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Can inspiration be ‘managed’ ?

As a LinkedIn survey of July 2013 summarizes: “We get major inspiration hits when we are expressing ourselves, becoming more self-aware and pushing ourselves to achieve new levels of capability. Both requir a ton of self-expression, self-awareness and growth to succeed.”

 

The LinkedIn survey reveals that we actually become more inspired with age.  This is an inspiring thought in itself, because in a sense it means that we all grow as we age. Amongst the most inspiring professions are those that deal with the arts, education and helping others to realize their potential.

 

And “If you want to be inspired consistently in your career, you need to find ways to constantly grow and help others do the same. It is that simple and that hard.”

 

In day to day work, the understanding is that performance = competency * effort.  However, this is not the same with activities that involve invention and innovation.  Increasing the rate of effort does not necessarily produce more ideas.  In fact, it may have the opposite effect by raising the levels of stress and anxiety.  Scientific studies have demonstrated how rewards can actually harm the inspiration that drives creative performance.      * (See below)

 

Creative ideas that have the potential to develop into discoveries, inventions and innovations are correlated with other factors, and one of the most important is definitely inspiration.   But what is inspiration exactly?  First, what is ‘inspiration’ in terms of a dictionary definition?

 

Putting aside the ‘divine’, and staying in the human domain, definitions includ:

  • the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions (to a high level of feeling or activity)
  • the agent or source of influence or stimulation, such as a flash of inspiration that prompts action

It is recognised that inspiration typically comes from a state of being or experience, that we may be able to anticipate and recognise, such as deep relaxation and meditation, nature or art, human behaviour and uplifting stories, and again the sudden flash of an insight that can arise from a new perspective, piece of information, knowledge or understanding.

 

Openness to experience precedes inspiration.  People when inspired experience more clarity and awareness. And at the same time we may feel more relaxed and confident, as if anything might be possible and the obstacles seem less imposing or constraining.

 

The feeling of achievement can fuel inspiration as well as being the result of inspiration.  Even small accomplishments can trigger inspiration and thus make inspiration a virtuous circle.

 

From a semantic point of view, there are conditions that are conducive to inspiration, that create a feeling of transcendence, tranquillity, transparency, transmutation and transversal thinking.  The “trans” gives the idea of crossing, connecting, blending, and becoming something else through contact with something harmonizing, elevating, and educational or enriching.

 

From a philosophical viewpoint there is also the sense of synergy and synchronisation, the feeling of oneness and wholeness when things feel complete, fitting, adapted, suitable and appropriate; somehow circular and cyclic, or otherwise expansive and infinite; the sense that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and beyond the scope of understanding, the feeling that the potential to develop wisdom is perhaps endless.

 

Furthermore, inspiration can repose upon internal sensations of equilibrium, equanimity, but also can engender excitement, agitation, nervous tension, exuberance and even euphoria.  And these feelings can move one way or the other to release inspiration; thus, we are confounded by a contradiction between reassuring continuity, but also the stimulation that comes from change. 

 

Ultimately, therefore is a hormonal reason underlying inspiration.  Thus, apparently, inspiration could have a purely physical as well as a purely psychological substance.  Psychologically, under hypnosis and with suggestion we can attain a sensation of inspiration.  Physically, the hormone dopamine drives the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment we obtain from achieving an objective.  The hormone serotonin contributes to feelings of well-being, inner-contentment and well-being, whilst oxytocin is associated with sentiments of trust and attachment. 

 

Consequentially, and realistically, ‘managing’ inspiration must have implications for the quality of work and for work quality, because it is a basic and intrinsic part of the human experience.  We feel better, we work better and we produce better results in creative tasks when we are inspired.

 

What message can we take away as managers, organizers and leaders?

