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Inspiration leads to new ideas and new ways of thinking

Is Your Inspiration Inspiring Enough?

When we talk about inspiration, we’re generally talking about how it makes us feel. For example, millions felt inspired after reading about how a young Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban. 

But there are two sides to the definition of inspiration. We are inspired to feel something or we are inspired to do something (or both). 

When it comes to business, both are relevant. If, for example, something inspires us to feel empathy for our customers, that’s a good thing. It draws us closer to their experiences. Ultimately though, we must always be moving toward “doing,” and not just “feeling.” Greater empathy for a customer’s challenges navigating our website, for example, might prompt us to make changes to the website. Similarly, empathy for our customers’ (or non-customers’) struggles to get a certain job done might prompt us to design one if it doesn’t already exist.

In general, we don’t think of inspiration as something so simple or ordinary that it merely motivates us to act. Our alarm clocks motivate us to wake up. A growling stomach motivates us to eat. Neither is particularly inspiring. We expect more from inspiration; we expect inspiration to make us feel good. And in that respect, inspiration isn’t all that unlike a drug, albeit a healthy and legal one. When something makes us feel good, we often seek more of it…whatever “it” is. That’s why we watch TED talks, follow people who inspire us on Twitter, or subscribe to one of thousands of sources of daily inspirations that are delivered right to our email inbox. The more we get, the more we want.

We can become all-consumed in the search for new inspiration. We’ve been conditioned to open ourselves up and let the inspirations just flow right in, in whatever order they may arrive and from whatever source they’re spawned, inspiring us to, well…whatever. But at some point, the productive among us want (or need) to stop the constant flow of random inspirations in order to actually do something. 

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for an inspiration to come to us. We don’t have to wait for someone to email us a link to an inspiring video. We can seek inspiration. We can even take control. 

We do it by learning to seek inspiration—specific inspiration—in support of our needs and objectives. Believe it or not, as is the case with most things, if we study it enough we can wrap our minds around it and control it. We can find inspiration, nearly (but not literally) “on demand.”

In business, the most frequent action that we’re looking for from an inspiration is the generation of an idea or solution. Everyone needs to generate ideas at some point. Yet most people don’t feel like they’re particularly good at coming up with new ideas. And when trying to do so, they find themselves left with the same old boring and ineffective brainstorming sessions.

Understanding the many potential sources of inspiration is one place to start. For innovators of all kinds, we’ve identified three very powerful and common sources. There are, of course, many others, but from our research these three are among the most useful:

  • Nature
  • Customers
  • History and Fiction, especially science fiction

Nature is incredibly powerful, resilient, and efficient. Nature is adaptable. Nature has inspired millions of ideas, from Michael Phelps’s swimsuit, fashioned after shark skin, to the invention of the atomic bomb.

Customers inspire us in all kinds of ways. Lead users, for example, are those who inspire us with the solutions to their own problems without even realizing they’ve become inventors.

And the number one source of inspiration for CEOs turns out to be history and science fiction. The amazing thing about science fiction, in particular, is that it almost never turns out to be fiction. Rather, once we mere mortals dream something up, we almost always figure out how to make it a reality.

To help you learn to take charge of your own inspiration, we’ve designed a series of workshops that we’re calling the “Inspiring Us” series. You can learn more about them at The first weeklong workshop, Inspired by Nature, is coming up on April 11th.

Readers of Chief Innovator Online are entitled to a 15% discount by simply entering the code “Dave” when registering before March 11th.

David Silverstein is the founder and CEO of BMGI. You can follow David on LinkedIn here.

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