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The Most Successful Trinidadians Know How To Steal

The leading bank in the country promoting theft? Not in a million years. But follow me here for a second. Have you noticed how the careers of the most creative and successful Trinidadians build on something that went before?

Take Machel Montano. Whether you like soca or not you just have to give Machel props because there’s no argument he’s taken the music to the next level.

Much like Dean Ackin of Tribe. Long after the bikini-and-beads debate is over, Ackin will likely go down as the maven who masterminded the evolution of mas and he’ll get your vote. Why?

His success meets with overwhelming approval; it rises to the level of our satisfaction for evolving from the ideas about mas that went before. Another case in point, the showpiece that is Bunji Garlin’s Differentology.

There is a lesson here if you’re paying attention and it’s this: the smartest, most creative Trinis know how to steal. We’re not talking about breaking the law or infringing copyright — of course not.

We’re talking about stealing core ideas and making them work. This is not the same as copying.

What I’m talking about is something closer to how lawyers use legal precedent to make their case. Successful people who build on what someone else before them did.

“Good artists copy,” mused Picasso, “Great artists steal.” It’s a long-held, not-so-secret key to successful careers. And it works regardless of what career you wish to pursue.

Steve Jobs lived in a 1930’s styled house in Palo Alto, California with his wife Laurene Powell in the mid 1990’s.

The house, designed like one you might find in the British country, was sparse on furniture. People in the know said it was because no sofa was ever good enough for Steve, until it was absolutely perfect for Steve.

And so it was with his work. Jobs drilled his people relentlessly to make his most iconic products like the iMac and the iPod match the idea of perfection in his head.

Yet Mr. Jobs invented neither the personal computer nor the portable music player. He flat out stole those two ideas from IBM and Sony, the companies that first brought them to market.

Then he set out to perfect them. By refining and re-imagining both products, Jobs gave the world something it never had before. Sales were through the roof.

“What a good artist understands,” writes Austin Kleon in his New York Times bestseller Steal Like An Artist, “is that nothing comes from nowhere.”

In other words, nothing is completely original and that includes careers. Bunji, Dean and Machel have outsized careers because over time, they incubated the best ideas they came into contact with. Then they tapped this idea network to create their own brand of awesome. That’s really how ideas work.

What are you trying to accomplish in your own career?

Who do you want to be?

Find your heroes. Steal their ideas by building on them. Refine, refine, refine. Make it work.

It is this penchant that made Malcolm Gladwell call Jobs a “tweaker”— those people who steal ideas and perfect them — and why, says Gladwell, the industrial revolution began in Britain and nowhere else.

These days I steal what I can from people like BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti. The man’s pure publishing genius. If I hadn’t done it, you probably won’t be reading this blog.

I’m betting if you talk to the anyone who’s making it in Trinidad — straight up, legit people with integrity I mean — they’re channelling ideas they stole from somebody. The most successful Trinidadians build on old ideas.

We live in a time when the Internet has made it both possible and easy to explore every idea worth exploring, so go out and steal something.

Bet you weren’t expecting that kind of advice from your bank?

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