Defining and Understanding Inspiration
What does the word “inspiration” mean to you personally, in your work and life?
Try this: Google “inspiration” and see what pops up. I’ve done this several times over the years and while the content changes each time, the flavor of what I see stays the same – a mix of definitions (which position “inspiration” as being “suddenly stimulated by an idea”) and pages of “inspirational quotes,” sometimes videos of commencement speeches, athletic feats, mixed with nature shots and cats doing cute things. I see advertisements saying “come to our website/store to get inspired!” The overall feeling I have as I scroll through these pages is… well, it’s not inspiration.
With the commercial / hedonistic emphasis in society today, have we relegated the experience of inspiration to simply feeling good in the moment?
In 2013, my business partners and now co-authors, Sandra Spataro and Jen Grace Baron, and I set out to understand what makes the difference between an everyday work experience and an extraordinary work experience. Together, we knew that people, teams, and even organizations could elevate themselves and others to extraordinary performance and results. The word “inspiration” kept coming up for us as we naturally embedded inspiring experiences into our work with clients.
To us, from the beginning, we have believed that inspiration – not just the fleeting feeling of it – but the day-to-day, lasting experience of it elevates work satisfaction, creativity and performance. Sustainable Inspiration is an underrated and most critical resource to be managed in modern work, not just individually, but collectively – on teams and within organizational culture. In fact, the greatest historical movements, business innovations, and personal achievements of all time have been fueled by lasting and focused inspiration.
But we realized, if we want others to be able to replicate and do this for themselves, we need to understand the mechanics – to crack the code on the process, so to speak. Our original digging found that few academics have studied inspiration specifically as a concept, especially as it applies to the workplace. Academics in emotional intelligence, motivation theory, organizational behavior, and positive psychology touch on concepts that overlap with inspiration. So we began our own research by consolidating observations and ideas from our work with more than 320 senior leaders. Then, in 2016, we began collecting our own data on inspiration through live and video interviews with nearly 70 leaders across industries, levels, and backgrounds. We analyzed all of this information qualitatively, identifying themes and insights that drive the frameworks in our book Dare to Inspire: Sustain the Fire of Inspiration in Work and Life.
We see our book as an initial exploration of inspiration in the workplace. We know that these ideas will continue to evolve as we continue our research and others add to it.
What we see very clearly now is that lasting inspiration, which is at the root of so many important movements, innovations, and accomplishments, must be redefined and elevated in importance, especially in the workplace. Inspiration is an underrated and most critical resource to be managed in modern work. It is the intangible that drives extraordinary results. And unlike the way people often see inspiration now – which is a fleeting emotion that unexpectedly happens, feels good, and then goes away – inspiration can and should be a daily practice, a deliberate orientation, and a mindset of staying connected to what inspires you.
Inspiration can and should be a daily practice, a deliberate orientation, and a mindset of staying connected to what inspires you.
What do we mean by an inspiration mindset? A mindset is an underlying perspective, attitude or belief. An inspiration mindset is embodying the attitude that inspiration can be cultivated, created and made to last (versus a fleeting emotion that you can’t control or create). Although it may not always be possible to produce inspiration on demand, having an inspiration mindset takes a more active vs. passive approach. It means recognizing one’s own levels of inspiration and intentionally creating opportunities where inspiration will be more likely to happen. We can do this using what we call the engines of inspiration.