Think about an older person that you know, one you would describe as youthful. What’s the distinguishing characteristic of this lively elder? I’m guessing that curiosity about anything and everything is what stands out.

It’s the same quality that makes for successful entrepreneurship. We need to be curious about our own industry, of course, but we need to be equally curious about things that seem to have no direct bearing on what we’re up to. After all, the world is full of people who are crazy about things we know nothing about  and discovering what they love can make our lives richer.

One Thanksgiving, I had dinner with a group of relatives I didn’t know very well. The sister of the hostess sat next to me at dinner and the moment she sat down announced, “I want to have my own business.” I asked her if she knew what she wanted to do and she lit right up. “I love doing beadwork. I come home from my job and go right to my project room and bead all night,” she told me. The moment dinner was over, she whipped out her beads and spent the afternoon making jewelry. It was fascinating to watch her work and her joy was visible.

A few minutes later, my cousin Ray came over to visit with me. Ray has been a farmer his entire life raising corn and soybeans. A few years ago, he turned several acres of his farm into vineyards—an unusual crop in Minnesota. In his second year of production, his crop outperformed all expectations. He was so excited about this new aspect of his business and had a list of ideas for building it. I couldn’t wait to return in the summer to see his vines.

Even though I may never take up beading or growing grapes myself, being with these enthusiastic folks who were eager to bring their ideas to life was not only fun, their creative energy was downright contagious. I spent my long drive home stopping to write down ideas for my own business.

British author C.S. Lewis obviously understood the Idea Virus. He said, “Good things as well as bad are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire; if you want to get wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, peace eternal life, you must get close to, or  even into  the thing that has them. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality.  If you are close to it, the spray will wet you ; if you are not, you will remain dry.”

$100 Hour: Find a way to get paid to do something you usually pay to do. Love dining out? Sign up to be a mystery diner and enjoy dinner out in exchange for evaluating the service, food, etc. Love the symphony? Volunteer to be an usher. There are endless possibilities if you are willing to investigate.

Explore More:  Need some help brainstorming or clarifying an idea? Alice Barry, is a gifted Idea Artisan who spreads the Idea Virus wherever she goes. In the words of one of her happy clients, “She helped me to see and clarify a fuzzy picture of myself, who I want to be and  what I want to do.  She also helped me to see clearly how much I have already accomplished and gave me suggestions how to continue to build on this foundation.” If you need some idea-building assistance, a telephone consultation with Alice could get you moving forward.

An idea can turn to dust or magic…depending on the talent that rubs against it. ~ William Bernback

This past week, the Ideafest focused on the importance of inspiration. Not  surprisingly, all sorts of inspiring things kept popping up including this e-mail from Julie Fewster who lives in Northwich, Cheshire UK:

I took a look at Inspiration Station  earlier this month, when after a joyful Christmas I was trying to get back into the swing of a heavy workload.  The “take a fresh look at your workstation” element seemed to speak directly to my heart! I have two work areas, my creative space and my kitchen. I generally work in the kitchen of my house as it has most light and a wonderful view of our garden, which even in the depths of an English winter can be uplifting. 

On the day I read your article I was struggling to focus on the work I was meant to be doing. I took a look around me and realized I wasn’t surprised, there were too many distractions about, dishes to be done, stuff to be put away. Fighting back the little voice that said “You’re just avoiding work, Julie” I decided to take 15 minutes to tidy up around me. I went through the place like an angelic whirlwind. 15 minutes later I sat down at my PC and worked 5 hours straight, finishing more than I thought I could achieve that day. I am delighted I had spent 15 minutes decluttering.

Last week I found time to look at my “creative space”. I used to love sitting in the work space I had created whilst working, or should I say playing, my way through The Artists Way some years ago, in recent months I haven’t used it.  No, if I’m honest a year or more has passed since I spent any time there. It was sadly neglected, and I guess that reflected also the amount of attention my creative spirit has been getting too.  The good news is I have taken some simple steps which transformed it. I have my desk facing the window so I have space to gaze into and think big, I have changed the scenery, the pictures and the objects I have around me and fairy lights for added sparkle and I find that I am rejuvenated.  Thank you for the nudge in the right direction, 2009 seems more exciting just as a result of these simple actions.

