March 17

What You Consume Determines What You Create

What You Consume Determines What You Create
Photographer: Priscilla Du Preez | Source: Unsplash

Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting dots.” But to connect dots, we have to collect them. That requires the consumption of information (books, podcasts, conversations, etc). But excessive consumption diminishes your creativity. What you consume determines what you create. Without discernment, everything you take in is just noise.

Given recent events, this is more true now than ever. You definitely want to be informed. But you can allocate the majority of your time to consuming content stokes fear. Or you redirect it to content that fuels hope.

The Person Who Taught Me That What You Consume Determines What You Create

Six years ago, I interviewed Julien Smith. At the time, he had one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. And he told me two things that played an essential role in his success.

  1. He wrote 1000 words a day. That habit changed my life and led to a book deal with a publisher.
  2. He didn’t read blogs but read books instead. And he read books other people didn’t read.

The second was a counterintuitive piece of advice from someone who had one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. If you read Julien’s writing and then read the book he co-wrote with Chris Brogan, you’ll notice something. It’s very easy to spot which sections Julien wrote. I’d argue that it’s because he’s deliberate about his consumption habits.

Escaping the Podcast Echo Chamber

Conventional wisdom would tell you that if you want to build a popular podcast, you should consume lots of them. But conventional wisdom yields conventional results. In an episode of WorkLife with Adam Grant, Stephen Dubner, the host of the Freakonomics podcast, said he doesn’t listen to podcasts. Yet, Freakonomics is wildly popular. “The Internet-fueled tribalism exacerbates our confirmation bias.

As our echo chamber gets louder and louder, we’re repeatedly bombarded with ideas that reiterate our own. When we see our own ideas mirrored in others, our confidence levels skyrocket. Opposing ideas were nowhere to be seen, so we assume they don’t exist or that those who adopt them must be irrational,” says Ozan Varol.

This is why many of the podcasts from online marketers appear to feature all the same guests. And it seems like they are talking about the same things on every show. Despite being the creator of one, I rarely listen to podcasts.

When and if I do, I listen to shows that nothing to do with my field. These are the best places to steal like an artist. We stole the idea to do a year-end look back from The New York Times and the result was the trailer below. If I’d sat around listening to episodes of The Tim Ferriss Show and other ones like it, this would have never occurred to me.

Deliberate Consumption

In An Audience One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake, I said the following about our digital consumption habits. For the most part, our consumption habits, the ways in which we take information, are incredibly reactive….. Deliberate consumption allows us, to quote the title of a book by Austin Kleon, “Steal Like an Artist.” Everything we consume plants a potential seed for something we might create.”

Ryan Holiday has published 8 books in 8 years. Three of them were on the best-seller list AT THE SAME time this year. If you read his writing, you’ll notice a few patterns:

  1. He reads a lot of books.
  2. Most of them are not self-help or business books.
  3. He’s deliberate and discerning about his consumption habits.

We’re in the same imprint at Penguin and I’m not sure if he’s even read my books. But I don’t really care because he’s had such a profound impact on my reading habits. Deliberate consumption allows you to be more discerning about the information you are allowing into your life.

The Information Value Hierarchy

I assume you don’t just pick anything that looks like food off the ground and put in your mouth. So, why are you doing this with information? There’s one very easy way to become more deliberate about your content consumption.

Treat the Information You Consume Like the Food You Eat

It doesn’t take a nutritionist to know that a salad is better for you than a slice of pizza. But we don’t take the same thought process into consideration with our content consumption. Not all information is created equal. There’s a hierarchy of value that we need to take into consideration.

For the purpose of this example, let’s use written content.

Tweets and status updates are the digital equivalents of donuts and cigarettes. The only exception to this is a Naval Ravikant tweetstorm. The bulk of tweets and statuses are quick. They’re easy to consume, and they give us a quick spike of dopamine but add very little value to our lives. And you don’t’ get to enjoy a cigarette.

Blog posts are a bit like a snack. Depending on who wrote them, they can be the digital equivalent of carrot sticks or potato chips. But, say I asked you to tell me 3 things you read on the Internet last week. It would be much harder to remember than the books you read.

The less you consume, the more you’ll get out of them when it comes to articles on the Internet. Limit yourself to your favorite writers instead of clicking on every link in your news feed. I used to read tons of articles on Medium. But now, I limit myself to John Weiss and Ryan Holiday.

Long form-journalism on sites like The New Yorker is like a healthy appetizer. You can’t just scan most The New Yorker articles the way you can most of the articles on Medium. They require time and attention.

Books are like nutritious meals, and they’re at the very top of the value hierarchy for written content. They force you to go deep into a topic or idea. Chances are, you could easily remember the last book you read or something that you learned from it. Great books have a lasting impact on your thinking.If you need a filter, use the following litmus test. Will consuming this make me…

  1. Feel better?
  2. Happier?
  3. Learn Something?

If your answer is no to the questions above, don’t consume it. The same goes for this article.

Trace the Progression of a Creator

In our Loyal Audience Mastermind, I encouraged people to trace the progression of one creator. Go through one person’s entire body of work. Read all their blog posts, books they’ve written, etc. This is more valuable than any tactic you’ll find in an online course. You’ll recognize patterns and come up with strategies for yourself based on those patterns.

Diversify Your Input

It’s impossible to develop a bold, compelling and interesting point of view when you only consume information that confirms your existing beliefs. The worst thing you could do is to read nothing but blogs about making money online or growing your audience.

Unless you expose yourself to a diverse set of viewpoints, you’ll never have one of your own.

The day I stopped reading articles about how to grow my blog, my audience grew and writing improved.

Consume Less

“Each of us has access to more information than we could ever reasonably use. We tell ourselves, it’s part of our job to be “on top of things,” and so we give our precious time to news, reports, meetings, and other forms of feedback. Even if we’re not glued to a television, we’re still surrounded by gossip, drama, and other forms of feedback.” – Ryan Holiday

The second time I quit social media for 30 days, I read more books and fewer articles on the Internet. In the end, I had no desire to return to Facebook. When you limit your inputs, you compare less and create more. And you’ll get more out of the information you consume.

Take Your Time

Recently, I read a book called It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn. As a person who reads 100 books a year, I have a tendency to fly through books. Quitting social media and being sick forced me to slow down. As a result, I did all the written exercises in the book and uncovered profound insights about some of my limiting beliefs.

Follow Your Curiosity

People often ask me how I come up with ideas and such a strange cast of characters as podcasts guests. It all comes down to personal curiosity. If I’m curious, it’s almost always a hell yes. If I’m not, then it’s a pass.


You must retreat from the world long enough to think, practice your art, and bring forth something worth sharing with others. – Austin Kleon

Information is a seed you plant. Wisdom is the fruit that emerges from it. The point of acquiring knowledge isn’t to be a human encyclopedia. It’s to apply the lesson you’ve learned into your life. That’s how it evolves into wisdom.

But this requires time and space. Unless you give yourself the time for reflection, that won’t happen. It’s why Brian Scudamore says that successful people spend 10 hours a week just thinking.

  • Ditch your Kindle or iPad and read physical books.
  • Use a bullet journal instead of a to-do list app.
  • Go for a walk.

All of these give you time for reflection .What you consume determines what you create. If you want to create content that’s deep, emotional, resonant and profound, start by consuming it.

Read books instead of blog posts.

Watch movies instead of short YouTube videos.

You are planting seeds in your mind with every piece of information you consume. It’s up to you whether you’re going to plant the seeds of brilliance or bullshit.


You may also like