For those of us who are creators, we often forget that incorporating information from reading and digesting others’ content is vital to our own creations. I’ve been fascinated with this phenomenon since I wrote my book on ideas and creativity.

Take it from Chino Lex. He’s gotten over 50 apps on Apple’s ‘Top Charts,’ and he owes it all to incorporating information. The tried and true book of choice to which he says he owes this success? High Output Management by Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel.

He’s also scored features in Forbes, HuffPost, and Inc. Magazine. More recently, he’s landed a spot in Acer’s global #MakeYourMark campaign. He owes these wins to studying the Kardashian family and emulating their brand-building phenomenon.

We came together to discuss the importance of information assimilation, our best practices for finding credible information, and how we use them to incorporate our own productivity and creativity.

On Vetting the Content You Consume

CL: I listen to Tim Ferriss and everyone on his show is a top performer. Another favorite is Guy Raz’s “How I Did It,” and he interviews many entrepreneurs and CEO’s. How do you vet who you listen to, and then who do you listen to?

HHS: “How I Built This” by Guy Raz is my latest obsession, and I entertained listening to this podcast in the first place because I heard about it from a number of sources. What was interesting was that it wasn’t only recommended to me by other entrepreneurs. In fact, my dad, who is a doctor, kept mentioning it to me, as did my Philosophy professor from a few years ago. I figured if a podcast is striking a cord with these people who typically don’t have an interest in entrepreneurship, then it has to be good.

But, this is a twofold process. Sometimes I‘ll start a podcast or a book that was recommended with glowing reviews and it won’t excite or resonate with me. The second part is trusting that whatever content I’m consuming has to inspire me to go out there and create my own.

CL: A principle that I have is that the messenger matters more than the message. There’s so much content out there, so it’s hard to distill what we choose to listen to. Analyzing the track record of who we’re learning from is important. This lets you go one layer of abstraction deeper to make sure who you’re listening to is credible, and qualified to contribute insightfully to a subject.

HHS: It doesn’t even have to be the person, but the platform. You may not know anything about the speaker, but if it’s a TEDx talk, the level of credibility is proven.

CL: Yes. I’m a big fan of distillation; TED Talks are a great example of that. It’s not necessarily hard to give one, but by the time the speaker gets to the stage, TED has already taken the steps to ensure the speaker’s content is quality and that they are credible.

On the Best Type of Content to Consume

CL: If I don’t learn every day, even 30-minutes to an hour, I feel like I’m dying, mentally stagnating, and plateauing, and I don’t like that. There’s always something I want to learn, whether it be from Twitter, investors, or CEOs. I just want to fill the buckets of my life with good quality information.

I break this into three categories: Podcasts, Books, and Articles.

Podcasts. Information is commoditized because you can figure out anything from a google search, but if you’re listening to it from an expert in an interview context (especially when the interviewee knows there’s an audience) there’s a healthy risk of sounding inauthentic and even incompetent, in real time. People can tell what’s real and what is not. This makes the quality bar of what is said higher and the listener benefits.

HHS: So, it’s easy to establish someone’s authenticity when you hear them speak. I agree. Same with YouTube videos or with talks. It’s like the unfiltered version. They don’t have time to backspace or edit like they do with a book.

CL: Exactly. Books are the next highest level of quality, which is why I buy more books than I read. A book goes through several rounds of revisions, so the quality of the content has to be high to make it to the final and printable version because the authors and publishers can’t take back or edit what they put out.

HHS: I’ll pick up a book if I want to do a deep dive on one subject area because it takes a time investment to get through it. But, I also really like books that touch on a lot of areas, like Principles by Ray Dalio.

CL: To me, articles are on the bottom rung of quality, relatively speaking. They’re made to be consumed quickly and don’t have to withstand any test of time. Modern media doesn’t necessarily prioritize quality over volume, because their business model is more aligned with the latter. For example, Buzzfeed tests what headlines get the most clicks and if a headline does well, then they’ll write similar articles with the same headlines. This is like a machine, but I just want the good stuff.

HHS: Publications typically have agendas with their content, so I like to shake it up and read about one topic from a number of different sources to assimilate what I’m learning.

On The Flow of Information and Choosing What Sticks

HHS: I’m really interested in the flow of information. The person speaking has consumed all of this content to be able to present it, but they only present what’s resonated with them. After we hear it, we decide what sticks and how to present our own. We have our own filtering process to whatever we hear.

