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Why Wreck a Blank Canvas? Guest Post by Derek Sivers

November 19, 2010

Updated October 19, 2011

I’m really pleased to share with you a fascinating post by Derek Sivers. I connected with Derek when I was creating my most post Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy and Seth Godin: Are You a Conformist? Derek wrote the incredibly insightful narrative that accompanies the Dancing Guy video.

We’ve stayed in touch since. Derek’s new book Anything You Want may be tiny but it’s mighty, packed full of wisdom from the lessons he learned during the creation of his former company CD Baby, which grew enormously over a short period of time. I highly recommend his book.

Rather than try to tell you who Derek is, I encourage you to click on his name to read about him on his blog. And to read the growing comments on his newest post, “Why Wreck a Blank Canvas.” The text of his post is below, but be sure to visit Derek’s blog.

I love this post because it links so well to the idea of being a non-conformist, creativity and personal leadership.

Here’s Derek…

At the last apartment I rented, everything was white on white when I arrived. White walls, counters, table, furniture, and carpet.
So I took it one step further, bought five blank canvases, and hung them around the apartment. Especially one big one, right at the entrance.
Visitors would get upset, saying, “You’ve got to put something there! You can’t just leave it blank! It needs color!”
I’d say, “Good point. Like what. What do you imagine?”
They’d say, “Y’know, like some bold splashes of dark red, but not too heavy. Something with clean lines.”
I’d say, “Hmm…. I’m not sure what you mean. Can you describe it more?”
They’d stare at the blank canvas a bit, and go into more detail about what should be on it.
Eventually I’d say, “Nah. Not going to do it.”
“Why not?!?”
“The reason I love the blank canvas is because it makes everyone day-dream. The process of imagining what should be there is much more fun than if something was already there. There have been a hundred paintings imagined onto that canvas. It’s got unlimited potential. It’d be a shame to wreck that with a bunch of paint.”
The blank page starts with unlimited potential. But each word you add reduces its possibilities.
Same thing with that business idea you’ve had forever.
Or that beautiful person you haven’t spoken with.
So maybe you should just leave them in your imagination, where they’re at their best.
OR…
MAYBE…
The one thing that would be even better is if you


Thanks for sharing Derek!


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2010 12:39 am

    What an interesting way to look at creativity. However, Derek must not have kids. White walls, white carpet, white couch – I shudder to think how fast my kids would “paint” that canvas.

    • November 20, 2010 12:44 am

      Yeah, I really found Derek’s post very insightful. If you have a chance, Susan, check out his site and the huge number of comments. I left one (down around # 188) in the context of organizational creativity. I agree re: kids and white walls, etc. It would be interesting to try Derek’s approach using black! 🙂

  2. November 19, 2010 1:49 am

    Brilliant…I feel a blank canvas coming on!

    • November 19, 2010 1:57 am

      Elaine. You’re incredibly creative. I’m glad this post spoke to you!

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