The world is surrounded by people who are willing to sell you inspiration. And you know what? Chances are high that you are buying into it.
Even worse is that it might be destroying your potential to do and create great things.
Go to any bookstore and you’ll see a “business” section. It’s a popular place these days, particular for today’s professionals, who go in seeking validation. The promises of hopes and dreams are high. But it’s a trap.
Instead of providing you with motivation to start working, this inspirational material acts as a substitute to performing work. It becomes a distraction that prolongs the efforts that you should already be putting into new and existing projects.
The authors get richer while your hopes and dreams grow, but are you working on things that really matter? Maybe… maybe not.
Our Obsession With Inspiration
I’ll be the first to admit that I visit those business sections in book stores. I love reading memoirs about people who have done great things — the opportunity to learn from leaders like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates is always treasured. The same can be said for companies like 37 Signals with Rework and Facebook with The Facebook Effect.
But when I see that people like Maria Bartiromo, a financial news anchor at CNBC, with a head shot and a title called The 10 Laws of Enduring Success, I can’t help but be brought back to reality; all these people want is to make a profit from selling you inspiration. (I’m still waiting for Charlie Sheen’s book.)
The Internet is not so different. There are websites dedicated to doing nothing more than providing people with inspiration. This is exemplary in the creative industry, where entire blogs are dedicated to little more than this task alone. But they are some of the most popular blogs within the industry.
You’ll find that people are enamored with posts like “10 Ways To Be More Productive” or “100 Ways To Become Inspired.” It is this content that immediately gets the creative juices flowing. It provides a shot of adrenaline, one which many people seek to take advantage of.
The content itself isn’t bad, but the way people utilize it is.
Inspiration Doesn’t Work
If you use inspiration as a way to invent new and creative things, then you are using inspiration wisely. To take from others who have created great things and make your own wonderful creations is how inspiration is meant to be used. And, in that way, inspiration is a great thing. Unfortunately, inspiration only serves this purpose for a minority.
Most people use inspiration for another purpose — they use it to get those creative juices flowing, but they almost always fail to produce anything. You can call them the “wannabes,” “dreamers,” or “lazies” of the creative industry. They have big ideas, but they have little in the way of execution.
These people have the best intentions. They have that idea stuck in their head that they know is great. But when it comes time to produce results, there is nothing but inaction. It might be fear. It might be laziness. It might be any number of forms of resistance that inhibit us from doing great things.
That is when many turn to inspiration.
Inspiration Does Not Equal Work
It used to be that people would step outside of their house, visit a new place or thing, become inspired from these places or things, and work off of this inspiration. People still do this. People still make an effort to become inspired to create great things.
One of the more memorable examples that I can recall is the new Cadillac CTS-V. The designer, Bob Munson, gathered inspiration for the car’s redesign from an archer’s bow being pulled taut.
Mr. Munson’s inspiration, alone, did not equal work. He might have had the idea, scribbled a few notes, and had a winner. But where is is different from most is that he followed through with the inspiration. He put it to work. It required plenty of dedication to actually iterate through concept, design, and production, but he did it. The inspiration, in a way, served as a means to an end.
Most others would have looked at the archer’s bow and arrow and only saw what it could have been. So few would have been able to execute an idea such as the new CTS-V, which is now considered one of the best in its class. But how often is that going to happen?
Inspiration Could Be A Distraction
Instead of focusing on one piece of inspiration, people tend to focus on hundreds. They take advantage of all the information that the Internet provides, and, instead of producing work, they get caught up in the moment of seeing stuff that other people have created. Don’t get me wrong: I do this as much as the next person. But where most people go wrong is they fail to do anything with it. I used to be in this group.
If you are one of those people who have many bookmarks of inspirational galleries and ideas, but you have many few products as a result of that inspiration, you might be suffering from these same issues.
