7 Practices of Highly Inspired People

I have been writing every for this blog for the past 20 days and every time I open up my laptop to write, I don’t necessarily have an idea that I want to write about. I need some kind of an inspiration, some seed of a thought which can then go on to become a blog post. This is what writers call inspiration. As entrepreneurs, we our productivity and effectiveness is at its highest when we are inspired. So it is with our team mates.

All creative ideas have an inspiration as their seed. Someone somewhere was inspired by someone/something that led him/her to come up and express their creativity. As entrepreneurs, we know the importance of creativity in our pursuit. We are constantly facing challenging situations that need to be solved. The more creative and practical our solutions, the more success we can see in our enterprise. This is as much true for us as leaders as much it is for our teams.

All kinds of artists and entrepreneurs are always looking for inspiration or as they call it – their muse. There are times when something comes together in our minds rather suddenly and strangely.

The question then to ask ourselves is the following:

Is it possible for us to find inspiration & thereafter stay inspired? Can we do it on-demand?

Can we create an environment where not just us, but everyone in the environment can access inspiration on-demand?

I believe that the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes”. I can tell this with some authority as I have been able to find inspiration to create something every single day for the past 30 days as a result of some practices that I have put in place in my live. I can tell this with authority as I know of a lot of artists and entrepreneurs have done this in their lives from which I have learnt a lot. I can tell this with authority as there is a lot of scientific research that has show that this is possible. 

Before we start talking about practices to find inspiration on-demand, lets first try to understand what inspiration actually is. Every time we come across a new set of information or a fresh idea, the way our brains process them is that it creates a new neural pathway that corresponds to this idea. Now, almost all neural pathway is connected to all other pathways. The question is for us to find some of these interesting connection.

We say we are inspired by something, when unwittingly our brain has found a new neural pathway from one known pathway to another known pathway. So, almost all new inspiration is about finding new neural pathways from one existing idea to another. This can happen by connecting one idea with another, combining different ideas, subtracting something from one idea or even a combination of all of these tricks. The most fundamental thing here is that we need to be exposed to a lot of different ideas.

Once when someone asked me about how to get new ideas, I had responded that in order to get new ideas, you need a lot of old ideas. Every idea that we come across is filed away in our brain and is similar to an alphabet in our language. We are able to combine these alphabets to come up with words (first simple, then complex) and build our vocabulary. We can then use these words to come up with sentences and then combine these sentences to come up with paragraphs, stories, poetry and so and so forth. So, the more ideas that we are exposed to, the more chances we have of coming up with an inspired idea.

Being inspired is a state of mind.

Creating conditions for inspiration is about finding and accessing the states of mind that works best for us. Knowing this, here are some practices that I have put in place in my life to find inspiration on-demand.

Practice 1: The Practice Intentionality:

The first practice is all about noticing thing all around us. There are ideas all around us. The way someone is dressed, the advertisement that we saw on TV, the way something is on display in a shop, the way a speaker presented his idea, the story your child told you about her school, the way a dancer moved on stage, the way a musician composed his song, etc.. The list goes on and on. There are ideas all around us. What we need to do is be intentional about noticing these ideas.

Practice 2: The Practice of Diversity:

As i have already indicated, in order to be inspired, we need to allow our brains to connect disparate information together, which means that we need to expose ourselves to diverse and disparate information from different sources. If we only read the same stuff everyday, watch the same shows on TV, take the same route to office everyday, see the same friends, work in the same industry, we are ensuring that we will not have the diverse inputs needed for us to be and stay inspired.

So, we need to read different kinds of stuff, watch different kinds of shows, visit new places, take different routes to office, work in different industries or at least meet with people who are not very similar to us and our appraoch to life. We need to mix things up intentionally.

I know people who pick up magazines specifically not targetted for them, attend conferences which have nothing to do with their industry or the kind of work they do. I myself have a reading list that is varied and consists of material and topics that is no way connected to the work that i do. Yet, my brain always finds a connection between what I do and what i read. That is the job of my brain that it does really well.

