The myth of inspiration

People believe there are two ways to accomplish something creative.

The first is to beaver away for hours, weeks, months, making steady progress until you reach your goal.

The other, of course, is to have the bolt-from-the-blue inspiration. A-ha! One moment you’re stuck, the next you have an incredible idea.

But that’s wrong.

How inspiration happens

It may seem like the bolt-from-the-blue comes out of nowhere. But ask anyone that’s had one and you find out . . .

They have been thinking about the problem for a while.

They tried lots of different approaches and got stymied and stuck.

They considered giving up.

They went to work on something else (or maybe just mowed the lawn or made dinner).

Then, suddenly, the inspiration strikes!

But while it may seem to be from nowhere, the bolt of inspiration comes from the same place as the hard work. It comes from a brain primed by trying and failing to solve the problem. It comes from a subconscious working on it while you’re doing something else.

And the bolt of inspiration is never the end.

It’s always comes accompanied by caveats, challenges, flaws, and issues.

To go from the bolt to the realizable answer takes hard and concentrated work over a long period.

It’s not that different from the slow steady progress that is the other way to realize an idea.

First way: work, work, work, work, work, work, and achieve success.

Second way: work, work, work, rest, a-ha, work, work, and achieve success.

Plodders take heart

We imagine that “creative people” are the ones that have the ideas. The other poor suckers just plod along one step at a time, solving problems, but leaving the inspiration to the creative people.

But once you realize that the hard work and the creative insight go hand-in-hand, you should question the idea of “creative people.”

If you give a plodder permission and a little room to think, they often have all the skills necessary to become inspired. They’ve been working on the problem so long, they’re primed for insight.

What do they need?





Share some of that. You might be surprised where the next idea comes from.

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  1. The late, great Charlie Farley of Burson-Marsteller, then Cohn & Wolfe, always said, “The relaxed mind is more prolific.” That said, when he led brainstorms for clients, he was always the best informed and most prepared.

  2. acquire ‘critical mass’ by also studying (slightly) related fields. Work on multiple things in a time period. Increase the serendipity chance.

  3. I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand any help an AI tool might provide. Such tools have been trained on a s***load of data – some factual, some not so much. I think it would be foolish to ignore all of that. If a plodder ignored any obvious BS, AI tool generated results might provide just the right amount of “cooperation” and “support” needed to produce that elusive “idea.”