Most companies are focusing on the intended output when they should be focusing on the input. This flawed-and all too common approach-has created the need to apply a new equation:
inspiration + creativity = innovation
Powerful ideas come from the combination of inspiration and creativity and will go on to become innovations that inspire individuals, teams, the larger organisation, and, in turn, the world. It's an elegant cycle based on the simple proposition that you need new input if you hope to gain new output.
And inspiration is a discipline that requires deliberate practice. Inspiration as a discipline? Absolutely.
Think of inspiration as having five distinct modes: serendipity, recreation, purposeful distraction, forced connection, and targeted discovery. By practicing each, inspiration becomes easier to achieve and more rewarding over time.
An unexpected moment of inspiration. That's true serendipity. It could be the accidental combination of two chemicals in a lab that creates a revolutionary reaction. It could be someone's strange T-shirt on the bus. We don't seek it out, but serendipitous inspiration stops us in our tracks and demands inquiry.
Recreational inspiration is common, just unrecognized. Its sole function is to release the conscious mind from its standard routine or set of direct concerns. Sports. Music. Hobbies. Exercise. Watching TV. Surfing the Internet. Solving a puzzle. Playing a game. Taking a nap. People have varying ways of taking their minds off work, worries, and problems. Make time for fun and your inspiration skills will sharpen.
Unfortunately, we are trained to keep working and push through our confusion and desperation to develop better solutions, equating the time spent on a challenge with the quality of the outcome. Nothing could be further from the truth. Researchers at the University of Amsterdam gave two groups complicated problems to solve. After working for a few minutes, one group was asked to instead work on a short brainteaser. The other group had more time to keep thinking about the problem. When both groups were told to stop and offer answers, the group working on the puzzle found the solution to the original challenge more often.
Once you feel confident with intentional distraction, move on to forced connection. This is the first step in applying inspiration to a specific real-time objective, and it's a skill that requires development. How can the glass of water in front of you help your sales team? How can an overheard conversation in public lend you a new perspective on your company's brand? Results may lead to the next transformational innovation-or nowhere at all.
Forcing connections can be awkward, but there's a payoff to developing the discipline for finding relationships between focused objectives and seemingly tangential sources of inspiration. Push yourself. And take notes.
Once you hone your divergent thinking skills through forced connection, you can try targeted discovery. This mode pushes you to seek out sources of inspiration that will strategically stretch your thinking, challenge your assumptions, and create new connections-all with a specific real-time objective in mind. What can a five-star hotel manager learn from a zoo? What can a marketing team learn from a hostage negotiator? What new ideas will come to an emergency room doctor after he works in a fast food drive-thru for an hour?
You might think that I am, well, insane. You have too much work to do to stop and get inspired. You can't take your eye off the bottom line. You are probably thinking, "Inspiration is for artists, musicians, and cult leaders."
I often ask clients, "What's the definition of insanity?" Without fail, one person in every group will offer up, "Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results." Exactly. Inspiration is the new input that can break this cycle, return sanity to innovation, and create a sustainable pipeline for ideas of impact.
What are you waiting for? Take a moment and look around you. What do you have to lose?