In need of inspiration

If only creative juices were available by the bottle

Some articles we write come easily and flow from mind to fingertips.  Other times however, things are a tad more difficult.  It was as I sat down to write today’s post that I found I was in need of a little inspiration.  I found myself browsing the web, rereading things others have written and researching a few leads I had in the back of my mind.

It was at this point that I was struck by the resemblance of this process to that which I face regularly whilst sitting in the office.  Being known as someone who is ‘creative’ and ‘comes up with ideas’ is both a help and a hindrance, and there have been many times when I’ve found myself in meetings merely to act as a catalyst for thought and discussion or been looked at with expectant expressions after a problem has been presented and a solution requested.

It can feel akin to being told to dance on demand, or demanding that a comedian makes someone else laugh.  The expectation that because they are able to act in a certain way at certain times means they can switch it on or turn it off on demand is overwhelming, and can limit the creativity on offer.  It also puts all onus for creativity or inspiration on a small number of people, taking the burden and expectation off of others to do so.

Often we need a little help to be creative and innovative, and it’s easy to turn to those people you know who fire out ideas (good or bad) like OK magazine throwing out scandals.  But where else can we go for inspiration?  What else is out there to inspire or guide us and to then support us to do things differently or approach a problem from a new angle?

If asked, many would say that the K-hub is a good place to start.  The successor to the now defunct Communities of Practice, the K-Hub aims to bring together experts from all over the country to swap war stories and to showcase their good work, as well as to share relevant documents with others.  For many this works very well, although personally I prefer the more relaxed and conversational tone found in the public sector Yammer group (or it’s social media or internal comms counterparts).

The trouble with these however are that they are only known by those who know about them.  If you type in ‘inspiration for my work in the council‘ into Google you certainly don’t get either of these up, and even when you refine your searches it’s difficult to find anything solid.  Organisations such as NESTA try to showcase good work, as do the major periodicals, but again these are showcasing the work others have done rather than allowing you to easily chat with others about you ideas.  Of course, for some any form of centrally organised advice is simply anathema to them.

Combined with this reticence to ask for central support there’s the issue of ‘well, we’re different here’.  Everyone is convinced that they and their local authority are unique; and of course they are both right and wrong.  We are all unique, which at the end of the day makes us all the same.

In any of these unique organisations are these people who are seen as inspirational or inventive, although often they are no different in principle to everyone around them.  The difference between them and those who feel less able to tickle their creative bone is that usually they are a little more exposed to the ideas and conversations of others.  Whether this is from lots of meetings and discussions with others, desk based research via the wonder that is Google or by using social media in its many forms, the aim of the game is to be abreast of developments even if at first it doesn’t appear that they are useful.  After all, few of us could come up with brand new developments if we were locked in a room and totally cut off from the world – most of us need to bounce off others in order to learn, test and grow.

In my opinion this is why conversational tools work better for creativity and innovation; it’s the difference between being inspired to do something and being supported to make it happen.  For example, if I was a painter I could be inspired by a trip to a gallery, but it’s only through talking with other artists and perhaps taking some lessons that I could start developing as a painter.   Of course I could just dive in and try, learning as I go, as long as I can afford to make all of those errors to then learn from.

Admittedly, creativity and innovation is something some people can do more easily than others – some can find threads, keep them in mind and blend them in their minds until something bigger and better presents itself.  The more threads which are available and the better ability to combine them in new and interesting ways, the better the tapestry produced.

But even those of us who like to keep our heads down and deliver what’s expected should still be encouraged to keep our eyes and minds open.  No matter how simple or repetitive a process there are always ways of improving it.  All that’s needed is for those involved to be receptive to ideas, even those outside of their immediate spheres of work, and to spot opportunities amongst the day to day business and the courage to act on that inspiration.

And once you’ve been inspired, I’d encourage you to share your ideas with others in whatever way you can; after all, you never know how others will then weave them into their own tapestry.

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2 Comments on “In need of inspiration”

  1. Headhunter Says:

    Sharing ideas is great, and making connections. I get to be an informal carrier of some of this because I work in, and see, so many local authorities.

    Which gets to my first point – the extent to which you or others think of using colleagues in the private sector as sources of ideas or inspiration. As someone who has straddled both worlds I know that cross fertilisation is useful (on both sides). But also seems surprisingly rare. I think this partly due to a fear of being “sold something” or that there has to be something commercial in it for them. Edited I can take up their time. Most good people will be happy to make time for a chat whether they work for another council or a private organisation. Cultivating a network that contains people from other sectors is important.

    It can be a bit unfortunate that organisers of events for sharing ideas often try to exclude folk from the private sector unless they pay to come as sponsors and pay to speak. The business model is to get people to pay to come and talk and meet people, which almost inevitably makes that more sales-y as the sponsors will feel that they have to justify the expense. Not sure how we crack that one.

    Second point: I really like it when people are clear about the preconditions for the success of their idea. Perhaps we all subconsciously want to create the perfect solution for the whole of local government, but I find it especially good when people are clear that their idea wouldn’t work (or might need a lot of adapting) in a council of a different size, structure, priorities, relationship with partners, technology, culture etc.

  2. Jake Says:

    I think that this is key:

    “the courage to act on that inspiration”

    I know of many creative people who have fantastic ideas, but don’t speak up for fear of being shot down.

    I’m not sure how you address this, other than its probably on the heads of management (at whatever level) to encourage a culture where people speak up and any idea is at least explored. Admittedly this means that you need to ensure that staff at the same level try to avoid the understandable instinct to be overly critical of those that they are in one sense competing with for the ever elusive next promotion, which is easier said than done.

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