My friend Peter Vogt, author of Career Wisdom for College Students, shares my desire that colleges offer more entrepreneurial options. Peter alerted me to a terrific piece in the NY Times called Dreamers and Doers that highlights some colleges who are doing just that.

I also tried to convince Peter to become part of the Twitter community. Here’s the message I sent him about that:

I don’t understand many of the tools and tricks, either, but I do know that it makes me smile at least once a day…usually more often. Here are three examples:

1. Just found this in my box and linked to a great article: Hammering With Bananas, Or How to Build a Freelance Career In Bad Conditions

2. I finished up a teleclass the other night, checked messages and there on Twitter was one that said, “I’m taking Barbara Winter’s teleclass right now. This woman is a walking encyclopedia. I wished she lived next door. I’d bribe her with fruit pies.”

3. My Gmailbox has a message I will never delete. It says, “Barack Obama is now following you on Twitter.”

I rest my case.

Here’s another discovery I made this week thanks to Twitter. If you’re a freelance writer, or want to be, check out Jenny Cromie’s The Golden Pencil, a luscious resource for freelancers.

Speaking of luscious, Springwise, the site that gathers new business ideas from around the world, was bursting this week with articles on everything from mixers for moms and babysitters to League of Rock, where amateur musicians can join a rock band for ten weeks. If you aren’t already on their mailing list, I urge you to sign up at once.

Rick Steves says it’s the most fascinating place he’s ever visited. He’s talking about Iran and his one-hour program, which I found spellbinding, is currently making the rounds on public television in the next couple of weeks. If it comes to a station near you, don’t miss it. 

One need not be wealthy, well connected, or even well educated to come up with a good new idea. Building a vision on excellence is open to anyone who wants to do good business. ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Another barrier to building an inspired business is what I call Either/Or Thinking. Too often, that’s simply a manifestation of scarcity thoughts. Consider conventional career guidance that encourages us to believe we must have a Single Lifetime Career. In this scenario your 17-year-old self may have made a choice that is a terrible fit for your 37-year-old self. Why can’t you have multiple occupations? You can, of course, but if you’ve been schooled in Either/Or Thinking, you may not have contemplated such a radical notion.

One idea-generating remedy for this is to build an Option Bank. An Option Bank, just like the place where you store money, is a repository of good ideas, dreams and goals. Like an ordinary bank, the more you put in, the more you can draw out. This is also the place where you leave employee thinking behind. 

How many ways can you think of to make money? How many ways can you have more fun? How many ways can you connect to other people? Bank your answers to those questions and keep adding to the lists. The more options you can see for yourself, the more flexible you’ll be. You’ll find solutions more quickly and build a bigger life. 

By the way, your mind is a lousy place to use as an Option Bank. For this you need paper or a file.

$100 Hour Idea: Look in your Yellow Pages for Market Research companies. Get yourself listed in their databases and make yourself available for occasional studies. You won’t get rich doing this, but you will add another fun moneymaker to your Option Bank.

Explore More: Check out One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher. Not only will you meet people who have combined unlikely career choices (i.e.rabbi/standup comedian), Alboher shares great information about how to take this road less traveled. This is full of stories of folks who have created a life that includes all of their passions.

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and  learn how to handle them, and pretty  soon you have a dozen.–John Steinbeck

Yesterday I mentioned that “How you gonna do that?” is a question that stops the idea flow. I’ve always been annoyed by cynical queries, but  it wasn’t until I read The One Minute Millionaire by Mark Victor Hansen and Robert G. Allen that I really began to understand why questions matter so much. They write, “The size of your question determines the size of your answer. Few people ever ask  earning, inventing, innovating, generating and creating questions.” 

