Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration


Culture plays a big role in overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration and it takes center stage in one of the three books I am currently reading: Creativity, Inc.

To inspire and be inspired is one of the three main active verbs we refer to when describing positive experiences. The other two are to inform / teach, and to instigate / prompt to action.

Ed Catmull, the author, outlines the inherent challenges with building a resilient organization with good detail and specific examples in the chapter about change and randomness.

After Pixar was sold to Disney in 2006, people started attributing change to the acquisition. The mix-up was in mixing the natural way in which change exists as part of life, with the approach to it and purpose the organization would employ to learn with it.

In this last paragraph I was particularly conscious of how verbs like "confront", "deal with", and "ride" rushed to mind automatically — also a product of culture and how we typically contextualize our conversation about change.

People want to hang on to things that work — stories that work, methods that work, strategies that work. You figure something out, it works, so you keep doing it — this is what an organization that is committed to  learning does. And as we become successful, our approaches are reinforced, and we become even more resistant to change.

From personal experience I know how hard it is to disrupt yourself, especially since deep down we do know that change is inevitable.

[…] we often have little ability to distinguish between what works and is worth hanging on to and what is holding us back and worth discarding.

[…] in a company like Pixar, each individual's processes are deeply interconnected with those of other people, and it is nearly impossible to get everyone to change in the same way, at the same pace, all at once.

Because it is a rare company that operates linearly and with few interdependencies, Catmull's observation is probably true more often than not. He suggests one useful way of thinking about change is to acknowledge and welcome randomness. It is inevitable and presents unforeseen opportunities to respond constructuvely when it presents itself.

The unpredictable is the ground on which creativity occurs.

Companies can create an environment in which people have the opportunity to shift from the temporary experience of confusion provoked by change — with its associated self-interest trigger that prompts us to resist it — into self-awareness mode.

Steve Jobs was known for changing his mind instantly in the light of new facts, and I don't know anyone who thought he was weak.

Says Catmull. However, few are endowed with such strong conviction and confidence.

In a culture that provides the support and a clear signal of understanding for the extra work and/or stress required by the randomness of a situation, people are freed to make different choices.

The way we are wired makes it difficult to deal with randomness. We instinctively look for patterns — yet, even big data should not replace thinking. Because randomness cannot be anticipated, we have no place to file it in our heads. Which means it has less impact in how we process information vs. things we can see, measure, and categorize.

We tend to attach explanations to what we experience based on data points available to us — the resulting narrative collapses potentially non causal events into a neat package. Ignoring the things we do not see or experience cause us to miss the things that did not — yet could — happen.

And this is at the root of true inspiration.

[Image source: Abduzeedo.com]


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.