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Finding Inspiration

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“How can I be inspired to innovate?” asked a young engineer following my keynote speech at his company’s “Innovation Day.” He said he appreciated the effort his company is making to foster innovation: creating a day where they can check out what special projects everyone else was working on, setting up special areas where employees can go to feel inspired, putting up inspirational quotes around the campus. But all that doesn’t work for him. He can’t just “pop out” new ideas. I told him that I wasn’t surprised. In my experience, finding inspiration isn’t something that can be scheduled or forced. That’s why so many brainstorming sessions fail to come up with big ideas.

Inspiration is often random. At least for me. It happens when you’re thinking about something else. I got the idea for this post in the shower today. Really!

On the flight home, I started thinking about how I’ve been inspired, especially as an entrepreneur.  Here’s how I came up with some of my bigger ideas:

Travel Fanatic: I was sitting next to Martha Stewart’s table at Le Cirque on the night she was celebrating her big IPO. My friends who knew my background and passion for travel encouraged me to pursue a dream. Do for travel what Martha did for the home.  When I got back to LA, I went for it. Built a website, became an expert on TV and online and got a book deal. Even raised a seed round. Unfortunately 9/11 shattered this dream but at least I got to see it come to life.

Beer Wars: Supersize Me had just come out and I decided (on the spur of the moment) to make a documentary film. I used an invitation to the annual beer industry convention as a starting point and 3 years later I had a finished film. Every time I got stuck (because it turns out it’s really HARD to make a movie without a script) I stopped trying and did something else. And the answers came.  While I kept hiring editors and consultants to put the puzzle pieces together, in the end, I had to trust myself because the movie was playing inside my head.

StashWall: I got the idea for a tech startup by accident. Literally. That’s a story for another day. The design came to me when I was visiting the Griffith Observatory and saw the Interactive periodic table of elements. I sent photos of it to my designer and we went from there. I “borrowed” the concept from a completely unrelated medium and reworked it so it could inspire our look and feel.

 So how can you get inspired?

  1. Stop trying so hard. The more obsessed you are with finding a solution to a problem or creating something new, the less likely you are to find it. And the more likely you are to become frustrated and give up.
     
  2. Take a new route. A friend wrote a book about dating a few years back. Her advice – get out of your own way. Stop following your routine. Pursue activities that you don’t ordinarily participate in. Basically change things up. She took her own advice. She met her husband walking up the stairs to services at a synagogue she had never attended before. Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery to change your life.
     
  3. Get out in nature. Nothing beats a walk on a beach or a hike up a mountain to help clear your head and open your mind to new ideas.
     
  4. Exercise. This is a cliché but working out is good for your brain, not just your body. Changing your focus can help you hone in on the solution that’s eluded you.
     
  5. Take more showers. Since a shower (or similar “mindless” activity) is relaxing, your brain may release dopamine that can help boost your creative juices.
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