take screenshots or store URLs. Steal what you love about the user experience and apply the same techniques, interfaces or tools to your own websites. Build a virtual inspiration file of blogs ideas, layouts, color schemes, WordPress plugins, the list goes on. Store your Google Alerts, tablet or reading file with bloggers you love. Rip off the best ideas from pixel arrangement to product offering. As Kleon suggests, in the recreation process it will inherently become differentiated and your own. He (or we) isn’t condoning plagiarism — rather, that you study those who do it well, steal what you love, and make it better by redoing it your way.

6.) Do good work and share it with people

This is one of the things I see a little less frequently in this niche industry. In my consulting practice, I so often hear clients wanting a quick way to the top (okay, I yearn for that often, too). This is particularly interesting as it relates to link building. You can spend unending amounts of time and energy trying to shortcut your way through building authority for your site or blog. In the end, if you do good work and share it with people, influencers in the space will naturally link to you (and you’ll be free & clear of any post-Penguin penalties).

If you’re bored with what you’re writing about, other people will be bored too. Don’t be boring. Don’t bore yourself. Write about the things you love about your industry and your practice. Write about your clients if you love them. Write about the lenders with whom you  work or agents in other markets if they’re interesting. Your content will be more engaging, more sharable, more linkable… you get the idea.

A great diagram from the book, below:

10.) Creativity is subtraction

I am still working on this one. When I built our Coronado real estate website (link in my author profile), I packed our homepage with everything I could think of that a prospective buyer or seller would want to see. I wanted our site to capture anyone and everyone. But, as Kleon so aptly suggests, creativity is substraction. What you don’t use is often more powerful than what you do. Assess your site, your fan page, your messaging. In a world of information overload, less is more and simplicity is a virtue. Hone in close and pick a more edited message, value prop or experience to stand out against the rest. I’m still working on this, by the way.

And the hard part? You have to do this in frequent (and relentless) iterations. I look back at myself and laugh about the grandiose notions I had about my site “going live!” Little did I know that this was just the beginning to the life of this project. Every time I try something new (a new layout, design, navigation, content strategy, etc.) I think it’s the best idea ever. At some point I hit what Kleon refers to as the “Dark Knight of The Soul” (love that). Always, though, I come out of whatever one-off effort having learned something of value, and something that will feed into and inform my strategy and goals going forward.

There’s plenty of golden suggestions in Kleon’s simple list and I encourage you to check him out. Do you steal like an artist? From whom and how do you steal? Thoughts on Kleon’s other suggestions? In the interest of communal thievery, I hope you’ll share them in the comments below.

About Sarah Metzger

Sarah Metzger is an online media specialist and the former editor of LIVESTRONG.COM. She has expertise in content development, social media management, marketing & product development. Sarah recently co-founded The Coronado Real Estate Team -- a group that specializes in all things Coronado real estate. Sarah is passionate about modernizing the real estate industry & hopes to empower today's buyers & sellers with new, approachable information channels.

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  • Super awesome article! I need this advice in finishing up my own projects.

  • Yeah… can relate to this one all too well. Especially the chart showing the progression from exciting new idea to the dark places of our minds… I have more than a few projects that never made it back to the light!

  • Daniel Vachon

    Great post, Sarah! It’s sometimes nice to know you are not the only one in the Dark Knight of the Soul. (-:

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