This is the story of a trap we all fall into.
Every single entrepreneur or creator without exception is thrown off course by following a similar pattern.
It does not matter if you are on the board of a listed company or a designer trying to get her clothing label off the ground. The same struggle happens at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between.
You are about to start a project, set up shop, begin blogging, develop a breakthrough product, what is the first thing you do?
You begin looking for inspiration and the first place you look to is your competitors, the people and companies you believe have everything worked out.
In the process you forget to stop looking and start doing. You begin to draw on their experience neglecting to build on it by using your own.
You subconsciously focus on how hard it is going to be to catch up, instead of intentionally learning from what they forgot.
Their voice, purpose and way of showing up in the world gets louder and grows bigger, while yours seems quieter and smaller, until eventually it is so muffled that you cannot find it at all.
This is the point where some people stop showing up because they don’t gain the traction they had hoped for as a pale imitation of a competitor, influencer or market leader.
The people who stick with it know that there is a place where truly great ideas, writing, design, products, services, platforms and innovations are born, if only we would allow ourselves to tap into them sooner and more often.
Everything truly great is inspired by our own stories and experiences, listening to our intuitions and our unique world-views.
I know for sure that as soon as I began putting more of my own experiences into my writing it got better.
So what? Maybe you could not care less about writing? You might want to be CFO of a big company, or CEO of the best company in the world? So this is where I draw out my trump card [and everyone else’s too].
If we know anything about how Apple succeeded under Steve Jobs we know that he had an opinion and put it in the work.
Steve Jobs drew inspiration from what he lived and saw other people living, not from what he saw another company do.
The following passage from his Stanford Commencement address is worth revisiting.
“And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.”
Of course everyone knows that Apple is the exception to every rule of success.
Except that the Airbnb guys experienced the pain of not making rent, so they started a company unintentionally by renting out the extra space in their apartment.
When Mo Ibrahim wanted to talk to his mother who lived far away in a village in Sudan, he had to take a seven-day journey, to go see her. If you could pick up a device and speak to her instantly, what would be the value of that? This personal experience inspired him starting Celtel with the goal of creating a pan-African mobile telecommunications company.
After reading a book called Using Energy, William Kamkwamba, at the time a young boy from Malawi, decided to create a makeshift wind turbine. He experimented with a small model using a cheap dynamo and eventually made a functioning wind turbine that powered some electrical appliances in his family’s house.
The same rules applied in the pre-digital world of Adi Dassler, yes, Adidas got its name from the founder who learned how to make shoes by watching his father who was a cobbler.
As an athlete Adi also came to realise that the right equipment could enhance human performance.
He went on to design football boots that helped Germany to win the 1954 World Cup and athletic shoes that were responsible for enabling the gold medal winning performances of Jesse Owens and Dick Fosbury.
This is not just true in the world of product innovation. Great works or art, design, graffiti and literature are all inspired by lived experiences or drawn from within.
Don’t let the noise of the world keep you from hearing that still small voice inside you.
Trust that voice, listen to it more.
Your inspiration is all around you in your day to day. Your advantage probably already exists.
You are just not looking there. Yet.