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.

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 Pollock.org 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

To put your goalsetting and entrepreneurial efforts on—track and keep them there—begin by giving your year a theme. It could be a single word or a phrase that becomes your motto. Either way, it will help you gain clarity and focus. When planning your time or making a decision, a quick check will reveal if your choice adds or detracts from the theme you’ve declared.

Let’s say you’re starting a new project, one that you know little about. If you think of it as My Project Where I Am Clueless About What I’m Doing, you’ll produce very different results than if you name it My Exciting Apprenticeship in New Territory. Instead of focusing on everything you don’t know, your attention will be drawn to seek out teachers and sources of help and learning. This is a powerful shorthand technique for bringing your focus back to what your true goals are.

You’ve seen this in action plenty of times. You want to throw a party, but can’t quite figure out how to make it special. A party is just a party, after all, until you give it a theme. Then ideas start rolling. Suddenly it engages the imagination of the guests and the host. Or you decide to go to Paris and  bump into an old friend who just got back from Paris; then articles on your destination seem to appear out of nowhere.  Coincidence or selective awareness caused by focus?

 Here are a few theme possibilities to consider:

Stretch

Travel Light

Simplify

Explore More

Make Connections

Build Strength

Ease & Joy

Visible Abundance

No Limits

Daily Laughter

More Magic

Wildly Creative

Amaze Myself

Welcome Opportunity

Keep Moving

Back to Basics

Fully Engaged

Renaissance

Collaboration

Dream Bold

Catch the Spirit

New Adventures

Once you’ve got your overall theme, give individual themes to your projects. Post reminders around your home and office. I also do Treasure Maps that remind me of my themes. One of my current ones is Inspiring People in Beautiful Places. Next to my desk is a poster I’ve done with scenes from Venice, Sedona, Tuscany and the Lake District plus a photo of Valerie Young and me along with participants in Making Dreams Happen, an event we held in Boulder several years ago. 

Give 2009 a theme and ideas will follow. 

$100 Hour: Throw a party. If you love social events and tending to details, why not get paid for all that fun? Once a month you could organize a dinner for your busy friends for the price they’d pay in a restaurant. You could specialize in class reunions or wedding receptions. Alice Barry loves entertaining and loves inspired entrepreneurs so she turns those passions into occasional events like the Holiday Office Party for Inspired Entrepreneurs.

Explore More: Alice Barry calls herself an Idea Artisan. Anyone who’s spent time with her, knows how good she is at helping people gain clarity and plan action.You can book a session with Alice by visiting EntertainingtheIdea.com  

Got your theme? Share it in the comment box, if you’d like.

Money follows ideas. Money doesn’t create anything at all, much less ideas. Money goes where ideas are. ~ Paul Hawken

Build a personal portfolio of ideas. A man I know has the unfortunate habit of running out of money. When this happens, he goes into panic, followed by depression, followed by applying for a job he hopes he won’t get. During his latest cash flow crisis, I tried to explain to him, as gently as possible, that there was no reason for this endless Feast or Famine cycle.

If you’ve read Making a Living Without a Job or taken my seminar of the same name, you’re already familiar with the $100 idea. Whether it’s a new idea to you or not, this is the perfect time to commit to putting it into action.

You can begin implementing the $100 Hour even if you now have a job or other commitments that clamor for your time. Begin by making a pact with yourself that you will set aside time daily, if possible, or at scheduled intervals for the purpose of creating an idea that will bring you $100. You needn’t complete the plan in the hour, but if time permits use your surplus to get your idea rolling. Do research, make calls, write letters—anything that advances your goal. As Neil Fiore points out, “Keep on starting and the finishing will take care of itself.”

If you’re focusing your energies on a single profit center, come up with an idea for expanding it in a way that will earn another $100. If you’re going to try a number of different ideas in order to figure out what you most want to do, then this time can be spent designing a variety of projects. Begin by looking for opportunities that may be hiding in plain sight.

A word of warning is in order here. While this idea works wonders, your ego may tell you that $100 is too insignificant to bother with. Ignore it. After all, great fortunes and grand achievements have been accomplished by steadfast devotion to creating tiny successes—which ultimately add up to enormous success. 

The discipline that comes with using this technique is perhaps its greatest bonus. However, once you start seeing results, don’t stop using it. With continued practice, you’ll find it gets easier and easier to come up with $100 ideas. At that point, you can raise the monetary stakes, if you like. At any rate, you’ll discover that the quality of your ideas gets better and better with practice.

$100 Hour:  Clean out a closet. Why not resell things you no longer use? Clothes, especially high-quality ones that are in good repair, can be taken to a consignment shop—as can toys, sporting equipment, furniture and computers. You can also advertise on Craigslist, sell things directly on eBay or organize your own yard sale. 

Explore More: John Schroeder’s Garage Sale Fever is a perfect handbook whether you’re selling or buying with the purpose of reselling. Even if garage sale season is months away in your part of the world, this will help you get things organized. 

