Inspiration comes in different flavours.
Sometimes it’s nothing more than a distraction from a hard problem, a way for us to escape.
Sometimes people assume that all inspiration is of equal value, and that it’s the only thing good work needs.
But sometimes it works for us.
Sometimes it’s powerful.
Sometimes it gives us the feeling that the universe is talking to us, helping us coalesce a group of erratic ideas into elegance, giving our ideas an edge often hidden.
Great products and designs are sometimes built in this afterglow.
“… creativity is hard, highly skilled work that is often quite unromantic in its execution, but is ultimately a source of deeper satisfaction than any short-lived eureka moment could ever deliver.”
We can wax poetic about it for hours, but there’s a simple fact we can’t escape:
When “inspiration” does arrive, it more likely to be the kind that distracts or quickly fizzles, rather than a brilliant and bespoke solution.
It’s a rare genius whom can claim, with any believability, to have their muse on speed dial.
The right kind of inspiration arrives at random, rarely when we need it most.
But we can do a few things to encourage it’s arrival.
It’s Better to Charm Inspiration Before it Charms You
A deep understanding is the fertile ground from which an inspired usable idea will sprout.
But how do we water the thing so it might find some sunlight?
We can’t guarantee it’s arrival, but there are a number of things that seems to encourage its growth.
But these tasks aren’t just good for inspiring inspiration, they also get the work done whether we feel the spark or not. So it’s win-win. Or maybe, win-giant-win.
1. Be alone. For a really, really long time.
Go for a walk. Get away from your computer. Turn off your phone. Book yourself out in your calendar. Dedicate your time to your problem and only your problem. Protect this time. Not twenty or thirty minutes, but hours.
Einstein would escape for long walks when he was stuck on an idea. Steve Jobs, too.
Giving ourselves some physical space away from a problem we can’t solve gives us the mental space to work it through.
Without the easy-to-find distractions that find their home on our desks, computers, and phones, it’s hard to be “inspired” to disappear down an unproductive rabbit hole.
I’ve always loved how well-read designers are. I use to think it was an easy answer (“we like books”), but I’m starting to see a nuance – long quiet moments, even if in the mind of another, are good for us.
2. Appreciate Failures
The moment we realise an idea has failed, no matter the scale, we’re already past it.
The mistake has been made.
Then, if we let it, the good thing about failure happens. We get the chance to understand what went wrong and set about fixing it.
With a willingness to dig through the fragments of a broken idea so that we can find understanding , we can find happiness and meaning in moment of failure.
A failure is the evidence of us pushing past our creative experience and knowledge. Taking the opportunity to understand the failure means we’re not only inching closer to the right solution, but becoming better designers.
Avoiding failure will only build our defences up. Inspired ideas, even the good ones, tend to arrive when we have our walls down and are open to new, even failure-happy, options.
3. Gain Deep Understanding.
Good solutions come from deep knowledge of the audience and their problem, and how the client and their product can help.
But that only gets us half way.
It isn’t enough to fully understand a problem if you cannot think of what the solution might look like, let alone know how to get there.
That means having a deep understanding of our craft.
What makes up the basics of this knowledge will take another few thousand words to even scratch at, but let’s see if we can do it in a sentence:
Deep understanding of your craft is knowing why what you’re doing will get you what you want.
For designers that means grasping the theory of our elements, of how best to talk, of how the audience will respond to what is said, what has and hasn’t worked in the past, and most of all, how to make sure what is being done is working (that means failing quickly enough to get to another failure quickly, repeatedly, until the failures turn into wins).
The better we can give shape to the ideas the right kind of inspiration gives us, the more likely we’re going to keep getting those ideas.
Persistance and Loops
At this point I have to pluck out the reoccurring theme going on here:
The more often we do something the more likely we can do something.
Yikes, that’s awkward.
Let’s try again:
The more often we work with for the right kind of inspiration, the more likely it’ll arrive.
Or even better:
The more inspired we’ve been the more inspired we’ll be.
It starts off seeming random, but the more often we do the right thing with our inspiration, when we put it to work on the right kind of problems, I think we’re teaching ourselves something.
We’re making roads in our memory of what happens when the right kind of idea to the right kind of problem arrives, and how it can lead us to a solution that, simply, works and makes us happy.
The brain digs this. It wants us to be happy.
So if we want the right kind of inspiration, then we have to be diligent enough to do the work when it shows up with the right answers.
It’s a curious, circular, thing to note, but one worth remembering.
Just Say Yes.
The quickest way to find distraction is to start working on a project, so it’s no surprise how easily we can confuse distraction with inspiration that will lead to good solution.
The best thing to do once the good stuff arrives is to not shy away from the work of it, delving into some other inspired idea, but to chase after it and work for your inspired idea so that it might work for you.
Say yes to the work, even when it’s tough.
Say yes to the effort, even when it’s asking too much.
Say yes to showing up and working through the process that might make inspiration work harder.
And most of all, say yes to working through it even when inspiration doesn’t show up. The outcome will be better for it (at the very least it’ll exist), and chances are people will ask with splashes of astonishment and jealousy, “where do you get your inspiration?”
At its best, inspiration looks like work.