Finding Inspiration In A Dry Spell

This article is initially published at Hurriyet Daily News by columnist Fatmanur Erdogan.

An entrepreneurial person is resourceful, curious, and observant.  Always looking for something new to learn.  Always looking for new opportunities, and always pursuing the ones that hold promise of changing things for the better.

Those high expectations come from all directions, including from ourselves.  But in today’s business environment, we often forget that we are just human, too.  We forget that in life, we can’t expect to be at our best every day.  Some days will be up, and some will be down.  We go through periods where we run out of ideas, hopes and resources.  Times when we draw nothing but blanks.

Then there are those times when we are bursting with extraordinary ideas, but they are getting shot down left and right.  We can remind ourselves over and over what Albert Einstein said, “Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  But still, it’s discouraging, and enough opposition will kill even the greatest amount of enthusiasm.

When the entrepreneurial spirit finds itself in that low valley, it naturally gets frustrated and thrashes around trying to find the path to inspiration again.  Sometimes, though, I see people misguidedly turning to passive activities in an attempt to reignite the fire.

By passive, I mean activities where we simply absorb other peoples’ creativity.  They are activities that don’t require the use of our own physical and mental resources.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gives us some good examples of passive activities, like “watching celebrated athletes playing in enormous stadiums”, or “instead of making art, we go to admire paintings that bring in the highest bids in the latest auction.  Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians.”  And, of course, there’s the most popular passive activity of all, watching TV.  But when we indulge in these passive activities, we aren’t challenging our minds.  In the words of Csikszentmihalyi, “Passive entertainment leads nowhere.”

So instead, choose activities that challenge you mentally or physically.  Many people enjoy reading a book, which at first might sound like a passive activity, but is really quite active.  There’s something about reading that stimulates the brain and stirs up the creative juices, especially when the book is about a new or unfamiliar subject.

One of my personal favorites for finding inspiration is to meet with people or attend seminars. 

I almost always run across something, even if it’s just a quick word or someone’s offhand remark, that triggers an unexpected flood of ideas into my brain. 

For example, recently I met with a young entrepreneur, Nurettin Ozdogan.  Ozdogan co-founded, an online work placement platform for university students and recent grads.  I was excited to hear that he is well on his way to being a successful serial entrepreneur.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him describe his experiences building and managing startups, and I realized that each time I talk to him, ideas pour into my head and I leave the meeting feeling pumped up and ready to explore the world.  His calm energy and enthusiasm is a catalyst for me, and I cherish that.

Basically, I think that the best way to tap back into that vein of inspiration is to stop looking for it.  Put down whatever you are doing, and go do something else that interests you.  It doesn’t even have to be remotely connected to the original task you were trying to accomplish.  Consider the example of Apple’s founder Steve Jobs.  He didn’t take a calligraphy course as a young man because he thought it was related to anything else.  He simply took it because he thought it sounded interesting, for no particular reason.  Only years later did he realize that class inspired the creativity he brought to designing the early Macs.

So the next time you feel at a loss for ideas, don’t worry about it too much.  Remember that dry spells happen even to the best of them.  Put down what you were doing, and go do something else.  Embrace it as an opportunity to experiment, to do the things that you would on other days dismiss as whimsical or irrelevant.  You’ll find that when you stop looking for inspiration, it will eagerly come running back to you.

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