Whether you’re asking a question of yourself or helping someone else find a creative solution, what kind of question can help you find better answers? You can start with something as simple as, “What’s the best use of my time right now?” that helps you focus on a positive outcome. 

There’s another question starter that seems to be the companion of the creative thinker. Two little words can open up the imagination: What If? What if people could carry their favorite music around in a tiny device? What if we build a Website where friends could connect? What if we put solar panels on the roof of a car?

Or try asking yourself, “What can I do to…”

grow myself?

create abundance?

serve others?

find kindred spirits?

build my dreams?

have more adventure?

Don’t dismiss too quickly questions that challenge you and don’t stop asking because you don’t get an answer a minute after the question crosses your mind.

If I’m stuck or bored, there’s one question that I’ve found guarantees I’ll swing into action. That question, which seems ridiculously simple, is “How can I make things better right now?” As soon as I ask it, I start looking right in front of me for the answer. Sometimes the answer is a bit mundane (i.e. fold the laundry or stop being so grumpy), but move often it leads to an awareness of larger improvement that can be started immediately. 

Most certainly, notice whether you’re asking yourself questions that welcome or discourage creative thoughts. Once you become aware of the power of questions, you’ll start asking for the answers that you truly want.

$100 Hour: Trendspotter Faith Popcorn suggested that time is the hot commodity and great opportunity lies in creating a business designed to save people time. Personal concierge services have become increasingly popular, as have more specialized things. One of my favorites is a service that downloads music on busy folks’ iPods.

Explore More: Several years ago, I met  Maureen Thomson when she showed up in Making a Living Without a Job in Denver. Since then, she’s come to seminars in Boston and Las Vegas.  I’ve had the fun of watching her take a little idea of being a wedding officiant and build it into an enchanting business called Memorable Ceremonies. Maureen also writes a column for theNorth Denver News and her recent piece called Simple Pleasures brought more mail than anything she’d written. Take a look and I think you’ll see why. It’s a terrific piece about her own joyfully jobless journey and how she’s moved ahead. 

Outlandish ideas move the world ahead far more powerfully than logical steps. An outrageous imagination is ultimately the most practical contribution. ~ Alan Cohen

Although this week we’re looking  at ways to nurture inspiration—the grandparent of ideas—it’s equally important to consider the factors that shut off creative thinking. As Dr. Phil likes to point out, you can’t solve a problem you don’t acknowledge. What makes it even easier for these idea stoppers to have their way with us is the fact that they have a way of becoming habitual behaviors so we might not connect them with low creative output. What are the villains?

* Devotion to routine. We’re trained, from the moment we enter kindergarten, to put ourselves on a regimented schedule. Doing the same thing, at the same time, in the same place, day in and day out, can weaken our creative muscles. While some schedule is essential to getting things done, unscheduled time is valuable as well.

* Low commitment. When we’re committed to an idea or eager to find a solution, we swing into action. Without genuine commitment, it’s tempting to abandon ideas at the first tiny challenge. 

* Talking instead of doing. Talking about what we’re going to do some day does not produce the same outcome as acting on our ideas does. It can be helpful to have a joyfully jobless friend who keeps us accountable.

* Not valuing our own ideas. Most of us have memories—hidden or not—of a childhood experience sharing an idea with an adult who knocked the wind out of our sails. Sad as that may be, it’s up to us to volunteer to be nurturing caretakers for the ideas that are ours.

* Asking the wrong questions. Share an idea with a dreambasher and the chances are great that their response will be, “How are you going to do that?” When we lack confidence, “how” questions can be a powerful tool for sabotage. Learning to ask idea-generating questions is a skill worth mastering. As writer Tom Robbins points out, “The quality of your questions determines the quality of your life.”

* Cynicism, sarcasm, negativity, laziness, arrogance.

$100 Hour: Organize a tour. (Part 2) Several people I know with strong passions for a place or a subject, have successfully organized tours abroad. If you want to share your passion for Greek islands or Spanish tiles, there are certainly others who would love to tag along. Find a travel agent or company that will work with you to organize your tour. In exchange for marketing, you can receive a free trip. You can also, of course, include your fee in the tour price. A focused, specialty tour offers the be possibilities to concentrate on planning a trip around your area of expertise.