  1. Inspiration can create emotions of exuberance and euphoria, whilst organizations are wary of emotion, preferring logical analysis, cool-headed decisions and rationality in action.  Use words such as passion that has positive connotations and make sure that it has meaning, by accepting that passion is made up both of moments of inspiration, and of desperation.  
  2. Be understanding and supportive about the rhythms, the changes in energy levels; be prepared to mitigate the troughs and to smooth the progress and turbulence over the high peaks.
  3. Recognize that different people have different sources and patterns of motivation; in general action-oriented, relation-supporting, ideas-centred or process-driven, but more specifically according to moods, values, lifestyle situation, habits and experience.
  4. In further detail, in which situations are people most like to be inspired; start of the day or end of the day, inside or outside, in the city or in the country, amongst people or solo, and for what kind of task or circumstance?
  5. Be conscious that inspiration is aspiration, not perspiration; in other words inspiration is “pulled” by dreams and ambitions, by vision and by passion, and not “pushed” by punishment or “forced” by monetary rewards without the feeling of self-realization and attainment.
  6. Create an environment that is attractive, aesthetic, stimulating or relaxing depending upon the kind of inspiration which you would like to create.  Ensure that meetings and shared work areas enable, rather than discourage inspiration.
  7. The best way to find out what inspires people could be to ask them.  Then you can help them to realize their aspirations, by appealing to their intrinsic passion and motivations.

As a rule, inspired people have more desire to master work and are less competitive.  Inspired people aspire towards higher performance, beyond ordinary achievement, as well as achievements that are more creative an uplifting than routine and mundane.   And if people are able to be inspired and to manage their inspiration, with or without outside help, then it promotes their well-being.

 

*  Quite evidently ‘inspiration’ is not the same as what we understand by ‘motivation’; although the theory of motivation inclines us to believe that many people misunderstand the application of motivation.   Suffice to say, that studies, such as the marshmallow challenge demonstrate the extent to which there are internal ‘motivators’, including inspirations and aspirations, and there are external  ‘de-motivators’, which are basically due to the absence of a necessity, such as sustenance and reward or recognition. 

The field of motivation is one area where the theory ought to be more respected, because it is much more practical and useful in practice than the various misconceptions and ideologies that people develop about motivation.  i.e. If you pour cash down throats, it doesn’t stoke innovation, it chokes it.  (It can even encourage the wrong kind of innovation, the one that invents the numbers.)

Try our motivation exercise to explore the phenomenon of motivation in project teams. 





Another look at quality

Quality is usually defined as meeting requirments and satisfying the customer; no more, no less. 

http://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=5150

In this definition ‘too much quality’ is judged to be as bad as too little.  There are good reasons for this:
1)      Any extra value to the customer should be compensated
2)      An excess of unpaid functionality is unnecessary gold-plating
3)      Funds would be spent on superfluous requirments
4)      There is no way to manage the progress and delivery of excessive functionality
 
‘Meeting requirments’ means that quality depends uniquely upon specifications and non-specified outcomes are equivalent to defects that reduce quality.
 
However, my experience is that in practice things are slightly different. 
 
First of all, customers may be unable or unwilling to express their requirments. They cannot express their requirments when they have no experience of the product and don’t yet understand the possibilities. 
 
Unable: If I was asked to specify a whiteboard, I’d be fairly ignorant of the possibilities, especially if asked to look several years ahead. Technology might make it possible to draw pictures like an artist, but should I put this in the requirments? I’d certainly like the feature, but am I asking for something that is too expensive?   Compared to people’s likely expectations of what should happen on a whiteboard and the integration of the physical with the virtual, is this likely to be desirable, or mandatory in a few years time? 
 
Unwilling: I may not want to request something for a number of specific reasons. Many people feel that they should buy fair-price, or ecological, or social products, but in practice they buy something else. They may not wish to display disloyalty, or ignorance, or fussiness, or carelessness, or greed, or slothfulness, or for any other reason they may not wish to be thoroughly candid. Thus, many more people claim that they would buy fair-price products, for example, than actually do in practice. Many more people consume fast food than admit to it. People are more likely to vote for re-cycling of materials than actually spend their money on it in practice. 
 
‘Satisfying customers’ implies a price set at where value and price is equal or, as we learned at school, supply equals demand. Hence we converge with micro-economic theory. 
 
Again my experience is different, when it comes to value for money, especially in a service environment.
 
In a service business it’s easy to think of small details that have a big impact. A smile costs nothing, but it has a big effect on a customer. 
 
