"A gut punch to the swollen belly of brand theory." - Mark Parker, President of the Nike Brand

Six Steps to Finding Inspiration

An excerpt from Flipped by John Winsor, a marketing expert who helps companies listen to and learn from their key stakeholders by co-creating new marketing and product development strategies. John is the co-founder & CEO of Victors & Spoils and the co-author, with Alex Bogusky, of Baked In.

The companies that thrive on and interpret inspiration into something real, have ingrained this approach into their company philosophy– it goes deeper than any individual. These companies all share some common attributes, based on good listening to their key voices and understanding how to leverage the networks that exist in their markets. Companies that strategically find inspiration time after time– from Apple to Nike – follow some of the same steps.

Step One: Stay Curious – Have you ever spent time with someone who always knows what the next trend will be? The biggest factor is usually their sense of curiosity. Companies, as well as people, can be curious. The problem is that static systems stifle curiosity. Reintroduce curiosity into your company by changing the way you’re looking at the world to a more dynamic perspective. Instead of focusing on controlling the outcome when developing new products and marketing ideas, focus on thinking in dynamic terms and accepting many possible outcomes. Such an outlook will go a long way in making your team more curious.

Step Two: Become Keenly Aware – Part of finding inspiration is being keenly aware of subtle changes in your surroundings. Companies that are good at it spend a lot of time deep in their market’s network. Only by getting out of the office and living within the network participants’ worlds will you really be able to notice the subtle changes that magnify inspiration. Remember Jake Burton? What makes Burton Snowboards so dominant in their market is that they are intimate with every aspect of the marketplace, and know what network to tap into to find inspiration for new product and marketing efforts. As we discussed, at Burton it starts at the top, and that means that Jake is snowboarding 100 days a year. When your CEO is that well connected to the marketplace, keenly aware of the subtleties, and always knows where to find inspiration, it’s hard for your competitors to keep up.

Step Three: Use Your Imagination – I’m always amazed by the imaginations of my two little boys. They started talking around Halloween at ages of three. One of the first full sentences they both could say was, “Oh, no! Ghost coming! Scary!” and then they would run around the house laughing uncontrollably. One of the things that I am most struck by with small children around is that we, as adults, have lost our imaginations. The world is a serious place, whether it’s business, world affairs, the economy or, for that matter, our entertainment. People took the Chicago Cubs’ loss in the National League Championships in the fall of 2003 pretty seriously. Seriously enough to phone in anonymous death threats to the poor guy who made the Cubs’ right fielder miss the foul ball catch. Likewise, companies can take things way too seriously. It seems that in today’s business environment, recovering from a recession, there is a lot of underlying stress making everyone more serious. One of the key ingredients to finding inspiration is to have an active imagination. We all have imaginations but, like a muscle, you’ve got to use it or lose it. Turn on your imagination by doing creative things. Get your team together and have some fun. Do things that encourage people to find inspiration through the use of “out of the box” thinking. When you support this kind of thinking, new inspiration will really start to flow.

Step Four: Approach with a Human Touch – I’ve been on explorations with clients where some team members are so focused on accomplishing the task at hand that they act more like robots than humans. When looking for inspiration, it’s essential that you do so with a human touch. When you’re out trying to explore newly formed network connections, you’ve first got to gain the trust of those in the network. If you’re only there to complete your business task, it’s obvious to others and doesn’t engender trust at all. Being human means taking the time to really care about the people from whom you’re trying to gain inspiration. That requires sharing a part of yourself. Being more human means being more vulnerable, and that’s a very hard thing to do – especially in the context of business.

Step Five: Practice Patience – The most important thing to remember about finding inspiration is that it’s a journey with no beginning or end. Like anything else, most of us can’t find real inspiration the first time we try. The first time you see someone you’re not going to ask him or her to marry you, are you? Well, I guess it does happen… but that’s pure chance. Finding true inspiration is something that you’ve got to spend every day doing, a little at a time. Probably the most important way to make finding inspiration happen is by integrating it into your daily schedule. Read magazines you don’t usually read, go to new restaurants, stay in a different hotel each time you travel, and most importantly, talk to new people. It’s one step at a time.

Step Six: Always Stay Connected – Apple is firmly connected to the creative graphics community. Nike has a support system of athletes, and Patagonia is connected with outdoor adventurers. Who are you connected with? Are you networked intimately enough to your group of trend translators that you can call or email at any time to explore a couple of new ideas? Do you know them well enough that if they don’t know where to find the inspiration you’re looking for, they will turn you on to their network? Not only are Apple, Nike, and Patagonia connected, but they have become a vital part of their network’s community, allowing them to consistently find inspiration for both products and marketing much faster than their competitors.

Check out more of John’s book, Flipped.