Inspiration Takes Perspiration

I’m sharing my process for preparing the keynote talk I’ll be presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18. This is Part Three; if you prefer chronological order, start with Part One and Part Two.

If you ever find yourself in need of a social conversation starter, here’s one of my favorite questions to ask:

Where do ideas come from?

That question has been on my mind this week as I thought about the developing my talk for HighEdWeb NE, because it gets to what I struggle with most when creating a presentation: how to focus in on exactly what it is I want to share that I feel is unique to me.

The way I see it, whenever I’m given the opportunity to speak to an audience—and even more so if I’m being invited specifically to inspire others—I need figure out exactly what key insight or point of view it is I think I have to share about a topic. I can’t just coast in and deliver the repackaged ideas of others; I want to make sure that when I leave people at the end with a tote bag of ideas, I know that those ideas and perspectives are my own.

So where do those ideas come from? I think they come from scraps and slivers of the ideas and voices of others that we absorb everyday, often without us even being conscious of it. In fact, I doubt real insight or direction can ever be traced completely to a single source or experience.

Creativity is often compared to a set of muscles, something that gets stronger the more you give it a workout, but that never felt right to me. I think creativity is an autonomic system constantly at work within a quiet organ managed by subroutines in the baser levels of our brain; an ongoing process that happens without us ever really being aware of it, like respiration or digestion.

Like digestion, this creativity organ relies on input, and I don’t know about you but I feel like my brain needs input just as much as my stomach needs food, with its own minimum daily requirements of information and insight. And just like eating, it’s possible to randomly graze on information throughout the day, but eventually my creative curiosity gets a craving that needs to be satisfied. A spark of insight leads to needing to know more about something, and then suddenly I turn into Johnny Five euphorically grasping for all the input I can find. As soon as I realized I wanted to focus my keynote on the theme of sharing, I started seeking out all the books on my shelf I could think of that I’d read, or had yet to read, from sources I thought might have unique insights on the subject.

When we do this with no apparent purpose, it’s called obsession. When it’s for a purpose, we call it research:

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I like research. #hewebNE

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As my research progresses and I start to build themes I can work from, everything I read is getting absorbed by that creativity organ of my subconcious. Even if I’m taking specific notes, copying certain images or phrases, there is so much more percolating deep within me, making connections and building new ideas out of the soup of information I take in.

The hard part then becomes learning how to let those newly formed ideas reach my conscious mind in the form of inspiration, because they rarely are available on demand. Eureka moments come when they’re ready and not before, bubbling up out of the blue while I’m doing other things.

Oddly, the gym is one of those places for me, so much so that I now have to keep a small notepad with me when I’m on the treadmill for capturing ideas that come to me as I am exercising. There’s something about breaking into new activity away from my office, away from my computer, that frees up these ideas, untethering them from below to rise to the surface of my consciousness.

So now the creative work ahead of me as I prepare my presentation is about opening up a channel to those new ideas and inspiration and creating a system to organize it all so it makes sense: I really like this story, and this image and that image and that example of this—how can I link them? I think I want to say this. What do I have to illustrate that or support it? Does a photo work here, or will I need words?

The good thing is I already have the ending of my presentation in mind, and by knowing where it is I want to end up, I know what kind of ideas and resources and references I’ll need to get me there.

All I need now a beginning, a hook to introduce my ideas and start from. I think I may have figured that out, and I’ll share more about that in my next post.

In the meantime…

If you haven’t yet, there’s still room to register for the HighEdWeb NE conference, but don’t wait until the March 4 deadline. They sold half the seats in just two weeks and these events are notorious for selling out quickly, so I wouldn’t wait too long if you want to take part. And don’t just do it for me—they’ve put together an impressive schedule of awesome presentations, and I’m looking forward to learning from all of them. I hope to see you there!


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