CL: I love Evernote for jotting down information or insights. Later, I can search for a keyword and find everything I’ve learned related to that topic. If something strikes me, I truly fear losing it. Sometimes, the desire to “make something stick” by writing it down comes to me at really bad times – like in services, ha! But if the information or insight is great, I just pull out Evernote and write it down. If I’m driving and this happens, I’ll pull over to write it down.

HHS: I’m the same way. I find that I come up with my best ideas when I’m sitting in class listening. I’m focusing on the flow of information, and alongside my notes about what I’m hearing, other ideas and concepts are clicking into place.

CL: That said; the good stuff sticks, just like in life – you remember that which means something to you. For example, at last year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, the CEO of WeWork spoke. I loved how authentic he was, the energy that came through what he said, and I’ll never forget the 20 minutes he was onstage.

On Creating New Information

HHS: As entrepreneurs, we are constantly obsessed with being creative and productive: putting pieces of content out there and having others read or engage with what we share. But essential to producing good content is the time investment necessary for learning and consuming content. Allen Gannett’s book, The Creative Curve, interviews journalist Andrew Ross Sorken. Sorken shares that his key to being an amazing journalist is studying great articles and finding a pattern or a story arc to them. This really stuck with me. I think as a writer, myself, there’s this idea that we can just sit down, put pen to paper, and something will flow from an unknown source. Adding in these almost scientific steps to crafting creative genius isn’t something I had considered beforehand.

CL: You can create anything with information from the past. Everything that’s happening now is from something that’s happened in the past.

HHS: We are always building upon the information we have available to us. It’s a process of evolution. The worry is, how do we create something new that stands out when it’s built upon that which has already been?

CL: I’d reference Seth Godin’s Purple Cow for this one. Simply: be remarkable. Here, remarkable doesn’t just mean “cool” or “neat;” it means being worthy of making a remark.

Shep Gordon said, “Great art divides the audience.” You never want your creation to be in the middle of the bell curve. If it pisses people off, great! It gets more attention. If people love it, you’ll know, and that’s sustainable. What you should fear is no reaction or polite apathy.

HHS: Learning should be more systemized, and then we can wait until we find the flow of creativity to make our own Purple Cow and create content that enthuses people. But first, we have to invest in ourselves and emphasize the assimilation of information. It’s worth it to lay the groundwork for when that creative flow comes rushing in.

CL: Yes! Everything we know in the world has structure – this represents science. The best creations and those which grab our attention – this is the art.

A couple examples of structure across different domains: If you evaluate 50 songs, they most likely follow a song pattern (or structure) like “verse, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, verse, etc.” Same with books, they have sentences, paragraphs, and chapter. Even with baking a cake: most cakes consist of eggs, flour, milk, sugar, etc.

What’s truly special, the abstraction, comes with the voice and lyrics within the song, the elegance of our words and ideas in that book, or the quality of the cake’s ingredients.

When you develop a sense of a structure, you develop an understanding of how the world accepts something, and once you have the empathy, you get to apply your own unique “art” to either contribute, redefine, and (if what you’ve made is special) even break the existing structures laid by those before you.

HHS: You have to understand the space the best you can before you make your mark on it.

CL: Absolutely. That’s why collecting and assimilating information is so important.

So, before you take your golden pen to create, consider first investing the time to collect information and content from trusted sources. Sometimes, the research work ‘in the dark’ is what enables us to create our best creative work yet, even if it takes a bit longer. The work will be tinged with pieces of intellect and thought from other great leaders, and further prove our full scope of knowledge on the subject. It’s connecting the dots that will support your own “audience-dividing”, ‘purple cow’ work. 


  • Haley Hoffman Smith

    Speaker & Author of Her Big Idea

    Haley Hoffman Smith is the author of Her Big Idea, a book on ideation and women's empowerment which debuted as a Top 3 Bestseller. She has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Washington Examiner, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown in May 2018. She is the founder of the Her Big Idea Fund in partnership with Brown's Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, which awards grants to women who apply with BIG ideas, and Her Big Lash, a cosmetics company.

    At Brown, she was the President of Women’s Entrepreneurship and started the first-ever women’s entrepreneurship incubator. She speaks on topics such as women's empowerment, innovation, social impact, and personal branding regularly across companies and college campuses, most recently at Harvard, TEDx, SoGal Ventures, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and more.