Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Inspiration to Innovation: As in Stories, So in Life

It's not just as writers but in every aspect of our lives we seek inspiration. We all want to catch the spirit, discover something new and surprise ourselves with discovery. This is true in business, as it is writing, and in both cases it can lift your work from everyday to extraordinary.

So what is this elusive spirit, and how to catch it? Writers tend to be introspective and look for that revelation they seek from within. They go to the lake and watch the waves come in or walk in the woods in search of wild flowers. Others seek it in striving for the top score in a game, running a marathon or learning to fly a plane. 

In a Galaxy, Far, Far Away...

The point is to go where you've never gone before, whether that be physically or metaphysically. I've given and taken a lot of inspirational workshops, and what you get out of that depends entirely on what you put in, because inspiration is the stuff of dreams, and what you dream makes you unique. 

The key is to find the time. We all have the time, even when we don't. Turn off the tv at home, switch off the radio in your car, zone out in a meeting that is going nowhere. (Incredible, I know, but inspiration takes sacrifice.) Find that 15 minutes of reflection. What do you notice? What do you hear, see, smell and, most importantly, feel? 

Some people benefit from a starting point. For instance: remember a time when your grandmother came to visit and something different happened. Think back to when your mother was your age: Was she happy? What did she look like? What was she doing? Relive a moment when you had to choose between two important things: Did you make the right choice? How did you make the decision?

My Great-Grandmother, Grandfather and Great-Uncles, 1912:
Passport Photo for passage on the Titanic
The details tend to come rushing back, surprising you with how vivid they are. But what is most important is the emotion. The emotion is why we seek stories. Do we care what happens in the world unless we feel it? We might hear that 50 people were evacuated from their homes and then shake our heads in sympathy, but hear that our brother's home was destroyed in a hurricane and is now trapped in the maelstrom, his life in danger, and we are emotionally engaged. It's the same with characters in stories and a business case scenario. When we know who it affects, we care.

How Does It Feel to be in the Middle?

That brings us to the middle. Take what you remembered from your 15 minutes of reflection. How did the emotion affect you? This is not just about writing stories. This is  experiencing life in a different way, discovering who you are beyond the everyday tasks and habits that can weigh us down. If you made the wrong decision in that choice you examined, how would your life be different now? Could you somehow change that and add colour to your life in the present? 

When you remembered your mom, what was your overriding emotion? Do you miss who she was then, admire who she has become? Are you angry over something that happened? Perhaps this emotion can change how you interact with your children now. Stay with the emotion and you can connect with what needs to happen now.

And Now for Something Completely Different...

All stories have an ending and that's where the innovation comes in, the 99% sweat equity to your 1% inspiration. Even in business, I have found this method useful in moving ahead on a project. The most hard-headed people are driven by emotion, and it's that emotion that makes us open to a solution.
Here's where we leap ahead to the outcome. The emotion identifies the problem; the innovation determines how to solve it. I was hired to run environmental programs for industry at a time when most people thought environmental responsibility ended with recycling. We had a long way to go, especially with a construction and manufacturing sector who knew how to make things, but viewed the environmental movement with wariness. But upon reflection, I realized that industry boards are made up of people, and people have families with children and grandchildren whom they love.

So, at a controversial board meeting, I showed them footage from Corporations and An Inconvenient Truth, and I explained that this is what the environmental community and perhaps people in general thought of them. 

Naturally, it hurt to see themselves in this light, and they didn't want to leave a legacy like that to their grandchildren. So we held an open forum on what we could do, and the "Building a Sustainable Future" initiative was born. We ran community and education programs; partnered with environmental groups, government and schools; and funded environmental buildings, projects and films. Over the course of the next few years, this industry did a tremendous amount of good in environmental works, and the innovation continues. 

As in Story, So in Life

In story-building, the emotion comes through character. What made you want to examine the aspects of your grandmother's visit? What sense of loss, love, longing, anger or regret made you want to remember her? This is the spine of your story. All else spins from this core. Make us care about your grandmother as a person, as who she is, and we will be engaged in the examination of the problem, the emotion that it evokes and the solution. This is no different from solving a business problem-- it's all about the caring.

The Building Blocks of Creative Inspiration:
Reflection-- Take the time to think about the issue from a new perspective.
Emotion-- How does the problem make you feel?
Innovation-- What revelations can solve the problem?

If a billion dollar industry can make a huge impact with a few minutes of reflection, imagine what you can do by making reflection part of your weekly habit. You might miss one episode of Big Bang Theory, but you can make a big bang in your own life and that of others if you take a time out  to think about what is around you, how it makes you feel, and what you can do about it.


  1. Very thought provoking. Tapping into the emotion is very difficult even for writers but that's where the payoff is. Storytelling is an emotional journey.

  2. Thanks Cryssa. Without the emotion, where's the story, after all? :-)