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Innovation Principle #7: Seek Inspiration

Where do you find inspiration?

Articles, books, blogs, industry conferences, customer research and interviews, competitor analysis, focused meditation, running, travel, drawing, simply having time to think? Whether it’s internal or external stimuli, the most common theme for sparking creativity is opening the mind to new experiences or input. However, inspiration is often personal. What stokes the fire for one, might not for another.

When researching trends and absorbing inspirational material, it’s important to focus more on “fresh” ideas than on a particular subject. Having time or deliverables dedicated to inspiration helps ensure fresh thinking helps produce creative and innovative output. That output might be a mood board for design work, competitive and industry analysis for a product, or a compilation of your best ideas from a team of diverse thinkers working on a problem.

Making Time for Creativity & Collaboration

According to Adobe’s 2012 State of Create study, 80% of respondents see creativity as the key to driving economic growth, and yet they only spend a small portion of their time being creative­–mostly outside of work. Integrating opportunities for creative thinking and creative collaboration during the workday can open minds to inspiration at the office.

For example, at Fresh Consulting, we conduct design huddles at the beginning of projects, training on new trends and tools, and build an ideation phase into our 3-step innovation process that focuses purely on individual creativity before creative group collaboration and evaluation. At Fresh, our desks are on wheels so that we can easily move around to work with diverse team members throughout the year as we work on different projects. Moreover, while working with different industries trying to solve similar goals (e.g. increase usability and conversion), the variable exposure spurs creative thinking constantly.

However it’s not realistic for most people to have that much rotation at work, or have processes dedicated to creativity like an agency would. That’s where thinking outside your office space, your company, and your field can be crucial for inspiration.  Human beings are creative in general, so making time for the methods that give you inspiration can help open the mind to inspiration.

Christina E. Shalley, PhD, professor of organization behavior at Georgia Tech, recommends planning non-disruptive changes on a regular basis to spur creativity, like rotating artwork, changing the music, or reconfiguring meeting spaces. Some level of mixing it up can spur inspiration.

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Thinking Outside Your Field

Innovation researchers at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and Copenhagen Business School proved that sourcing ideas from analogous fields has the potential to deliver profound innovation. Because each participant drew from a different knowledge base, and their thinking was not constrained by known solutions, they were actually better at thinking up innovative solutions for other industries than for their own. That result is associated with the expert bias–having more of a closed mind versus an open beginner mind, open to more innovative vs. incremental thinking.

There are examples of this across history. For instance, Henry Ford was inspired to create an automobile assembly line by the meatpacking industry. Ford was willing to look outside of his day-to-day world of cars for new ideas and the latest developments, and he ended up setting the manufacturing standard. Of course, many other industries soon followed suit. By changing up routines and head space, the mind is opened to new perspectives.

It might not always be practical to ideate outside of your industry, but consider implementing this approach on a smaller scale by soliciting insights across internal departments and teams.