A Multidisciplinary Approach to Breathtaking Content

how to create great content

By Srinivas Rao, Contributing {grow} Columnist

Over the last two years I’ve read more books than I’ve read in my entire life. But there’s a slight problem with my reading. Every single book falls into one of these categories:

  • Marketing/Business
  • Self Help/Psychology
  • Entrepreneurship/Careers

There has been no fiction, not a single memoir, or any book that falls outside of my field. I don’t think I’m alone considering most of these books are New York Times Bestsellers and they show up on the recommended reading list of every blogger.  But there’s a problem with this. As Zig Ziglar once said “Your input determines your output. Your output determines your future.” If we’re not careful, it won’t be long before the entire blogosphere turns into a giant echo chamber.

In the last several weeks I’ve heard two best-selling authors emphasize the importance of reading books over blogs. One of the unfortunate byproducts of our ability to rapidly create content is an incredibly short attention span. Short form content is rapidly flooding the Internet. It’s easier to read 20 different blogs on a daily basis than it is to read an entire book which could take a week.  But sit down and read a  bestselling author’s book, even when it falls into the self-inflicted “genre bubble,” and you’ll notice numerous references to books from multiple disciplines.

A Multidisciplinary Approach to Creating Content

In his latest book, Mastery, Robert Greene studies masters from multiple fields (athletes, entrepreneurs, pilots, artists and more). One of the things that every single master had in common was a diversity of input and influences. Their best work was shaped by knowledge from a variety of fields. They avoided tunnel vision which we’ll all become a victim of if we’re only reading marketing blogs.

How to Diversify

1. Read Fiction

how to create contentOne of the easiest ways to start diversifying your input is to start reading fiction. The beautiful thing about fiction is that it’s the byproduct of imagination. As a result it will get your imagination going and enable you to start creating things that don’t exist.

2. Read Children’s Books

how to create contentThis might seem a bit silly to some of you. But one place where children have most of us beat is in their creativity and imagination. Just talk to a 5-year-old and you’ll wonder if maybe he or she should be the next creative director at your organization.  Another book that I discovered on Maria Popova‘s site that’s more like a creative workbook is Keri Smith’s How to Be an Explorer of the World.  Pick up a copy of a Dr. Seuss book and pay attention to how it inspires you. In fact, just visit the online world of Seussville for a trippy experience:


3. Read Content Outside Your Field

how to create contentOur obsession with authority has too many people reading nothing but blogs about their industry.  But by reading content that falls outside your field you can pull ideas and insights from other disciplines into your work. I recently was asked to write a guest post for a really popular blog on the subject of taking risks. So the other day I returned to my personal love for surfing and picked up a copy of Saltwater Buddha, which enabled me to use riding waves as a metaphor for taking risks.

Additional Sources of Inspiration

Written content is not the only place you’ll be able to find inspiration and break molds.  In Tina Seelig’s book inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, she writes about the power of keen observation and how it can lead to creative breakthroughs.

4. Photos 

how to create contentIn case you haven’t figured it out yet, a lot of people are starting to love Instagram.  It’s amazing how much inspiration you can find for creating blog content within your Instagram feed. Spend a day documenting your life.  Then write a blog post that tells a story based on the pictures.

5. Music

how to create contentAnother great source of inspiration for your content is music lyrics. Wake up in the morning, create a playlist on Spotify of your favorite songs and just listen to them for an hour.  At first it might seem like you’re wasting time, but sit down with the intent of coming up with new ideas for content and you’ll be amazed what happens. Here’s an example of using music for inspiration.

6. Sleep

how to create contentYou may have heard before that many of Albert Einstein’s best ideas came to him in his sleep. Believe it or not the entire last section of this post came to me after falling asleep with some headphones on (a great way to use sleep and music at the same time).

Every day do something to step outside of your content bubble to find new sources of inspiration and you’ll start to ignite the voice inside you. Words will flow and you’ll escape the echo chamber and never return.

Would you please share your best sources of inspiration?

srini rao

Srinivas Rao writes about the things you should have learned in school, but never did and his the host-co founder of BlogcastFM.  You can follow him on twitter @skooloflife

Images courtesy Bigstock.com

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  • Ha! I’ve been in the same boat for 3-4 years now – only reading marketing, startup etc books. A novel does take my mind to other places and I need to get back in to them, alongside a business related book. Great post and amazing images.

  • radiojaja

    Some great ideas here! I try to read round my subject as much as possible, from history to science. I don’t get enough fiction though Kids books are high on my agenda as I read to my children every night. Highlight of my day 🙂
    Its definitely about cultivating your inputs! Thanks for a great read!

  • jennwhinnem

    Hear, hear! Fiction helps me stay fresh.

  • Excellent reminder. Especially the children’s book idea. The echo chamber of the blogosphere is already upon us, at least in the area of leadership blogs. Yesterday I pulled a Kurt Vonnegut novel off my bookshelf thinking it would be a great diversion. By the 2nd chapter though I was Googling him, in what has become my spare time ADD. Today I vow to step outside my content bubble and stay there for awhile. Thank you.

  • Fabulous suggestions! I’m just in the process of reading Stephen King’s “On Writing”, in which he says that writers must read. And reading things that are different, outside our regular choices, on topics and by authors we might not originally pick…it’s the best!

    I usually have at least half a dozen books on the go at one time, and I flit easily from one to another, depending upon my mood. I re-read “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss and “The Secret World of Og” by Pierre Burton at least once a year. Great children’s books.

