Learning quickly

If you’re learning a new skill, you should be copying others.

My first introduction to computer programming was through a visual, block-based language called Scratch. Scratch had a homepage that showcased projects from its community: games, animations, and other fun creations made by people from around the world. As a kid whose dream was to make games, I would spend my free time in the computer lab playing and browsing games on the homepage. Whenever I found a game that I enjoyed, I would click the “See Inside” button and attempt to re-create it myself.

You learn a lot from copying others’ games. Your brain could do the work on autopilot but you’re also stepping into the shoes of the creator when they were working on that project. You notice details and decisions that you wouldn’t on initial inspection and think critically about why certain decisions were made in the first place.

I learnt a lot quicker this way than I would by following tutorials and gradually working on more and more complex projects. By the time I had copied one or two projects, I had figured out pretty much everything about the software and had a decent enough understanding to begin making my own games.

Over the years, I found myself repeating the same process—copying others—to learn any new skill.

When learning to build websites, I would find a landing page I liked and try to replicate it. If I was stuck or couldn’t figure out how to do something, I’d open up “Inspect Element” on the original site to see how the original developer did it.

When I was travelling and learning to take photos, the first thing I did when I went to a new city was to visit its location tag on Instagram to find cool shots. Then, I’d go to those locations and try to take the same shots, with the same lighting, framing, and editing.

When I was learning design, I would go on Dribbble and find existing websites and apps I liked and steal elements to incorporate into my own designs.

I believe that copying others is the fastest way to build a foundation in whichever skill you’re trying to learn. It’s a natural part of our biology and also why children are so good at picking things up: throw a newborn in a foreign culture and they’ll learn a language by copying others without any formal instruction.

When I was young, I’d feel guilty about copying others and would often think I was committing a cardinal sin. Over time, I’ve begun to see it as the core methodology in how we learn. Of course, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. And with time, you’ll realize that everything is a remix of something else—and that nothing is original.

Copy enough, and eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can remix inspiration into your own unique style and work.