Explore More: When should I quit? and other great questions for entrepreneurs. 

Everyone who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off, and does something about it that  makes a difference. ~ Nolan Bushnell

One of the most popular ideas from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is her suggestion to schedule regular Artist Dates to stimulate fresh thinking. In Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach recommends the same notion which she calls taking Creative Excursions. It’s something I’ve done for a long time, without giving it such a perfect name.

The purpose of a Creative Excursion, which is intended to be a solo event, is to take time every week to make a visit to a new place to gather ideas or feed your soul. Although it’s easy to find new destinations, it’s equally easy to find excuses not to do so. When people tell me that they don’t know what they want to do with their life, I’m pretty sure they haven’t explored this concept.

Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking about potential creative excursions of your own:

* Spend a couple of hours browsing at a flea market or community festival and imagine yourself as a vendor. What kind of display would you have?

* Take time to go to your library and visit an area you don’t normally look at. Read a couple of unfamiliar magazines while you’re there.

* Slip off tto the movies on a midweek afternoon.

* Gather travel brochures of a place you long to visit. This is trickier with the demise of travel agencies, but not impossible. Start at a your AAA office. Then make a collage of scenes that take your breath away.

* Take a nature hike. Gather seashells if you live by the ocean or wildflowers or weeds for a bouquet if there’s a woods nearby.

* Visit a place like Home Depot and investigate gadgets.

* Pretend you’re an investigative reporter and visit stores secretly making notes on their customer service.

* A great junk store or antique mall is a perfect place to stroll.

* Start a new collection and begin a treasure hunt.

Don’t forget to take a notebook—and maybe even a camera—with you to make sure the ideas that you’ve gathered make it back home with you.

$100 Hour: Organize a tour. (Part 1) Is there a geographic area or subject that you know a lot about? Do you live near a historic battlefield or a favorite fishing spot? You could create a tour right at home that would appeal to visitors to your area. Several companies in London offer popular walking tours covering everything from Oscar Wilde’s London to places where the Beatles hung out. The ubiquitous Pink Jeep Tours in Sedona offer numerous themed explorations. Might you share a passion for your own backyard?

Explore More: John Woods wasn’t looking for a life-changing idea when he went on vacation, but that’s exactly what he found. He tells his inspiring story in Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.~ Robert Wieder

At last night’s Golden Globe Awards, Steven Spielberg spoke eloquently about the need to nurture inspiration and not make decisions based on what’s easy or popular. I don’t hear people talking about that much. No wonder inspiration is dismissed or ignored.

For a long time, I thought motivation and inspiration were two words describing the same thing. I no longer think that. As I see it, motivation is a force that generates action because of the consequences if we don’t. Motivation may or may not have anything to do with genuine passion or enthusiasm. In fact, many people who call themselves motivational speakers imply that motivation is a highly emotional state the we must whip ourselves into—or be branded losers. To be motivated often involves talking ourselves into doing something because we should or must. 

Inspiration, on the other hand, is a call to creative action. We act because we want to, not because we have to. 

The dictionary defines it this way:

arousal of the mind to special activity or creativity

a product of your creative thinking and work

a sudden intuition as part of solving a problem

inhalation: the act of inhaling; the drawing in of air as in breathing 

Although it’s somewhat difficult to describe the state of inspiration, most of us recognize it when we’re experiencing it. When we are inspired, we glimpse new possiblities. Continual inspiration is a reward for paying attention.

The results of living our lives and running our businesses from this state are enormous. Quite simply inspiration always leads us to be more and do more. When we’re inspired we feel more brilliant, creative, loving, alive, authentic. Not only do we accomplish more, but we do so with greater ease. It’s hard to feel inspired and complain. 

Happily, inspiration isn’t just for artists. It also doesn’t have to be random or rare. You do, however, have to know what turns yours on. As James Ball reminds us, “An uninspired mind is a handicap we can all do something about.” This week we’ll explore ways to do just that.