    I spend time in second-hand bookstores where I say the books always find me. Something draws me to a book, and my collection contains things as varied as adventures in the Far North to identifying plant species to, well, you name it! One of my most favourite and treasured books literally fell into my hands at a shop one day, entitled “Einstein’s Dreams” – a novel described as “a beguiling inquiry into the not-at-all theoretical, utterly time-tangled, tragic and sublime nature of human life.”

    If you can find that book, I’m sure you’d love it. Cheers! Kaarina

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  • In short, then, be a well-balanced human being rather than a marketing machine. A good reminder, thank you. Other sources of inspiration… being with people in a non-business context… especially kids. They provide new, unpredictable insights and challenge your set notions. Try being a volunteer tutor, or teacher; in my case, years of teaching first and second graders in Sunday School was a weekly lesson in distilling the essence of things. Direct experience of that sort also provides immediate feedback – you know when your “content” is working or not. Be about the business of living and you will bring significantly more life to your business.

  • Mike Rudd

    Great post here Srinivas! I had never thought about reading children’s books but I often throw fiction and music in for motivation. Another great time to come up with ideas for myself is swimming! You have very few distractions during this workout and some of my best blog posts that I have written have arisen during mile 2 of a big swim at the gym…thanks again!
    I actually just wrote a book and one of the chapters is entitled READ READ READ. Thought I would leave the link, it is free on Amazon today on Kindle actually.

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  • “Be a well-balanced human being rather than a marketing machine”

    Chuck if you and I were in a copywriting contest you’d win. That probably should have been the title of the post. I love the way you said that. I know what you mean about the business of living. My content is really informed by surfing. When I get stuck I just go to the beach and ideas start to flow.

  • Thanks for the book suggestion Kaarina. It’s kind of amazing, but we don’t read much fiction (at least I don’t). I have a list of books that I liked in high school that I plan to read again:

    Anything by Kurt Vonnegut
    Anything by F.Scott Fitzgerald
    and Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

  • Yeah Im sure I’d probably do the same. I think Vonnegut would be a great source of inspiration.

  • Glad to hear it. I’d say if you find lessons in each kid books, those could be turned into excellent blog posts.

  • Thanks Mike. I just realized this the other day as I was doing some editing work. When Julien Smith said to me “I don’t read blogs” I thought “well this guy is one of the most amazing writers online. I’m guessing he’s on to something.

  • Funny you should mention that… this was the view from my virtual office yesterday.

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  • I caught myself reading the same type of books and blogs, too. Which was really shocking for me because I’m an avid reader of all genres – if it has pages I’ll read it!

    When I started getting back to my personal reading – instead of reading for to help my blog – that’s when my business started turning around. Seriously. I was blogging about “How to make money writing online”, I was reading about it, and that’s how I made money online – with my writing. So I was completely immersed in that topic 24/7.

    I ditched the blog, which had a good many followers btw, and I picked up a bag full of library books, and my business has tripled over the last few months.

    Now I write about topics I enjoy, I read some business blogs for the tips and advice, and I’m back to reading for enjoyment again. All work and no play…

  • Gennifer Richie

    Watercolor painting is inspiration for me. It continually reminds me that life is more beautiful when it’s “loose” and full of color.

  • I love your posts – they always deal with something larger and greater. Keep it up. Love all the advice too – especially music and sleep. It’s also good to switch up genres if you find yourself listening to one for too long. Give your mind and ears a variety of audible stimulation.

  • Great observation and insight Donna. I’m guessing you probably also see writing as a less of a chore this way and have fun with it. I picked up a Kurt Vonnegut book yesterday and found all sorts of amazing uses of metaphor which made me realize how powerful it can be to read get fiction to influence your voice.

  • Gennifer, sounds a bit like what surfing is for me.

  • Thanks Pavel. I’m trying to keep up on providing the readers with the most actionable insights possible. Let me know if there’s a subject you want me to cover.

  • Hi Srinivas, I read a lot of books also. Most are social media, psychology or books about business or entrepreneurship. I can’t read a book on fiction as I think it’s a waste of my time!!! I can see though that it probably is useful to read a variety but I have 6 books by my bed at the moment that are non fiction so I’ll read them first!!!

    A good friend of mine that is super smart recommended to read children’s books to me. He said if you want to learn about a new topic buying a children’s book is a quick way to learn. For example, if you want to learn about the solar system a children’s book on the solar system would be a great place to start!!!

    Have a great week-end,

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  • Kat Barger

    I find that reading fictional books helps write better scientific papers. Doing so inspires me to use more create and vivid words to show the readers what I mean instead of telling them. http://www.nd.edu/~kbargers

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  • Nice post and I think you are spot on with changing the genre. I switch between fiction and non fiction all the time. I find fiction to be great for stimulating the creativity. The same goes for who you follow and engage on the social web. I try to engage on different type of blogs to get different viewpoints and meet different people.

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  • My ideas always come to me either showering or exercising 🙂 Of course, every day life can inspire you if you are open to it — just being aware of your surroundings will inspire new content, or a simple conversation at the gas station. The other day I was at the bank and overheard an elderly man say to a women, “Never get old!” It made me laugh, and I wanted to chime in, “It beats the alternative!” But something as innocuous as that exchange can spring board into at least one blog post, if not more. It just means seeing it from different angles.

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