Practice 3: The Practice of Reflection:

Once we notice things around us, we then need to find a way to capture and reflect on these ideas. We could capture them by clicking a picture, taking a video, making a note (audio or text), connecting this idea with something that we already deeply care about. I use all of these methods to capture ideas – click pictures/videos, make notes (text or audio), save something on my Evernote (stuff that I find interesting online), etc.

The key here is that we need to go back to these ideas on a regular basis so that we are able to create neural pathways to these ideas and can retrieve them on-demand when needed.

Practice 4: The Practice of Brahmanian Thinking:

In Hindu mythology, there are three gods who are the “Trinity”. One of them, Brahma, the creator, is supposed to have 4 heads, one in each direction. I consider that as an analogy for us to learn to see and think from different perspectives before creating anything new. This holds true for all creative ideas.

The practice of looking at the same thing from different angles and perspectives offers us a great deal of more information that can then trigger new ideas. It is important for us to build this habit intentionally. This is the key practice if we are to be able to make unusual connection. If we see the same thing that everyone else sees, we will come to the same conclusion that everyone else is coming to and thereby we will come up the same kinds of ideas that everyone else is coming up with.

Practice 5: The Practice of Reframing:

Another way to ensure that we are able to speed up the ability to connect disparate ideas and inputs to form new, creative and inspired stuff is by practicing the art of reframing. Our brain functions in a way that it frames everything that it encounters in one way or another. Add to this that the way our brain functions is that if we pose a question, it is conditioned to work towards finding an answer.

So, If we can find a way to frame the question or the problem differently than what was originally posed, we are able to solve it differently as well. There are different ways to reframe any challenge or issues or problems.

We can reframe by changing the context in which the problem is being faced, by changing the person whose point of view is being used to solve the problem and similar.

Practice 6: The Practice of  Constraints:

One of the ways that we can force ourselves to come up with interesting and unique ideas or feel inspired is when we introduce new constraints. This again is how our brains function. If i were to ask you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your home, you might take longer to answer if I just asked you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your kitchen. This is just how our brains work.

So, if we are looking for an inspiration for something, we will do better if we introduce new constraints in our thinking. This could come in many forms – we need ideas that use sound/music, will use comedy, will make use of children, needs to cost us under a certain cost or needs to use a specific color even. The idea is to move between different constraints to see if any of them inspire us to come up with something really unique and inspired.

Practice 7: The Practice of Practice:

The last but the most important practice to getting and staying inspired is to practice being inspired. We need to constantly work our muscles of creativity and inspiration. As most inspired creators will tell you, they need to build in rituals and habits of getting and staying inspired. This is also like a muscle. The more we practice, the stronger it gets.

In short, we need to practice getting inspired on a daily basis. We can’t do the work every single day by practicing all these practices and expect to get inspired on-demand. This is the work-ethic that is needed to get and stay inspired.

When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it  -Freud

In Conclusion:

There are a lot of things that we can do to get and stay inspired on-demand. There is also a lot that we can do to create an environment that allows us to create a culture where our teams can get and stay inspired on-demand.
I will delve deeper into how to create a culture where teams can get and stay inspired in a separate post shortly.
Btw, this post was also inspired by a post by  on here.

What’s Killing our Creativity?

Scene 1:

I was visiting a hospital today to visit someone who is admitted there to get through a minor surgery. He was supposed to check into the hospital at noon on a given date and check out at about 4:00PM the next day. This means that he had to spend about 28 hours in the hospital. Even for these 28 hours when he was in the hospital, when he was officially on medical leave, he was still working. He was checking his email, responding to his calls and even checking his social media feeds (twitter, Facebook, linked and Instagram).

When probed, he asked me the following question –

“What am I supposed to do if I am not checking my emails or my social media feed? Just sit there and do what?”

At that time, I just let that pass but his question kept coming back to me making me think about what would my behaviour be in such a situation? When I thought about it and if I have to be honest, I would have done a few things differently. Maybe I would have scanned my email once in a while to ensure that there is no fire that needs to be put out. I am fortunate that I don’t necessarily have a lot of fire to put out. So, that would not be an issue with me. I would have picked up a book and read it. Alternately, I would have used the time to catch up on a movie.