The appetizer given by a restaurant that wasn’t on the menu may help the tip.  A seat by the window doesn’t cost more to the provider but means more to the customer.  That extra glass of champagne in first class doesn’t cost much more, but makes the customer feel special. In second class the same glass of champagne makes the customer feel treated beyond their expectations. Is this bad, if it secures future custom? Luckily there’s a curtain between the two. Meanwhile the cost to the airline is more in the weight than in the cru or the brand. 
 
People don’t say “Oh, yesterday I went to a restaurant that was really satisfying.” If it’s worth talking about, they’re much more likely to say “That was the best meal I’ve had in a long time” (or the worst). And people listening are much more likely to take note and resolve to visit a restaurant that is more than just satisfying. An excellent experience will be retold and may influence several other people, whilst an ordinary experience that’s no more than satisfactory, is more likely to be forgotten.
 
The fact that someone remembers your name when you go back to the shop, that on the pillow in your hotel you find your favourite chocolate, the hairdresser who knows how you like your hair, the newspaper vendor who knows you prefer not to talk in the morning. A well-run service business is close to a craft. Craftspeople understand that every customer is different. Craftsmanship is not mass production. A true craftsperson puts heart and soul into the details. These small touches that make the object unique and precious, though not always expensive, add more value than they cost.
 
In my metier as an instructor and facilitator, if I pay 2 euros more for higher quality paper, then that works out at one cent for two and a half sheets, and for that I get the more lustrous feel of the paper, slightly more weight and a noticeable feeling of extra quality, especially for those who are tactile and aesthetic in their appreciation, which is hard to achieve through what I say or do. If I buy coloured post-its and flipchart pens with a nice feel, bold colours and even a pleasant aroma, then at a negligible extra cost, I have an easy win – an enhanced customer experience, and possibly superior to the alternatives.
 
A craftsman is like an artist. Some, like Van Gogh, paint fabulously, but never get the appreciation during their lifetime. Others, like Picasso, understand how to extract the value in what they do. The story goes that when he found himself short of cash in a restaurant he produced a quick sketch in lieu of payment. The host asked for a signature. Picasso’s reply was that he was paying for the meal, not buying the restaurant. Chutzpah yes, but he knew how to appeal to customers.
 
Many of us holiday in far corners of the world and have been charmed by beautiful painting, weaving, and carving and sculpture that we have been unable to carry home, due to customs duties or bulkiness. The value exists, but is too costly to extract. Musicians produce music that is as fine as ever and yet current business models don’t enable them to extract so much value. So clearly the perceived value of a product depends upon many other factors, including competitive pressure and the value of alternatives, and these are constantly changing right up to the moment of delivery and payment. 
 
If the price paid by the customer is greater than value perceived by the customer, then value for money is negative and repeat business tends to zero. But if perceived value is greater than price paid, then the sense of positive benefits develops a stock of goodwill that can lead to loyalty from the customer, repeat business, and even new business captured from the competition.  
 
In any case, no organization should invest unless expected benefits exceed expected costs by a calculated amount, and enough to justify spending on this item instead of on something else.
 
Instead of just aiming at meeting requirments, we should aim to meet the requirments in a way that provides value for money and benefits over time. And the life time value of the experience should at least equal the perception of cost paid. Although value is correlated with cost, it is not the same thing, as we are well able to understand when we consume a beverage or a foodstuff, or use a garment, or indeed any other day to day product.
 
When we understand that value is about building relationships then we are more likely to create value that is durable and sustainable. http://www.qualitydigest.com/html/qualitydef.html
 
And when we perceive benefits and cost to be two different curves, then we are more likely to create an environment that accentuates value rather than just interpreting it as being as something that is outside our control, because simply related to cost. In other words, value is the output and cost is the input, two different things.




Business could be more simple

Seven ideas to make a business work !

1)      Turn up (you can only succeed if you’re in the sector)
2)      Understand risk (that’s why you’re in the business)
3)      Don’t run out of cash (see rule 4)
4)      Keep your customers happy (don’t cheat them)
5)      Know what things are worth (don’t over pay or under play your assets)
6)      Maintain trust (keep communicating)
7)      Never give in (keep improving)




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