When I was studying abroad in Europe, I had the chance to visit a Picasso museum in Barcelona. I was awestruck...not by the familiar cubist paintings so readily associated with the artist. It was his early period that caught my attention, the years in which a young Pablo painstakingly learned and applied the traditional techniques of the masters. His first drawings and paintings were incredibly realistic, an homage to the artists he admired.
However, as I moved through the exhibit, arranged in chronological order, you began to see the changes taking place. His Blue Period, an outgrowth of his depression. His Rose Period, a happier time. Then the African period, a time where the beginnings of Cubism can be seen. Finally, we see Picasso break away completely from his roots with his exploration of Cubism.
All of this metamorphosis, from his first foray into the blues to becoming an iconic innovator in just ten years.
Today, we celebrate his Cubism, his iconoclasm, his Picasso-ness and yet we rarely learn about the years he spent honing his craft. We don't realize he had to master the rules to break them.
It's a lesson for all of us.
Too often, we celebrate and seek to emulate the successful people we read about. We scour articles that detail their personal stories, and search for surefire tips that will propel us to their level. We buy their books and take their courses in hopes that some of their stardust will rub off on us. That if only we do what they did, we, too, will be successful.
Businesses do it, too. They see something go viral and immediately set out to recreate it in hopes of attracting the same kind of attention. They throw big bucks at trying to uncover the unique alchemy that creates brand loyalty and fans.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. By emulating successful people, we may begin to establish healthy routines, or instill discipline in our work habits, or find the motivation and inspiration to take risks. Businesses can break out of tired marketing practices and tap into their employees' collective creativity.
Yet if left unchecked, if there is no evolution, mimicry kills innovation. No one needs a new Richard Branson or Oprah or Steve Jobs. Red Bull is the best at being Red Bull. GoPro is killing it in the adventure photography market.
The true challenge lies in having the courage to be YOU.
Daring to do your own thing in your own way means breaking with the herd. For a species that survived thanks to the protection of the tribe, going our own way goes against the way we are wired. And when you dare to defy routine, when you decide to paint what YOU see, or blog about YOUR truth, or do business not-as-usual, you get may get a ton of heat. People will criticize you. They may discourage you. Well meaning friends and family may urge you to revert to your old ways of creating and living.
That's when it's up to you to decide. Are you a mimic? Or a master?
Picasso chose to be a master. His Blue Period featured some of his most popular works, but at the time he painted them, he had trouble selling them. He kept painting. His way.
And that is why we know his name.
*This post originally appeared on Linked in here