What would you do if you were in a such a situation? Are you able to completely disconnect from work or from social media?

If you are like most of us, you would have done something similar.

IF we look at this at a slightly deeper level, we can find that we all want to do something so that we feel busy. We want to feel that we are achieving something.

Scene 2:

Now, lets look at a completely different scene.

We are at work and are in a fix over some issue and need to find a solution to fix it. The issue is not something that has a single right way to solve. And the more creative we are, the better the solution could be. We gather our team around in a room and want to do engage in a brainstorming session. The facilitator sets up the context and wants us to come up with creative ideas that could potentially solve the issue at hand.

We try to come up with some regular ideas, that are neither surprising nor creative. Has this ever happen with you?

I can assure you that most people struggle with coming up with creative ideas. I teach design thinking to experienced executives and as part of the workshop, the participants are required to come up with 25 creative ideas to solve a given challenge. It has never happened in over 100 such cohorts that someone has come up with even 20 ideas (forget creative ideas).

While on the outside, these two scenes may seem to disparate and not connected, research indicates that one is the cause for the other. The fact that we almost always opt to staying busy all the time is probably the cause of the difficulty in coming up with creative ideas. 

Among many qualities that suffer, recent research shows creativity takes a hit when we are constantly busy. The ability to switch between a state of focus and daydreaming is an important skill for being creative. Constant busyness has a significant impact on this ability, thereby making it more difficult to be creative.

Stanford’s Emma Seppälä writes

The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work.

We now consume up to five times as much information as 25 years prior; outside of work we process roughly 100,000 words every day. This saps us of not only willpower (of which we have a limited store) but diminishes our ability to think creatively as well.

Creativity engages the brain’s daydreaming mode directly and stimulates the free flow and association of ideas, forging links between concepts and neural modes that might not otherwise be made. Creativity is all about making non-obvious connection between disparate and disconnected ideas. So, we will struggle to be creative if we are unable to access the daydreaming mode as and when we need. 

This is impossible when every free moment—at work, in line, at a traffic light—we’re reaching for our phone. Our brain becomes habitual to constant stimulation; we grow antsy and irritable when we don’t get that stimulation. At this time we can be sure that we’re addicted to busyness. 

And that’s not so good for us, specially when if we are required to be creative at a moment’s notice. As Seppälä points out many of the world’s greatest minds made important discoveries while not doing much at all. Nikola Tesla had an insight about rotating magnetic fields on a leisurely walk in Budapest; Albert Einstein liked to chill out and listen to Mozart on breaks from intense thinking sessions and even play his violin.

If being creative is important for us, we might have to engineer scarcity in our communications, in our interactions, and in the things we consume so that we have time to allow boredom and allow our minds to wander. Otherwise we run the risk of our lives becoming like a Morse code transmission that’s lacking breaks — a swarm of noise blanketing the valuable data beneath. 

So, the question that we need to ponder is the following:

How to disconnect in a time when connection is demanded by bosses, peers, and friends?

  1. Make time for a long walk without our phones. Incorporate this as a daily routine.
  2. Stop taking our phone out at every opportunity. Start with deciding not to take our phone out when you are waiting for the traffic light to turn from red to green or when we are waiting in a que at a shopping mall to pay for our purchases.
  3. Make more time for fun and games. It is well-known that taking time and having fun by playing games resets the focus and activates the part of brain that is responsible for creativity.
  4. Alternate between doing focused work and activities that are less intellectually demanding. Schedule downtime after every session of focused activity. It could be as simple as taking a 15 minute break before engaging in yet another activity that requires us to focus.

If our work requires us to be creative-on-demand, we need to exercise our creative muscles as well. We would be well off if we make it a part of our daily routine to come up with a set of creative ideas (irrespective of whether we need them or not). This is very similar to digging a well, much before we need water to drink.

If we spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and we run the risk of permanently reducing our capacity to perform creative work.

That’s not a good sign for those who wish to perform creatively, which in reality is all of us and more specifically is a bad news for all of us entrepreneurs.

