Last week, my six-year-old granddaughter Zoe came for five days. It was my great pleasure to take her to see Mystere, her first Cirque du Soleil show. For the next three days, the music from the show played whenever we were in the car and Zoe recalled (perfectly) what scene each song accompanied.

The rest of her visit was filled with lots of art projects. This is obviously a girl who gets up in the morning asking herself, “What can I make today?”

On Saturday morning she begged for a return visit to Michael’s for more supplies. I relented because I’m that kind of grandmother. She surprised me by selecting a white mask and a bag of feathers.

As soon as we got home Zoe sat down with my 20 Years Under the Sun book, a history of Cirque’s first two decades. After studying the pictures, she set up her studio on my dining room table and began painting and decorating the mask.

While she worked I was puttering in the kitchen so she gave me updates on her progress. She said, “I want this kind of like Cirque, but it’s going to have me in it too.”

“That’s called inspired by,” I said. “Your mask is inspired by Cirque du Soleil, but it’s not a copy.” I explained a little bit more about what “inspired by” means.

That got me thinking about all the times I’ve been “inspired by” myself. Paradoxically, part of the creative process comes from being an enthusiastic spectator.

And we needn’t limit our spectating only to activities or enterprises that are like our own.

I have no desire to create theatrical experiences, but Cirque du Soleil inspires me. I’m fascinated by their commitment to finding the perfect balance between business and creativity.

Entrepreneurs and other creative types are constantly seeking inspiration, of course. This causes them to pay attention and be on the alert at all times because experience has shown them that inspiration can arrive at any time.

After watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, my sister Margaret posted a photo of her latest creation with this explanation:This is what happens when I watch Marilyn Monroe get married in the movies: a little hat made of pleated satin with a voluptuous, hand-made chiffon rose and a wisp of tulle.”

That, of course, is the lovely thing about inspiration. It begets more inspiration.

But only if we’re paying attention. Or as Mary Pipher says, “Inspiration is very polite. She knocks softly and goes elsewhere if we don’t answer.”

Yesterday I met Dorinda Mangan who had come to Las Vegas with a group of Denver folks to attend a Super Bowl event. We connected at my favorite hotel, Bellagio, for a chatty brunch. 

Then I suggested that we walk to the sculpture gallery where Richard MacDonald’s stunning work is displayed.  MacDonald is a figurative artist who has worked with Cirque du Soleil performers to create some intriguing works of art. 

What I love most of all about the exhibit is the video showing MacDonald at work. Each piece begins with an exploratory session as the acrobats and dancers pose and perform while he studies their movements. 

When they strike a pose that MacDonald likes, he stops them. Then they have to hold the pose while he makes a clay model. Eventually, the sculpture may be cast in bronze. It’s fascinating to watch the artists at work and see what goes into this collaborative process.

It seems to me that we’d all be a great deal more patient if we could watch others going through the building/creating process. We’d quickly discover that the things we admire the most demanded a hefty investment of time. 

Maybe we’d stop asking ourselves, “Why is it taking so long?” when our own plans seem to be advancing at a snail’s pace. The truth is that it’s very difficult to estimate how long it will take to do something we’ve never done before. Yet we do just that over and over again.

It’s been about a year since my sister Margaret started her delightful business, Over the Top Fascinators. Last week I got an e-mail from her giving me an update—and insight. 

She wrote, Gretchen (her daughter and web master) said yesterday that she feels the business is just now really being launched, and I agree. The whole last year was about learning how to make things properly, sourcing the materials and building up enough designs to make it look like more than a hobby. 

“We’re looking for a partner to share a booth at the spring Art Walk downtown (there’s a local maker of purses from vintage fabric we like a lot) and I’m thinking I want to advertise on the website Offbeat Bride. I will still work with the bridal shop, but their style is a little traditional and flashy for me. I want the brides getting married on the beach to find me.”

While deadlines are useful for outsmarting procrastination, it’s equally useful to realize that laying a foundation can take an investment of time. Predicting what that will be, is the tricky part. As Seth Godin points out, “Figure out how long your idea will take to spread, and multiply by 4.”

Honestly, if you aren’t willing to invest your time, you’ll be better off punching someone else’s time clock.