As business leaders, we’re expected to inspire others. But who inspires us? Here are ways to find exciting new ideas, and the possibilities that could ensue.
- Look outside your industry. Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts has successfully blended fashion sense and technological savvy to triple Burberry’s value since taking over in 2006. “I don’t look at Gucci or Chanel or anyone,” Ahrendts told the Wall Street Journal. “If I look to any company as a model, it’s Apple. They’re a brilliant design company working to create a lifestyle, and that’s the way I see us.”1
- Tap into your personal passion. Personal passions motivate us to succeed, despite challenges. For example, Steve Jobs’ passion was not in using computers, but in building tools that help people to be more creative.2 Floodgate investor Miura-Ko looks for this kind of passion in business owners who approach her for seed money. When interviewing different fashion technology start-ups, she asked them about their passions. One candidate said she had spent her free time shopping for vintage clothing since she was 13, and the other said he was interested in the iPhone as way to deliver fashion content. Miura-Ko chose to back the first one, who happens to be Susan Gregg Koger, the proprietor of the now popular website, ModCloth.3
- Look for role models. Noteworthy people from the past or present can stir up new ideas or reinvigorate old ones. Read a biography or listen to a TED talk by someone you admire or who triggers, the “I could do that!” in you. “You may not turn into Mother Theresa, but her commitment to help others may, for example, inspire you to mentor the young woman down the hall,” says career expert Nicole Williams.4
- Embrace change. In her early days as CEO of Campbell’s, Denise Morrison sent employees to Millennial hub cities – including Austin, Portland, London, and Paris – to find out what potential customers want. Among other things, they learned the 20-something generation is globally connected and dines out routinely on what used to be “exotic” fare – Mexican, Indian, and Asian. About a year later, Campbell’s launched Go Soups, a six-flavor line designed to appeal to Millennials’ appetite for different experiences that includes Golden Lentil with Madras Curry and Creamy Red Pepper with Smoked Gouda. 5, 6
- Listen to stakeholders. The insights of others in your organization can help guide your vision. Beth Mooney, CEO of KeyCorp, sees continuous learning as a cornerstone of success: “I still have a ‘pit crew’ of colleagues, coaches, and mentors who help me to be better and help everyone to succeed.”7 Listening to employees can also reveal different ways of looking at issues. When Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer was a Google VP, she kept a sign-up sheet outside her door for daily “office hours.” Team members had 15 minutes to voice their opinions or pitch new ideas.8
- Rewire your thinking. Something as dramatic as traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language, or as small as taking a different route to work can change up your thought process. According to Jason Silva, who calls himself an idea DJ, the goal is to disrupt your surroundings enough so you think about problems in a new way. Another way to open your thinking patterns is to find yourself in awe of something, says Silva. Experiences like watching an IMAX film or seeing the Grand Canyon can force us to “re-write preconceived notions.” If we’re receptive to be influenced, disruptions can lead to better ideas.”9
1. Apple hires Burberry CEO to boost sales. Available at: http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20131016/BIZ/310160327&emailAFriend=1. Accessed on November 24, 2013.
2. The 7 Secrets of Inspiring Leaders. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2011/07/06/the-7-secrets-of-inspiring-leaders/2/. Accessed on November 24, 2013.
3. Where is the Female Mark Zuckeberg? Available at: http://www.modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/where-the-female-mark-zuckerberg. Accessed 11/22/13.
4. Tips for finding, reigniting and building inspiration. Available at: http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/08/29/tips-for-finding-reigniting-and-building-inspiration_print.html. Accessed on November 24, 2013.
5. 7 Female CEOs You Need to Know. Available at: http://money.usnews.com/money/careers/articles/2013/04/25/7-female-ceos-you-need-to-know. Accessed on November 24, 2013.
6. Kicking the Can: Campbell’s CEO Bets on Soup-in-a- Bag for 20-Somethings. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/12/06/kicking-the-can-campbells-ceo-bets-on-soup-in-a-bag-for-20-somethings/. Accessed on November 24, 2013.
7. Words from the top. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303360504577410660795002898. Accessed on November 24, 2013.
8. The 7 Secrets of Aspiring Leaders. http://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2011/07/06/the-7-secrets-of-inspiring-leaders/2/. Accessed on November 24, 2013.
9. Four Steps to Finding Inspiration from an Idea DJ. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2012/06/26/four-steps-to-finding-inspiration-from-an-idea-dj/. Accessed on November 24, 2013.