Research shows that the fear of missing out (FOMO) increases anxiety and takes a toll on your health in the long run.

Of all the things to suffer, ability to think creatively is one of our greatest losses. As entrepreneurs, a flexible mindset, open to new ideas and approaches is invaluable. Losing it just to check on the latest tweet or post an irrelevant selfie is an avoidable but sadly sanctioned tragedy.

Finally a Mixed Reality Tool That Has the Potential to Bring MR in Mainstream Use

 

Disney Research recently released a white paper on its experiment with Mixed Reality and Augmented Reality. They address the one challenge that was stopping the widespread adoption of Mixed reality in everyday business scenarios – the requirement that the user wear an expensive device on his self and thereby literally get transported to a different world and it was an isolated experience for this user.

They say:

We create a solution for multi-user interactions in AR/MR, where a group can share the same augmented environment with any computer generated (CG) asset and interact in a shared story sequence through a third-person POV. Our approach is to instrument the environment leaving the user unburdened of any equipment, creating a seamless walk-up-and-play experience. We demonstrate this technology in a series of vignettes featuring humanoid animals. Participants can not only see and hear these characters, they can also feel them on the bench through haptic feedback. Many of the characters also interact with users directly, either through speech or touch. In one vignettŠe an elephant hands a participant a glowing orb. ŒThis demonstrates HCI in its simplest form: a person walks up to a computer, and the computer hands the person an object

You can have a look at the video that was accompanied with the white paper here:.

As you can see, the experience with this “magic bench” is not only simple but also has the possibility for multiple people sharing the same experience.

Once the Disney team is able to build this to scale, I can see many applications of this in the real world.

Some of them could be:

  1. Customer Service: Augmented reality customer service engagement at different retail stores. This experience can give the consumers a reason to visit the store rather than buy everything online.
  2. Movie promotions: This will allow Disney and other movie franchisees to allow their customers to have an interaction with their favourite movie characters.
  3. Book Promotions:  Just like there can be an engagement built with the users favourite movie characters, people can also interact with their favorite book characters and maybe the authors themselves.
  4. Mass personalization of Brand advertisements:  Brands can use these benches to hyper-personalise their by immersing their consumers as part of the advertisement itself, there by creating stronger bonding with the brand.
  5. Stories abound: Add to this an AI bot that can engage with the user and have an improvisational dialogue and co-create a story with the user. This would just be amazing to see. We could have a “Whose Line is it anyway” with a virtual character in play (played by an AI bot).

These are just a very few ideas that I can think of.  I am sure you can think up a lot more uses for these magic benches.

I see enormous potential for this technology if this is developed and opened up to entrepreneurs to play with.

The question is will Disney make it available for developers and entrepreneurs learn and play with their creation?

Innovation Lessons From the World’s first Rope Free Elevator and a Human Powered Elevator

Thyssenkrupp unveiled their latest product – Multi. This is the world’s first rope-free elevator that can move both horizontally and vertically. I think this is a breakthrough that is worth celebrating.

They claim:

Introducing the elevator industry’s holy grail and the end of the 160-year reign of the rope-dependent elevator. MULTI harnesses the power of linear motor technology to move multiple cars in a single shaft both vertically and horizontally!

This opens up new possibilities in urban development. You could envisage a time when if you were to move from one building to another, you could take an elevator to the adjacent building and could move from one building to another without having to step out at all.

What interests me is the following question:

Why did it take 160 years to come up with this innovation?

I am sure that part of the answer to the question is the availability of technology could make vertical and horizontal movement possible in a safe manner. I am also sure that the technology being used in this elevator has been already in use for sometime now. So, why did it take so long? I think the answer is to this question lies at the heart of all innovation efforts. We need people to be inquisitive and ask simple questions, based off of their observations.

So, if you were to go out and observe people’s behaviour (movement) in a building, they could be any of the following:

  • They go up or down the building.
  • They want to move from one office to another on the same floor.
  • They go down, out and then walk to another building.
  • They go down to the parking lot (if there is one and move out).

