An old adage is that "necessity is the mother of invention". If so, then perhaps "the 'situation' - or challenge -- is the mother of inspiration."
To me, these are not truly separate concepts, and often inter-operate with each other.
In my career, I have been blessed with meeting extraordinary people, one of whom was the Director of Procurement for NASA, a retired Navy Admiral. Over my career, I have had many dealings and contacts with NASA. If ANY organization represents invention, inspiration and innovation to me, it is NASA. Through these wonderful people I was able to get an interview with the Admiral. He was gracious with his time, and answered my many questions for some research for an article I was doing.
When I asked him how could NASA conceive the many new products, technologies, systems and "inventions" for its varied missions, he told me simply that "the Mission dictated the technology" - and that simple thought has stuck with me for well over two decades, and in some ways shaped my thinking. Mentally, operationally, it was a right-to-left thinking model, which I considered, liked, and adopted. Set the goal and define what needs to be done to get there, but starting at the goal and moving backwards to the starting point.
To me, the source of inspiration seems to boil down to context.
I like to write and sometimes a situation or event will give me the inspiration for a story ... or even a poem as I have written for my wife. Listening to my son's business idea led to me thinking tangentially to what he was saying, and I offered some off-the-wall recommendations that were actually quite good as it turned out. (YAY! for the Dad coming through!)
Some folks have commented to me that I am the most intuitive person they ever met. (Unlikely, but nice to hear.) In very tough business situations, thoughts have popped into my head and I have raised my hand and said "Excuse me, but did you consider ... ?" Inspirational solutions? Innovation? Maybe. In retrospect - they are the culmination of over 40+ years of life experiences being meshed in real-time in my head as what people say, or do, is sorted, analyzed and processed internally ... and often with a leap of faith for a proposed solution or answer.
I think in terms of "systems," connecting dots in my head. I "operationalize" things since my career has been as a "doer," the "get it done guy", and once nicknamed the "VP of 'Stuff'." ("Need stuff done? Give it to Howard" - which is a horrible role, by the way.)
But in life I think inspiration is also driven by the senses, by memory and emotion as much as anything else.
At summer's end I spent a Saturday outside working in the yard. Late in the afternoon, tired but feeling a great sense of accomplishment, I sat down at the patio table with a diet soda and looked around, my gaze finally focusing on our large butterfly bush in full bloom a scant two feet away. There were dozens of butterflies of at least five or six types enjoying their "meal."
I sat and watched, not thinking about the mechanics of their flight, but of the beauty they represented in that moment, in that place. I wondered about the life of a butterfly - not its lifespan. It was something I had never considered before. And I had an odd question pop into my head: do butterflies believe in heaven or God?
I sat back and watched them, inspired at that moment to reflect on my own feelings about things which ruminated in the back of my brain as I focused on the beauty of the butterflies. The inspiration of the moment, to reflect on the butterfly, diverted my attention from sore muscles and problems I had been mulling over during my work that day. And when I returned to think of my problems, I had a different perspective, and a clarity of thought that allowed me to think through them differently.
Sometimes it is not a question of inspiration, but the cause of the inspiration. One definition for inspiration I found was "arousal of the mind to special unusual activity or creativity." Context, situation, events, or challenge can cause you to be inspired. And if you are looking for something else ... wonder about the "life" of a butterfly. There is no telling where something as elegantly simple as that might take you, regardless of situation, context or event. If nothing else, they are a miracle of nature, and sometimes the abstract thinking about nature's miracles can be inspiration enough.
Copyright © 2010 Howard Nevin
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Be sure to read a few other articles by Howard:
Refuse To Be Defeated
It Really IS About Family