Where do you get your inspiration? Wouldn’t it be great if you could open a kitchen cabinet and pour out a cup of inspiration? Fortunately or unfortunately, that is not the way it works. Inspiration is an elusive shadow that we often miss in our hurry-up world. We are so busy answering emails, texting and heading out on our next venture that we often don’t see what is right in front of us.

You would think that inspiration would come easily when you’re a designer. Isn’t there a class in school on tuning up your inspiration receptors? Unfortunately, there is not.

Over the years, I have found inspiration in the most unusual places doing the most unusual things. (Don’t ask.) I have also found it doing ordinary everyday things. The key has always been that I opened myself up to the opportunity to be inspired. I know it sounds very basic, but I find it to be so true.

In Tune With Inspiration

I was recently at the AMBEST show in Nashville and had one of those inspirational moments. I was surrounded by good friends at a singer-songwriter event featuring James Slater, J.T. Harding, and Caitlyn Smith. If you are like me, you have never heard of any of these incredible Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning songwriters. The best part of the evening was listening to the stories of who, what, where, when, why and how they wrote the songs and the circuitous route to success that each song took. Their inspiration came from everywhere around them. I also learned that the songs didn’t just write themselves.

Each of the songwriters wrote songs every day. They had a discipline about their process.  The songs were then seasoned with inspiration, and songwriting gold was the result.

It reminded me of a famous Thomas Edison quote: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” My wife, Cathy, and I were recently in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian and spent hours in the American History Museum. We spent an inordinate amount of time in the Thomas Edison exhibit. He too had a discipline and a process that he followed. He called himself an inventor. Can you imagine getting up in the morning saying, “I think I will invent something today”? He followed a very disciplined process and surrounded himself with like-minded people. The hard work and science were seasoned with inspiration. Electricity, light bulbs and so much more were the result.

What is the common thread between James Slater and Thomas Edison? What separates great artists and inventors from the millions of others in their fields who work just as hard? I believe it’s that elusive 1%, and being receptive to inspiration is the key.

So there I was, enjoying a beer with good friends, listening to great music and having a great time, when inspiration struck. Caitlyn Smith was talking about getting out of the way and letting the song rain down. I started to think about how that approach could enhance the creative process within Paragon.

We are all at times hindered by our pasts, by what we already know. It often keeps us from discovering what we don’t know. So my challenge to myself was to get out of my own way and let the creative process rain down. Paragon has had some wonderful success in the past 30 years, and I am very grateful for that. I believe the key to that historical and continued success is that we continue to reinvent ourselves. (Stay tuned for some new initiatives coming out of Paragon.)

Get Fresh

What does all this have to do with you? We all work hard. We’ve all had great experiences and successes over the years. How do the truly successful people achieve success? How can you raise the bar in your business?

I believe that the answer is to open yourself up to new opportunities, to let the song rain down. That could mean opening your stores up to new products, services or merchandising techniques. It might mean giving that new employee freedom to try a different approach to something. When was the last time you tried something really radical?

As it relates to retail design, it means opening yourself up to inspiration on a higher level. Look outside our industry for that inspiration. We all must get out of our own way at times. Is it time to open ourselves up to fresh ideas? Is it time to open up to refreshing our brand? Is it time to look to the future, not the past?

The great thing about inspiration is that it can hit you anywhere, anytime, from any source. Be ready and be receptive.

I can tell you that having a cold beer and listening to some great music, surrounded by friends, is good way to start.