I find it curious and paradoxical that I am actually struggling for inspiration as I write this. I think the issue may be that I’m not 100% clear what the question is asking of me. What in truth is inspiration? Can it be nurtured?
It has a mystical and almost magical quality. It is clearly something that is within the remit of what we call the unconscious and therefore isn’t something that can be summoned at will.
It feels like it is coming from somewhere else – like messengers from another world who turn up whenever it suits them. Our conscious minds don’t control the schedule and the process cannot therefore be forced.
Creating Conditions for Inspiration to Bloom
And yet, while inspiration may not be within our control, like a gardener we can certainly create conditions in which it can bloom. It is ultimately about the long game. One such path is to seek connections between seemingly unrelated areas, an idea beautifully illustrated in “The Medici Effect” by Frans Johansson. By delving into realms outside our normal area of expertise, we give our brains scope to create interesting connections and uncover novel solutions.
As the name implies, this is something we more associate with the Renaissance than with modern culture. Our worlds have become highly siloed. Given the dramatic increase in human knowledge that certainly makes sense on one level. And yet, having expertise in one area doesn’t preclude us from breaking out of our own silos in search of new ideas and fresh ways of thinking.
- Go for a mindful walk: My go-to technique is taking a short walk in the garden. This has been lauded by writers and creators throughout history. Just now I stepped out into the garden and marvelled at the apple-loaded tree just outside my door. It has few concerns about inspiration. It just focuses on being a tree. It likely doesn’t worry whether it is making good apples or poor apples – it just trusts in the process and the rest takes care of itself.
- Contemplation and meditation: Aside from spending time in nature and with nature, meaning away from any devices, other forms of contemplation and meditation can be very helpful. It is really about getting out of our own way.
When I am pondering something, I often go off with my notebook and just lie in my hammock. Thoughts typically start randomly floating around my brain – usually around whatever has been on my plate that day. I then get to capture them. They often include some really insightful ideas and specific suggested actions.
- Art and creativity: Engaging with various forms of art, whether it is painting, music, dance or poetry, can provide a gateway to deeper emotions and thoughts. Creating art yourself or even just witnessing it can spark innovation.
- Spending time with others: In a way, it feels like we are only fully human in the company of others. Some parts of our thinking thus flourish when in dialogue with others. Indeed, we often only know what we think about something when challenged by others.That is why so many brainstorming techniques have been developed to cultivate collective inspiration. However, because of group dynamics they often fail to deliver. It is therefore about finding a process that allows you to openly think in the company of others. One very simple approach is espousing your idea and asking another person to ask Why questions. Read more about The 5 Whys method.
In conclusion, inspiration might not be something we can summon at will, but it is something we can invite into our lives through curiosity, openness and mindful presence. The journey towards inspiration is as enlightening as the inspiration itself, filled with discoveries, connections and the joy of exploration.
Question in the Image:
- Where might I go to meet inspiration?
Want to Read More Around This Topic?
The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson (link to Amazon.co.uk). The book explores how breakthrough insights and creativity often arise at the intersection of diverse disciplines, cultures and domains.
Using the Medici family’s patronage of Renaissance Florence artists and thinkers as a metaphor, the author looks at how the collision of different ideas and perspectives sparks innovation. For those seeking to explore uncharted territories of inspiration, this book provides practical guidance on how to break down silos and encourage collaboration across various fields.
Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. In truth, my morning routines are questioning me this morning, asking me “Are we still right for you?“
I focus primarily on process goals over outcome goals. This means putting in place processes that I believe will move me towards my vision day by day and enjoying and trusting in that process, in the knowledge each day that I have done my bit. The outcome will then take care of itself. Think of training for a long run.
And yet, what happens when the hoped for outcomes don’t come? It is natural for the process to be questioned. Sport is a highly Darwinian example of this. And yet, while reflection on the process is essential and valid, unless there is evidence to the contrary it feels right to play out the initial plan and stick with the process. Doubt alone adds nothing to decision-making.
About Tom O’Leary
My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.
The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.
And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.
That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.
How Might Tom Help?
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