Monday, 22 May 2006

The Importance of Being Inspired in Business

“How do you come up with good ideas?” I was asked at a forum I spoke at recently…. “I sit and research all sorts of markets” the individual continued, “and look for gaps, and look for opportunities, but nothing gels, HOW do you do it?”

This got me thinking…. Business writers have tried for a long time to extract the characteristics of good entrepreneurs, and usually come up with factors like ‘luck’, ‘determination’, and ‘intelligence’. While certainly important, these factors alone cannot guarantee you good ideas…. What these writers often miss is ‘inspiration’.I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a fair few entrepreneurs in my life, from industries ranging from distribution to design, and finance to fisheries! Without exception, the individuals who seemed to have really succeeded and developed flourishing companies had a passion for ‘something’ OUTSIDE their workplace. “What” that something was, varied from art, charity work, sports, travel, music and more, but the key factor is that these passions gave them the environment to think creatively, and be more inspired to take those thoughts back into their workplaces.

The business world, after all, is a difficult one to gain much inspiration. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "The crowning fortune of a man is to be born to some pursuit which finds him employment and happiness, whether it be to make baskets, or broad swords, or canals, or statues, or songs”. This rather romanticised view of life seems all the more distant, when considering the reality of the rat race. An environment of grey suits, instant coffee, and clock watching, where rush hour is a fact of life, and the background hum of a photocopier, interspersed with the rustle of papers, and the ringing of phones provide the soundtrack for the day. In this environment it is (clearly) difficult to feel inspired and to have those eureka! Moments which define the progress of your enterprise.

The key is to keep a very open mind, and expose yourself to as many different experiences as you can, as you never know when inspiration will strike you! Certainly, networking events are rarely a good source for inspiration, more a pissing-contest for who has the fanciest business card, and rarely too are ‘inspiration forums’ a good source, unless you feel inspired at how much adulation and ego can be squeezed into a conference room at once.

No, for me, the tactic is very different…. My inspiration comes from art and music. I don’t mean this in the literal sense of sitting there and thinking, “Rembrandt was a genius, I know – I’m going to start a healthcare textiles firm”, but more in the context of the ‘mindset’ which feeling inspired provokes, seeming to stimulate all the right bits of the brain to come up with those elusive great ideas. Even as I write this, for example, I am sat listening to some great music (Snow Patrol’s latest album in case you’re interested) finding it far easier to progress than sat (as I was before) in a quiet environment, feeling terribly uninspired (writers block).

For many others, their inspiration comes from a person!

Figuratively, since the renaissance and even back into ages of the Greeks and Romans, “muses” have inspired artists to create their greatest works. In Sonnet 78, for example, Shakespeare wrote, “So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse, And found such fair assistance in my verse”.

In this sense, one could suppose, a “muse” to be anything which supplies that inspiration, for some, it may be a person (I know many who have had their best ideas in business when in love), and for others, it could be music (though it would sound terribly crass to say ‘music is my muse’). St. Bartholemew (One of the twelve apostles, c. 1 AD) spoke, “Spend time every day listening to what your muse is trying to tell you”.

So, my conclusion to the question I was asked of “How do you come up with good ideas?”

Find something which inspires you, and let it!

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