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In my last post I talked about my process for ideation and what I do to make sure I generate 10 ideas each day. This post is an overview of all of the different ways and sources which inspire me and allow me to get ‘outside of my head’ and come up with ideas.

Talk to Strangers

Confession time, I actually hate talking to people I don’t know.  Most people that know me fairly well are surprised by this because I have no problem talking to large groups of people or talking in general, but there is something about making conversation with people I don’t know that scares me.  However, I’ve learned that it’s perfectly fine to be nervous and that I can easily overcome that fear just by taking action (just like everything else in life).

Strangers

When I realized how much value I could get by talking to as many people as I could each day, I was hooked.  So instead of staring at my phone while waiting in line (there are lines for everything in NYC) or ignoring the guy sitting next to me at a seminar, I strike up a conversation. The secret?  Be a better listener than talker. To really grow, aspiring innovators need to forget a bad piece of advice from childhood: “Never talk to strangers.”

Take a Walk

My mentor would often tell me, “Move a muscle, change a thought” and this is exactly what makes taking a walk such an amazing way to get your brain flowing.  It doesn’t matter if it’s hot, cold, rainy, snowy or doing anything else out there that I could use as an excuse.  A walk takes me away from everything and at the same time, puts me exactly where I need to be:

For a start, walking gets you away from your desk, away from the screen, away from the formal strictures of ‘work’.  It allows you to plan things out in your head according to the gentle, slow rhythm of your body pacing across a landscape.

I take my dog for a walk in Central Park every morning and I put my phone in airplane mode (my favorite iPhone feature) so I won’t be distracted.

Meditate

I meditate every morning for at least 10 minutes (I have been doing 15 minutes for the last few weeks but there have been a couple of days when I did 10).  Meditation is a doorway between our inner and outer worlds and allows your hidden creativity to come to the surface in powerful ways:

The human mind operates at three levels: Surface (Intellectual/Ego) Mind, Deep (Emotional/Intuitive) Mind, and Beyond (Imaginative/Inspirational) Mind.  Meditation has benefits with regard to all three, most particularly in how it allows us to tap the deeper, wiser dimensions of our minds, which tend to speak in whispers.

Meditation was something that I softly fought against for quite some time DESPITE knowing how much it was helping me.  I just couldn’t believe that something so simple could actually have such a profound impact on my life. One of its greatest benefits has been the abundance of ideas that come to me during those times of tranquility.

Visualize

After I’m done meditating in the morning and have written out my plan for the day, I spend some time visualizing what I’m going to do that day and how it’s going to turn out.  I actually spend exactly 3 minutes and 26 seconds in visualization while I listen to this song:

By letting my mind go free and thinking about the good things to come and those already happening in my life, I am able to completely remove any negative thoughts that might be holding my creativity back.  I then practice visualization throughout each day, every day. Here’s why venture capitalist Mark Suster uses visualization to drive creativity:

“As a practitioner of creativity rather than as an instructor of it I’m certain that there are many ways to get the creative juices flowing and how to release more creativity.  The one that works best for me is visualization coupled with self talk.”

Network

I come up with a lot of ideas each day.  Some of them are awesome, some of them are terrible and some are awesome for someone else but terrible for me.  My solution to this is that I try to share as many of my ideas with other people as possible. I meet and talk to lots of people each week (50+) and whenever it’s appropriate, I’ll share my ideas with them.

“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

I started doing this more because I like to help people, but what I soon realized was that people would start sharing their ideas with me as well.  Or they would tell me how I could improve on something. You see, it’s in most people’s nature (unless you are a sociopath) to want to help others.  It’s what gives us fulfillment and purpose in life.

Travel Without Thought

Most people I know tell me that they HATE the NYC subway.  I absolutely love it.  Not just because it gets me pretty quickly from point A to point B without having to worry about traffic in the city, but because I have some of my best thoughts and ideas while I am travelling.  I used to spend my time trying to occupy my mind (reading mostly) but now I just sit in silence and do a light meditation and soak in everything around me.  I look at the different people, I observe what people are doing/reading/playing; I look at the different advertisements, I listen to what people are saying.  All of this helps me to see things and think about stuff that I normally wouldn’t be able to.

