As you become more senior in an organisation you increasingly have to inspire others. And when your job and business depends on you for inspiration it’s a problem if you run out of inspiration yourself.
So how can you keep your enthusiasm and motivation when you feel far from inspired? And how can you extract yourself from a creative rut when the last thing you feel like it being creative?
If I knew what inspired me, truth be told, I would spend far more time doing that! But over the years I have found some things that work for me… and they might work for you as well.
Have you ever arrived at work with little memory of the journey you took? Too often we commute on autopilot and block out the world in order to get to work like it’s another task on a to-do list.
But this often means we arrive numbed and anaesthetised from the world rather than attuned to it. Our senses are blunted not heightened.
So instead of taking the same route to work change your journey. Instead of blocking out conversations with headphones tune into and listen to them. Instead of looking down at your feet look up at the sky and the architecture around you. It’s amazing what you see and notice around you.
If you don’t think there is much of note in your area read On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz. In it, she walks around her New York neighbourhood with 11 different ‘experts’ – including an insect specialist, her child, and a typographer. You’ll never think of an ordinary street as ordinary again.
Too often we read things for work because we think they will make us more successful, more intelligent or more popular. Reading and finding things out then becomes a means to an end rather than the end itself.
But by doing this we lose the joy of finding things out and the joy of losing oneself in a subject – no matter what that subject is.
But by definition, if you follow something that piques your curiosity you are going to be interested in it. The trick is not to worry too much about where it is leading you, just enjoy the journey. The surprising thing is that these meanders can often lead you to a different place – and that place opens up a different perspective that you might not have considered before.
I once spent an afternoon talking to people of different nationalities about what they called the piece of furniture several people can sit on to watch TV - Brits call it a sofa, Americans call it a couch and some Canadians call it a Chesterfield... which confusingly Brits call a specific type of sofa.
That arcane information came in use when I had to speak to a global furniture retailer about their search and tagging strategy - and how they needed to adapt their navigation for different countries when talking about different pieces of furniture like sofas. And I still use it today as an example of how seemingly similar cultures can have subtle but important differences in the way they behave.
There are some people I know on whom I can rely to inspire me. They might look at the world from a different perspective to me, they might be able to articulate a thought in a way that zings or they might just know different things.
But what they have in common is a generosity of spirit, and conversation with them always feels additive and generative. They build on ideas and add to thinking rather than battle, critique or nit-pick. I’m not saying those skills aren’t valuable – but they aren’t what I need when my inspiration batteries are running low!
If you don’t know people like that then find some and if you do know some look after them – or at least buy them lunch. I’m meeting with a group of like-minded souls in Chicago in a week’s time and I can’t wait for my fix of inspiration
Sometimes the worst thing you can do when inspiration has run dry is to try to chase it too hard – particularly when you have an internet connection.
Aimlessly surfing might feel like a creative endeavour but spending hours looking for inspiration online can be counterproductive – particularly if it means you are chained to your desk or worse lie awake late into the night.
So rather than chase inspiration take some time out and wait for it to come to you. Falling asleep under an apple tree did wonders for Newton's career and it can help yours too.
And don’t believe the hype about super successful and productive people surviving on 4 hours sleep a night. Those people are the outliers and not the norm. Matthew Walker, Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California classifies anyone who sleeps less than 7 hours a night as being sleep deprived!
Inspiration is often seen as one-way - you inspire other. But I remember John Sintras always talking about inspiration as being a cyclical relationship. – you inspire people and they inspired you. And I’ve always seen mentoring relationships like this. I’ve always felt that I’ve gained as much from mentoring as (I hope!) my mentees have gained from me.
Not only does mentoring help you reconnect with what you found inspiring about a subject in the first place but you can also vicariously enjoys the enthusiasm of others. The joys of introducing someone to a writer or a subject that you know and love is two-fold. Not only is the fact that you are helping someone else but you can relive the inspiration you first felt went discovering those voices yourself.
So those are my tips for finding inspiration - I hope they have inspired you. In return, I'd love to hear what you do when you need some inspiration. Please share your thoughts and tips below.
Paul is Global Head of Strategy at Vizeum. He is a Global Strategist with experience that spans a variety of sectors (CPG, Tech, Pharma and Finance) and disciplines (Media, Advertising, CRM and Sales Promotion). He is responsible for European Strategy across all Starcom Global Network Clients including Samsung, P&G, Coke, Airbnb, Novartis, Etihad, Mars. Paul holds a Bachelor in Biological Sciences, Zoology from the University of Oxford.