You may have come in to this world fully charged with a mission to do something or you may have stumbled in to your life’s work. Chances are, though, it was a conscious decision to do something particular having been inspired by someone or something.
But that initial inspiration, important though it was, is unlikely to sustain you to the end. You will need more inspiration along the way. But where are you going to find it?
In a way, this is a strange question to ask. The root of the word ‘inspiration’ is a religious one in which enlightenment is passed down to us from on high. It isn’t for us to go and get it. We can only receive it when it comes.
It's a bit like trying to arrange a coincidence or to orchestrate serendipity. These are contradictions in terms.
But for your life’s work to be sustained, there are probably two things that need to be periodically topped up. Your enthusiasm needs to be re-charged and you will also need a flow of new ideas from which to draw. These things can be regarded as interconnected components of inspiration and considered separately are, perhaps, a little easier to handle.
(Interestingly, ‘enthusiasm’ also has a religious root and means to be filled with ‘theos’. Or god. Or good. It is perhaps less passive, and this provides your opportunity).
Chance favours the connected mind
But there are no short cuts to inspiration. You’re going to have to allocate time and energy to the pursuit of something that is both indeterminate and illusive. You will only you know you have it when you can feel it. Much of your search will take place outside of your normal areas of interest and with people you have never met before.
Tim Smit’s rules for staff at the Eden Project include a requirement for them each to read two books per year that friends and colleagues will know to be outside their sphere of interest. And then provide reviews for those friends and colleagues. And then to do the same for two plays and two films. A structured approach to getting people to think outside of their comfort zones.
In his research for 'Where Do Good Ideas Come From', author Steven Johnson looked at the development of many break-through ideas and found that very often they were the result of one person with a slow-burning hunch meeting, by chance, another person with a slow-burning hunch. Neither had the missing piece of the others gestating idea but the combination of the two hunches led to a new idea that was even better.
This led Johnson to assert in his book that “chance favours the connected mind".
But what can we do, in our ordinary lives, to greatly improve our chances of being inspired? Here are two strategies:
Develop a system to search for and capture semi-random things of interest. Cast your net wide. Use any and all media. Books, magazines, radio, TV, video, podcast, newsfeed etc. Use technology to your advantage. You won’t have time to review this material when you capture it (you may never have time to look at all of it) but your aim is to develop a library of material that ‘might be interesting’ to you and that you can have with you, whenever you have a spare moment. Use aggregator apps such as Feedly and save-it-til-later apps like Pocket or use customized on-line magazine apps such as Flipboard to greatly increase the scope of content to which you are exposed.
You don’t need to read everything word for word or watch everything end to end. This is a scanning and awareness exercise. It will provide you with a flow of new (to you) ideas, trends and people and has the potential to be incredibly useful when the time is right.
Need something about the effect of doing this.
Useful though it may be, it will fall short of providing the inspirational buzz that you will get from live events. That’s where the real work is done.
Plan your year to include a number of selected events. But not any events. Not professional or sector-specific events. Not events where people will still be in work mode. Not events where people will be too constrained by convention.
You are looking for events that have no particular themes, in places that are new to you, with people that are new to you. Where people are going to be in ‘away-day mode', with open minds and a willingness to explore with others.
My 2016 diary has the following events firmly in place:
May: Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye
June: Small is Beautiful Conference, Glasgow
July: Do Lectures, Cardigan
September: Festival No 6, Portmeirion
September: Good Life Experience, North Wales
November: Meaning Conference, Brighton
I have no idea what I am going to get out of these events. I won’t be going with preconceived expectations. To a large extent it will be a simple leap of faith. I may well be disappointed. But I doubt it.
From my experience at other events of this type the ideas, connections and people will feed my needs for months to come.
So whilst it may be impossible to set out to obtain inspiration, by being organised, I believe you can greatly increase the chances of it coming your way. It just won’t happen every time.
What do you do? I’d be interested to know.