$100 Hour: Share what you know. Last spring, an article in the NY Times called Making Money the How-to Way caught my eye. They spotlighted Metacafe and showed how all sorts of people are creating how-to videos and a nifty profit center.

Explore More: Make the Impossible Possible: One Man’s Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary by Bill Strickland. One of the best books ever about inspiration in action.

Pay a visit to Inspiration Station for ideas on creating your own Inspiration Station.

The idea flow from the human spirit is absolutely unlimited. All you have to do is tap into that well. ~ Jack Welch

It felt like an entrepreneurial cyclone hit this week. Besides all the intriguing resources I’ve collected, there was much rejoicing all around me. The week began with learning that yes, indeed, there will be a revised and updated version of Making a Living Without a Job before the end of the year. Longtime friend and Rhinestone Gypsy Linda Gannon sent an update on her booming business along with a hysterical story about her rock star customer. My sister Margaret started a creative profit center that has generated so much enthusiasm that I can feel it 300 miles away. To top things off, there was much whooping and hollering when my daughter Jennie called to say she got her first client for her doula business. And it’s only the first week of the new year!

Besides all the excitement close to home, I came across so many articles and resources this week that I wanted to pass along, but decided my list needed to be edited or you’d be linking all weekend long. Here are the ones that made the cut.

For years, I’ve been raving about Rick Steves. Not only do I use his travel guides and have watched his PBS programs for years, I also admire the way he has built and run his business. I paid a visit to his Website and found a charming list of his Top Travel Memories for 2008. If you go to his site, you can be lost there for hours.

One of the first things I plan to do on my upcoming trip to the UK is to sample as many Innocent Drinks as possible. I’ve been writing about this wildly creative business ever since I discovered them. Alas, their products aren’t available in the US so I have to be content with reading their weekly mailings. Nobody uses humor and whimsy better than the Innocent Drinks geniuses. Here’s a little sampler from this week’s mailing:

If you’re a bit skint after Christmas and are resorting to drying your teabags on the radiator and milking the cat, then here’s something sure to cheer up both you and your bank manager. Our smoothies are on special offer for the next few weeks in a store near you, meaning you can save a few pennies and walk off that second layer of chocolates. What’s more, since our veg pots are new to Tesco, for the next few weeks you can also save £1 on them too, leaving you free to indulge in one hundred penny sweets, a bag of scampi fries or a ‘sorry’ present for the cat.

Yes, I know, I’ve been babbling about my love affair with Twitter. Even so, I have failed miserably in bringing converts along. As one friend asked, “Why would I want to read about someone having a ham sandwich at the airport?” Fair question. That’s what I thought it would be like, too, so I avoided it for ever so long. Now I’m wiser…and wiser because of Twitter. The folks I’m following post all sorts of fascinating stuff and I find a gem or two every day. Here are three that came my way this past week:

7 Tips for New Twitter Users

from Zen Habits You Can Do Anything in Your Underwear

from Copyblogger How to Stop Being Invisible 

By the way, even if you aren’t writing a blog, I urge you to get acquainted with Copyblogger which has lively articles for anyone interested in communication. 

Jewelry artist and creativity coach Sally Evans shares her insights at Embracing Creativity where she posts articles, suggestions and resources. Check out her Creativity Just for Fun section. Sally’s also offering a terrific e-course called Design Your Inspired Life that’s getting rave reviews from past participants.

Want to take your Muse out to play? Go to Jackson and move your mouse around your screen. Click on your mouse to change colors. Warning: this can be addictive.

Don’t miss Seth Godin’s blog post Time to Start a Newspaper and see where he says the next frontier is.

Finally, there’s still time to join me for my upcoming teleclasses. We’ll be exploring A Beginner’s Guide to the Seminar Business on Monday, January 12 and A Dozen Ways to Build Your Expert Status on Wednesday, January 14. All teleclasses are now being recorded so even if you can’t attend in person, you can still hear the entire class.

