Ever come upon a co-worker sitting at their desk just sort of staring into space (or their computer screen)? You ask what’s going on and they answer in a dull and defeated voice that they are waiting for inspiration to strike.
Do you also sit on your arse waiting for dinner to make itself? …For the lawn to grow shorter? …For the sidewalks to shovel themselves after a snow? …For your clothes to jump out of the closest and force themselves upon your body and thrust you out the door to start your day?
Waiting for inspiration? Puh-leeeze!
You may as well wait for lightning to strike.
As a matter of fact, you’ve probably heard a flash of brilliance described that way — as a lightning strike. The worst offenders of this ‘wait-and-see’ approach to inspiration are the people who’ve experienced a flash of insight in the past. I’m not saying the occasional lightning strike doesn’t happen. I’m just saying the odds are against it.
You know how you increase your chances of a lightning strike?
You erect lightning rods.
What’s a lightning rod? I’m glad you asked…
As buildings were constructed to be taller and taller, damage from lightning strikes became more of a threat. The huge electrical currents heat the building materials and moisture to high temperatures that weaken the structure or even cause fire and explosions.
A lightning rod is a metal staff mounted on the highest parts of a building and connected to the ground through a conductive wire. If lightning strikes the building it will be drawn to the metal rod, transfer down the wire, and be harmlessly dissipated into ground.
The lightning rod is also called a “lightning attractor” or the “Franklin rod,” as it was invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1749. As an act of philanthropy, Franklin chose not to patent the invention.
Inspirational Lightning Rods
As my own minor act of creative philanthropy, I’d like to share a few “lightning rods” of inspiration. They will help provide an easy path for creativity to find its way to your brain, but you have to be holding them — using them — in order for the creative lightning to strike YOU, causing innovative explosions and creative fires in your mind.
1. Read more stuff
Magazines, books, blogs, cereal boxes… it doesn’t really matter (at least at the beginning) what you read — just that you’re reading at all. Just 15 to 20 minutes every morning and every evening is enough to feed your brain with enough new ideas to make you more strikeable. To increase the quality of ideas your reading generates, increase the quality of the writers you are reading.
2. If you have to watch TV, watch some good shows
You’d be surprised at the number of lightning strikes that can be had by watching an episode of Mythbusters or Wild West Tech. The Biography, Discovery, and History Channels are worth a watch now and then.
3. Go see great speakers
Go and see presentations of the best public speakers as often as possible. Listen for the message within the message. Find one great idea that you can take home and put into action tomorrow. Become a speaker yourself. Joining Toastmasters and jumping up in front of an audience in an effort to share your own message is much more challenging than simply writing them down and hoping someone reads them. The energy that comes from a really good speaker on stage can generate a roomful of lightning bolts.
4. Collect quotes
You can start by purchasing a collection of quotes from your local bookstore, but I find the quotes that have the most impact on me personally come from the middle of books I’m reading or from speakers on stage. Never be without a notepad in which scribble something worth reading again in the future. Record them in a journal (a physical notebook or an online version) and start categorizing them according to the way they words make you feel when you read them. Save them under headings that mean the most to you: Monday Morning… Kick In The Ass… Need An Idea… Feeling Blue… and review your collection whenever you need some brilliance on-demand.
5. Listening to music
One of the earliest ways I discovered to create a lightning strike of inspiration was through the music I collected. I could actually control the kinds of ideas I came up with by the type of ambient music playing while I was drawing, writing, or brainstorming. Jazz, New Age, Soundtracks, Classical, and even 80’s Hair Bands (sometimes you just gotta ‘Ratt and Roll!’) can bring down the lightning of creativity.
6. Play word games
Get your brain primed for those bolts from the blue by shining up those mental receptors. Solving crossword puzzles or challenging your friends to a game of Boggle or (my favorite) — Scrabble, is a great way to warm up your mental engine. One of the very cool things about social media is the way it allows you to play these sorts of games online at all hours with people all over the world. You’re never at a loss for a competitor. After all, the person on the other side of the virtual game board may also be trying to increase their strikeability.
7. Visit museums
Art museums, history museums, science and technology centers, as well as zoos and aquariums are all fantastic ways to bring the lightning. The artistic images and hidden histories crank your creative generators into overdrive. Personal fav: go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio (is Ratt in there yet?) and check out the display containing the pages from musicians’ notebooks. You’ll see raw versions of handwritten lyrics to some of the biggest hits of all time — scribbles in the margin, cross-outs and corrections. The pages seem singed with blasts from their own lightning strikes.
8. Find heroes
Disney, Edison, Franklin, Houdini, Siegel and Shuster — learn all you can about the lives and creative process of your own heroes. You’ll find they were also often in search of lightning strikes. Once you know how some of history’s most creative minds made themselves more strikeable, it is a simpler thing to try and do for yourself. Keep in mind that everyone’s combustion point for their personal creative fire is different. What worked for Disney will not work for everyone (or else we’d have a lot more Disney-quality creativity in the world.)
9. Express yourself — journal, sketch, paint
Often times the problem of a creative mind is not the lack of ideas, but an over abundance. There are so many ideas swimming around in your noggin that you don’t know which one to act upon first. Work through your brain blockage by getting all those ideas out of your head. Use journaling, blogging, painting, photography, cartooning, or whatever to simply get that log jam of ideas out of your head and onto paper/canvas/etc. It can get congested up there, and if you don’t find a release valve your brain can get more clogged than a summer sinus infection. Remember this: to get new ideas into your head, you have to get the old ones out. There is a finite amount of space between your ears, and if you don’t write all those ideas down — even the bad ones (especially the bad ones) you can’t make room for new and better ideas.
10. Radar up!
There’s a book titled “Personal Brilliance” in which the author lists four catalysts for creativity: Awareness, Curiosity, Focus, and Initiative. Before reading the book I would have bet that my primary source for attracting creative ideas was Curiosity (asking What if? Why not? etc.) But, it turns out after learning about these catalysts, I would attribute most of my idea generation to Awareness — simply being attuned to what’s happening around me (remember the books, speakers, and music?) and absorbing these influences and seeds of ideas into my mind. To keep our lightning strike analogy going, think of your brain as a magnet and all those innovative influences as metal shavings — collect enough metal and you can create one helluva lightning rod!