Based on these observations, we could ask the following questions:

  • What is the frequency of people moving up/down or across the same floor?
  • How much time do they spend waiting for elevators while moving up/down or move across the same floor?
  • Do they value speed or social interactions?
  • What else are they trying to accomplish in their lives – trying to be(come) healthy (physical movement) or save time or conserve energy through sustainability?

You can understand where we are going with this. Another question that interests me is the following:

Why has there been not many new innovations when it comes to movement of people within a building? You could take stairs, elevators or escalators (motorised stairs).

Maybe because, we never gave any thought to this problem. We had a problem (moving up and down a building) and there was a solution that helped solve the problem (elevators). As the buildings got taller, the speed of the elevator became a problem. So, we either developed faster elevators or created other things for the passengers to do while they wait for/in the elevators like talk, have a cup of coffee or mostly look at ourselves in a mirror. So, as long as the problem was solved in a way, no one found a need to think about solving it in a different way.

That is until now and it took a art and design student to give it a thought and develop a new prototype, one that has the potential to solve multiple challenges in one solution. Introducing the Vycle. You could think of it as a cycle to go up or down a building. I recently had a chance to speak to the creator of this product for my podcast, which will be available shortly. A short video that shows how Vycle works is here.

I guess all the public discussions about new modes of transportation like self-driving cars, delivery drones and high speed hyperloops, has had a surprising effect on innovators and a spill-over effect on thinking about overall human mobility.

Hence, suddenly there is a lot of thought on not just human mobility outside of the building, but also about human mobility inside the building as these projects show.

Now the question that each one of us need to ask ourselves is the following:

What is the equivalent of rope operated elevators in our industries?

Finding answers to this question and working on them can prove to be immensely rewarding experience for entrepreneurs.

PBTO57: Liminal Thinking – Creating change by understanding, shaping, and reframing beliefs with Dave Gray

Credits: Opening music credit goes to Riju Mukhopadhyay & Pavan Cherukumilli

Who is on the show:

In this episode, we host Dave Gray. He is the founder of XPLANE and author of multiple books including Liminal Thinking.

Why is he on the show:

He is a visual artist and uses agile, iterative techniques like Visual Thinking, Culture Mapping, and Gamestorming to get people engaged and involved in co-creating clear, unique and executable business strategies. His latest book – Liminal Thinking, talks about a core practice for connected leaders in a complex world.

What do we talk about:

In a free-wheeling conversation, we speak about

  • How did he come about writing his book “Game-storming” with Sunni Brown and James Macanufo and his experience of writing the book
  • Empathy Map and he shares a story about a session where he used the map and how it impacts people
  • Why is it so difficult for people to empathise with others?
  • How did his book “Connected Company” come about and what it was all about (Digital Transformation), which led to the question about how to make the transformation?
  • How this led him to his latest book – “Liminal Thinking”
  • The entire conversation around belief and how critical it is for internal transformation
  • What are some of the most simple of things that if done can have significant impact on our lives?
  • The ability to sit back and observe oneself as a third person is a meta ability that can help us bring about significant changes in our own lives. How could one go about developing this ability?
  • Is there a connection between being in the moment and visual thinking?
  • Something that was surprising and interesting while researching for the book – “Liminal thinking”.
  • Who does he considers the most inspiring person and why?
  • What is it that you see in the world that blows his mind?
  • What is the biggest limitation of humanity? Why?
  • What does his creative process looks like? What are his routines that support his creativity?
  • What gives him joy or how does he rejuvenate himself?
  • Where does he get creative ideas from ?
  • What is his learning habits? How does he continue to evolve and grow as a person?
  • Book Recommendation:
  • What he thinks is obvious but people miss all the time (The answer will definitely surprise you).
  • What is one thing he wants you to do as soon as you finish listening to this conversation?

Liminal thinking talks about learning six principles and nine practicesThese nine practices of liminal thinking can be summarised as three simple precepts:

  1. Get in touch with your ignorance.
  2. Seek understanding.
  3. Do something different.

Here is a video where Dave explains the Pyramid of Beliefs from his book and you can find a summary of his book here.

How can you connect with him:

You can follow him on twitter @DaveGray and his website is http://www.xplaner.com.