A good idea will not become a reality until it has a champion. ~ Colin Powell

Look up from the computer you’re reading this on. What do you see? Reminders of places that inspire you? Books worth rereading? Does it matter?

You probably know what I think the answer is to that last question—and I’m not alone in thinking that it matters a great deal. In 1883 Claude Monet moved his family to Giverny. It remained his home for forty-three years until his death. Monet spent exactly one-half of his life living this place which became a daily source of inspiration for his life and painting.

No detail was too insignificant for Monet. Not only did he oversee the planning and installation of the gardens, he was equally involved in creating a beautiful home for his family, insisting that meals be a regular source of pleasure. While Monet’s talent flourished in this beautiful environment, he also became a skillful entrepreneur marketing his work with the same imagination which he applied to his painting and his personal life.

Would Monet have become such a successful artist without Giverny? We can only guess at the answer. One thing is certain: Monet intentionally found inspiration right outside of his door. 

Most of us will never live in as magical a place as Giverny, but we can set up our lives in such a way that inspiration is a daily, on-going event. First we must be brave enough to surround ourselves with those things, thoughts and people that lift us up. And we need to do it over and over again. After all, inspiration isn’t a vaccination. If you want to go beyond the ordinary, begin by bringing as much inspiration as possible into your world.

$100 Hour Idea: Welcome paying guests. Ever since I discovered At Home in London, I have given up hotels and stayed in private homes when I visit that favorite city. If you’re an empty-nester, why not turn the space into a profit center from time to time? A woman who lived near a college, frequently hosted visiting artists and professors in her home. Not only did she create a nice profit center, she met fascinating people from all over the world. She also loved the flexibility of opening her casual b & b when it was convenient. 

Explore More:  Alison Marks is the creative spirit behind Inside Out Design Coaching in San Francisco. Besides doing coaching, organizing and feng shui consultations in her area, she also offers teleclasses and lots of information through her Website and Dwell Well ezine. Read her 10 Things You Can Do to Turn Your Home Into a Haven.It’s full of great tips.

A strong imagination begets opportunity. ~ Michel de Montaigne


Hardly a day passes when I don’t hear from someone who is bored to tears with their job and longing to step out on their own, but claim that fear is keeping them stuck. Alas, they’re not telling the truth, either to me or themselves. Fear, after all, is that really useful emotion that warns us when danger is near. What’s so sad is that people often interpret as fear a different emotion: self-doubt. As long as they label that feeling as “fear” they continue to see it as a warning sign. On the other hand, if it’s actually a case of self-doubt that’s holding them back, that’s something they can overcome. That can be scary, too.

Then how do we move past this? We have to begin by refusing to keep nurturing our doubts. To paraphrase an old quote, “Doubts, like babies, grow larger with nursing.”

We also have to stop deceiving ourselves that we’ll act after our self-esteem is intact. That’s backwards. Our self-esteem grows because we take action.

When Garland Wright was artistic director of the Guthrie Theater, he challenged his staff by saying, “What we need now is an idea big enough to scare us.”  Do you see the brilliance of that?  How about letting a big, scary idea point you in the direction of your dreams?

$100 Hour: In Phil Laut’s wonderful little book, Money is My Friend, he offers this exercise for testing ideas. “Once you have an idea of what you can do to make your favorite money making idea a financial success, ask yourself whether you are willing to stick with it, no matter what it takes, until you receive your first $100 from it. If you are not willing to do this, then you certainly don’t yet have an idea that you like well wnough to succeed with…If you make a habit of only devoting yourself to ideas that you like so well you are willing to stick with them until you receive your first $100, you will never again feel like yu failed. After receiving your first $100, you can decide whether you want to continue with the idea—but you will be making the choice from the position of having succeeded.

Explore More: If you don’t own a copy of Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, I’m going to keep nagging you until to add it to your library. If it’s already in your library, pick it up now, open it at random and read a page or two. Ah.

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I prefer to see you living in better accomodations. ~ Hafiz