NYC Subway

If you don’t live in a city (or you do and you are one of those people who hate the subway), there are so many other options for this to work for you:

  • Bus

  • Train

  • Passenger in a car

  • Airplane

  • Boat or ferry

  • Anything where you don’t have to focus on actually driving/flying/steering/etc.

Sit back and simply observe.

Observe Everyday Frustrations

I’ve noticed something that has helped me in so many ways: my mind wants me to be annoyed at most things.  This used to result in me actually getting annoyed but I have worked hard to flip that and accept the small everyday frustrations that will inevitably happen (someone cuts in line, it starts hailing out of nowhere, someone cancels a meeting at the last minute, etc).  Once I became okay with these things, I realized that these minor frustrations in mine and other people’s lives were actually small gifts because they helped me to once again see things differently.  Now I wait and observe whenever I think or hear someone say something like this:

  • “I wish this was done/they did that this way…”

  • “I love that place but it would be so much better if….”

  • “Why doesn’t that exist?  It would make my life so much easier….”

In my experience growth typically comes from pain, so by acknowledging and embracing it you can uncover some amazing inspiration.

Talk to Kids

“Children see magic because they look for it.”
― Christopher Moore

I am pretty sure that my 4 year old daughter has more ideas in 1 hour than I have in 1 week. She’s looking at the world through fresh eyes and she wants to question everything.  She doesn’t have the same self-imposed limitations that I have (those ones that I work to shed everyday), so nothing is impossible to her and that’s beautiful.

My Snow Angel

By tuning into that and asking her to explain things, instead of just saying “That’s just the way it is” or the dream crusher “No, that’s impossible”, I am able to come up with ideas and look at things with the cleanest lens possible.

Go to Public Places

I can walk down to Times Square and sit in a chair and come up with 20 ideas in an hour of observation.  Millions of potential people and combinations coming and going.  But the reality is that I can go visit my parents in upstate New York and sit down in their local coffee shop at 10am on Wednesday and be equally inspired. There might be a lot less going on, but there are always new things to encourage my brain to think differently.

So it really doesn’t matter where you are in the world.  Go somewhere, leave your phone behind and take a pad and paper.  Observe.  Be present and wait for the inspiration to arrive in buckets.

L00k at Newsstands and Book Shelves

I don’t read or watch the news anymore (that’s another story though) but I still love to see headlines and magazine covers when I’m waiting in line or passing by a newsstand.  When this happens, I simply  take a quick picture of everything and then hone in on anything that jumps out at me.  Then I ask myself some simple questions:

  • Why did this jump out at me?

  • What emotions did it provoke?

  • Were they good or bad?

  • How can I use this?

This is a book shelf...

The same thing works in bookstores (if you can find one that still exists…) 

Actually Listen and Be Present

The most meaningful and life-changing advice that I have ever received in my life is also the simplest.  It also is usually the hardest to implement but once I do, things are never the same.  I was often told to really listen to people and heard things like “You have two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately.”  So I worked hard on really being present and listening to people when we talk.  Not only does it build deeper and more meaningful relationships, but it also opens up a world of possibilities to find out how you can help make their (or just people in general) lives better.  This is one of the greatest triggers to ideas and innovation, the hunger to always wanting or needing to improve.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Did you ever talk to someone and feel like they are just waiting for you to finish your sentence so they can talk?  Yeah, me too.  Be that gem that actually listens and be amazed at what you start to hear.

Inspiration Doesn’t Always Lie Within

Sometimes we have to remember to exhale just so we can breathe.  That may sound crazy but it makes sense.  When we let go of our old habits, preconceived notions and other limiting beliefs, we open up to a whole new realm of possibilities.  Human nature uses communication to change our mindset and forces us to think outside of our comfort zone.

How refreshing is it when we listen to children’s conversations?  To them, anything and everything is possible and they embrace each other at face value for what they bring to the table.  Adopting that approach is not only smart, but one of the most logical way to uncover new inspirations.

With that said, I’m off for some quality father/daughter time.

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