Thomas Edison famously once said that genius was “one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.”  Well, easy for him to say, right?  What I don’t remember hearing, from Edison or anyone else, was where the heck did the inspiration part come from?

Cute little businessman looking at lit bulb“Where did you get that idea?” was something I heard from several people last week at the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Annual Conference held in San Diego.  They were talking about these (I’m calling them storyboards) and how my sponsorship of them had introduced more than 1,300 attendees to the wonders of Kelly Kingman’s artistry.

The easy — and probably most correct — answer was, of course, that I stole the idea from another marketing conference, Content Marketing World, where I had first met Kelly.  It’s easy to be a thief or a mimic when something has already proven itself successful in a similar situation.  But thievery or not, it does take a certain amount of brains to recognize a good thing.  At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Wonder and awful

I was inspired when I saw that first storyboard by Kelly at Content Marketing World.  The idea that someone was able to take an hourlong (or more) presentation and boil it down to a 32-foot-square piece of posterboard, complete with images and arrows and big letters and small letters in a rainbow of colors, was amazing to me.  Now, a vast number of the folks who attended LMA have expressed similar amazement and wonder.

But those sentiments weren’t universal.  One very successful marketing consultant shared with me that she sent a photo of a storyboard to a managing partner of a law firm with a few hundred lawyers.  “Ugh, I can’t even look at this mess,” is apparently pretty much what the lawyer said.  Another lawyer was even more pointed when seeing the same storyboard:  “I don’t like that,” she said.  (Maybe you need to see them in person, in the moment?)

Clearly, we’re not all inspired by the same things, in the same way.  And thank goodness for that.

Passing It On

Since I had already been inspired by the concept of these storyboards a long time ago, I was hoping to be inspired by something new at the LMA Conference.  And, as luck would have it, I found it.

The marketing director from a smallish law firm based in the Twin Cities, Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand, LLP, presented a case study during the conference about the firm’s three-year project to engage a variety of audiences, including its own lawyers and staff, its clients and prospects, and the broader community.

Maslon Pass It On was billed as “An Invitation to Inspiration,” and it invited anyone to share what inspired them via social media, with the entries shared on a website built on Pinterist, so that it could feature lots and lots of great photos and images.  One of its goals beyond engagement was to raise some money for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Art Adventure Program, which supports arts education to nearly100,000 elementary school students across Minnesota.

How cool is this project, I thought.  What a great idea!  When was the last time someone asked you, “What inspires you?”  I can’t remember EVER being asked that… And, as the song says, ain’t that a shame.

What’s next?

As often happens at every conference, I had found some inspiration.  But in finding inspiration, I found myself reflecting on the nature of inspiration.

As marketers, we aren’t inspired as often as we should be, certainly given our profession.  As humans, we don’t seek to be inspired nearly as much as we need to make the world around us a better place to live.  All too often, we leave inspiration to the artists and entertainers in our midst, maybe too the scientists and inventors, like Edison.

All of us are capable of being inspired, in whatever form and from whatever source.  But what, exactly, inspires us?  Is it storyboards or case studies?  How do we recognize it?  Where does it come from?  Do we need to go to a conference to find it?  Do we need some perspiration first?  And, once inspired, how do we act on it?

I think inspiration comes from simply asking those kinds of questions.  Is that too zen for you, grasshopper?

How about this:  Inspiration is something that is always within us, all of the time, waiting for the right moment to strike, when whatever catalyst appears to draw it out.  It doesn’t have to be something big, but it can be.  It might not be something that’s ultimately successful.  But it could be.  Inspiration forces us to take risks, to grow and to learn, to share and connect.  And, inspiration fuels even more inspiration.

So, I’ve asked myself, “What inspires me?”  Not surprisingly (at least to me), there’s plenty:  Telling stories in words and images that connect with thousands.  Asking questions that really can engage people.  Reflecting on how to be inspired and stay inspired.

What inspires you?

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