“I’ll never forget this idea” is the devil’s whisper. Catch everything that matters in your notebook. ~ Richard Bach

 

Entrepreneurial inspiration and information are everywhere. Here are a few—in no particular order—that I’ve collected this past week:

* Twitter, Twitter, Twitter. I have no idea why Twitter is so addictive, but it is. I’m new to Twitter world, but find myself checking in frequently since the folks I’m following leave such interesting tidbits.

Publicity Hound Joan Stewart had a story in her mailing last week about Rebecca Shapiro, an artist from Portland, OR, who got a regular gig on a local tv show thanks to Twitter. Want to know what all the fuss is about? Read Copyblogger’s How to Use Twitter to Grow Your Business.

You can find me on Twitter by clicking on this link. 

* Long before I moved to Las Vegas, I became fascinated by hotel impresario Steve Wynn. When his newest hotel opened recently, he pointed out that Encore is short on gimmicks and long on great service. As he told the press, his focus is on getting back to basics. Successful entrepreneurs seem to make that discovery over and over.

If you’re interested in knowing more about Wynn and the other entrepreneurial forces in my hometown, I recommend Winner Takes All by Christina Binkley. It’s one of my favorite books of the year. 

And if you want to focus on basics like goalsetting or building your expert status, join me for one–or several–of my upcoming teleclasses

* Nevada Public Radio just replayed their interview with Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City? Florida said something in that interview I’ve thought to myself, but never heard anyone verbalize before. In the Idea Age, says Florida, we need to rethink our notions about home ownership. After pointing out that home ownership came about as a result of the Industrial Age and led to our crazy love affair with consumerism, Florida said, “If you want people to be able to respond to creative opportunities, the worst thing you can do is trap them in a house.” 

* A tiny little book that made a huge impact on me was Phil Laut’s Money is My Friend. I now read his Emerging Entrepreneur mailings and was struck by what he had to say this week: “People are more powerful than money.  You are more powerful than money. Economics claims to be the study of money and tends to imply that money has a mind of its own, separate from human intervention.  Such an implication is very far from accurate.  If someone dumped a truckload of currency in your back yard today, it would stay there until a human came along and told the money what to do. The same is true for the money flowing through your personal economic system right now– in and out of your checking account, piggy bank or anywhere else you keep your money. You are the one telling it what to do. For this reason, the study and understanding of your own personal money psychology offers the greatest potential for rapid improvement in your financial situation.”

* An photo essay in the LA Times caught my eye. Recycled Living: A bohemian LA loft is decorated with flea market finds showcases the home of realtor Robert Heller and fashion designer Elizabeth Kramer. It looks like a place designed to inspire creative thought.

* The Work-At-Home Success Expo is up and running–and it’s only a mouse click away. Leslie Truex has assembled a month’s worth of resources, ideas and expert interviews. You’ll even find an interview with me. Check it out.

* Then there was this idea from Florida reader Elizabeth Bonet. “A couple of years ago I started doing goal setting every year on my birthday. I set one goal for every year I am (so 39 this year!). At first, it was hard to come up with so many. So it forced me to get creative and also learn how to break goals down more as well—into smaller steps to accomplish a bigger goal, each one counting for one goal. Since I have these set, I don’t feel any pressure to make New Year’s resolutions either.”

What moves those of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.–Eugene Delacroix

 

Move around. Whenever I see Rodin’s statue of The Thinker, I’m certain that whatever he’s thinking about is not causing a creative rush. Sitting and thinking while hoping ideas will land in your lap is both grueling and ineffective. While our minds need to rest, daydreaming seldom spawns a new idea, although a new idea may erupt after a daydreaming session. Although different people find different experiences creatively stimulating, people in motion seem to generate ideas more easily.

A woman who had left her corporate job and started a small service business called to share her excitement about her new life. As she talked about her venture, she said, “I have so many ideas now. I never had ideas when I worked at my old job.”

“I have a theory about that,” I told her. “I think ideas are out there floating around in the air, but they can’t get through to corporate cubicles.”

I was only partly joking. In order to attract ideas, we need to engage in activities that stimulate our thinking. Sitting and trying hard, doesn’t seem to help at all. Next time we’ll look at a surefire way to generate a steady stream of good ideas.

$100 Hour: Eliminate an expense that doesn’t bring you joy. Every so often, find a way to save $100. Quit smoking. Or find a credit card company with a lower interest rate. Find a tax deduction you overlooked. Cancel the movie channel you never watch. Sometimes our spending becomes automatic and habitual. It’s healthy to reevaluate and change old spending habits from time to time.

Explore More: I’m not sure I’ve ever come up with a good idea while reading about creativity. However, following the suggestions for exercises and activities in such books often gets things rolling. A perennial favorite is How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael Gelb.

Innovation is what you get when you get up from behind your desk and go and see where ideas and people lead you. ~ Richard Branson