This is a bit of a summarized cross post from our blog at Inkling:
Jesse Schell in The Art of Game Design has a great section on a lesson he learned from his juggling career on where to find inspiration.
He was at a juggling festival when he was 14 and saw someone in a powder blue jumpsuit juggling there who really stood out from all the other professional jugglers. Not because of his suit, or because the guy was doing anything complicated, but because he had a style about him that was very unique and remarkable. This impressive juggler saw that Jesse was watching him and they had this conversation.
Powder blue jumpsuit: "Know why my tricks look so different?"
Jesse: "Uh, practice".
Jumpsuit: "No - everybody practices. Look around! They're all practicing. No, my tricks look different because of where I get them. These guys, they get their tricks from each other. Which is fine - you can learn a lot that way. But it will never make you stand out."
Jesse: "So where do you get them? Books?"
Jumpsuit: "Ha! Books. That's a good one. No, not books. You wanna know my secret? The secret is: don't look to other jugglers for inspiration - look everywhere else. I learned this one watching a ballet in New York (as he does a trick) And this one I learned from a flock of geese I saw take off from a lake up in Maine... See, these guys can copy my moves, but they can't copy my inspiration (After pointing out someone copying a move but looking bad in the process)."
You also see this type of copying Jesse saw at the festival all the time in this industry of ours of selling web applications. Application after application looks like a knock off of someone else's design. Which is great for learning, but as pale blue jumpsuit pointed out, these things will never look as good as the original because they lack inspiration.