It wasn’t but three years ago when I had not hundreds but thousands of bookmarks to things I deemed inspirational. It became an obsession of sorts, where I would scour the Internet, websites, blogs, forums, and more for inspirational material. I had hundreds of bookmarks pointing to sites like Flickr and DeviantArt. It became a rush for me. I loved every moment of it, and I was determined not to miss the latest and greatest stuff that other people were producing.
Instead of actually doing meaningful work, I started dreaming of all the things I could create with all of my newfound inspiration. I spent more time in programs like OmniGraffle than I did in TextMate or Photoshop. I eventually had hundreds of ideas for websites that, in truth, I had no motivation to follow through with. But that inspirational high that I took from all of this content sucked me in.
Just as my collection of bookmarks grew, my obsession with reading books did too. Any well-known inspirational book you could name within the past five years is one that I have probably read. I’ve read memoirs and autobiographies of several hundreds. It fueled my creativity, but it also caused inactivity.
It got to a point where things got really bad, so I decided to eliminate the need for books, inspirational galleries, and more. I also deleted all of the bookmarks I amassed over the years. I was cleaning house.
It was time to get to work.
Why Working Hard Is The Only Way
I, alone, could not force myself to break free of this aura of inspiration I had created around me. I needed a good kick in the ass to make me realize my mistakes. Thankfully, I stumbled upon someone who really helped change my life.
That one person is Merlin Mann. He previously talked about the topic of work ethic. He knows that no amount of talk or inspiration is going to convince people to produce something amazing. He knows that only one thing will amount to such an achievement — that one thing is working hard.
I decided to block out everything around me and focus on the important things. I was going to work hard to get things done. It turned out to be one of the greatest decisions in my life, and one that I will never regret.
We have problems with working hard. We want to maximize profits with the least potential amount of work. This is why books like 4-Hour Workweek exist and are best sellers. But even though it is possible to maximize return on the least amount of effort, it rarely results in the type of work that would be classified as quality or worthwhile. Timothy Ferris is happy to tell you that you can make a living from four hours of work, but he didn’t tell you that his book probably required hundreds (if not thousands) of hours to write. Think about it.
Working hard is difficult when you consider all of the distractions — Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. — that prevent us from achieving great results. It is difficult to remain focused at the tasks at hand when you have chirps and dings making you aware that there is a world of information and inspiration awaiting you on the Internet.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I was addicted to Facebook and Twitter. At one point I even counted using these services as work. But to justify my Tweeting and Facebooking as work was silly. If we worked hard to produce something amazing in the first place, those connections would probably come as a result. (Of course, networking should be a part of everyone’s business, but if you don’t put in the hours to create an amazing product, no amount of followers will do you much good.)
Infographic by Cambodia4Kids.org. | CC
So I make it a habit of mine to turn off access to the Internet when I go to work. I only turn it on when absolutely necessary and I only open tabs to websites that I need to do research. Everything else is eliminated from view.
Once I have eliminated distractions and start working, things seemingly go on autopilot and I start to produce results. I’m sure this is true for many others who are in the creative industry. To allow someone or something to distract you at this point of focus is, for a lack of a better word, crazy.
When All Else Fails, Working Hard Prevails
If you want to save yourself time, money, and much grief, come to realize the following things:
- Inspiration is only useful if you are willing to work hard.
- Inspirational material is not a substitute for work, and it could be a distraction.
- Doing hard work doesn’t mean you are working hard.
- Working hard is difficult, but it’s possible and necessary to accomplish great things.
- Eliminating distractions is key to working hard and maintaining focus.
- Working harder will, in most cases, produce better long-term results.
In the future, if you need a book, blog post, image gallery, podcast, television show, or movie to get you to sit down and do something, you have a serious problem.
Realize that you already know the solution — you always have. The question is, however, are you willing to put in the long hours to make it work?
Written exclusively for WDD by James Mowery. He is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.
What do you think of these ideas and how do you handle inspiration? Please post your thoughts below…