As we have moved through this very extraordinary and dynamic year, we can see clearly that inspiration has been present and critical during these challenging times. We have discovered the inspiration fingerprint of 2020 – three engines of inspiration have been particularly important to help us all navigate incredible uncertainty and stay the course and which will continue to serve us on the road ahead:
- connecting to values and purpose,
- vulnerability and transparency
- overcoming constraints
- November 2019 – we published Dare to Inspire, a book about revolutionizing modern work through inspired performance.
- In December, we soft launched our book with @Talks at Google and @the 92nd St. YMCA in NYC.
- In February, we presented a keynote at Google in Mountain View, CA. They were taking people’s temperature at check-in and asking if we had traveled to China. AT SFO airport on our way back, we saw dozens of people wearing masks.
- The first week of March, while getting ready to launch our book tour at the SXSW conference (250,000 people scheduled to attend), the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. The conference was canceled…along with the rest of our tour. We knew then that a seismic shift in the world had occurred!
- Since March, well… you’ve been a part of these unusual and unprecedented times…
On this one-year anniversary of our book release we never could have imagined this is what 2020 would look like, none of us, but of all the unexpected turns this year took, it was no surprise to us that inspiration is needed now more than ever. As we reflect back on this year there is reason to celebrate the amazing innovation, resilience and inspiration we have witnessed.
Inspiration as an Essential Resource in a Crisis
As Allison has previously written, with all of the difficult challenges and emotions people face during a crisis, inspiration may not seem essential at first glance. That’s because many of us wrongly think of inspiration as a feel-good emotion that is fleeting or something that is reserved more for artistic types.
In Dare to Inspire, based on our research, we define inspiration differently – as the intersection of seeing greater possibility with an enhanced sense of invincibility. When you see new options and you feel a heightened sense of courage and confidence to pursue them, you take action and solve challenges in new and meaningful ways. Here’s why inspiration is essential in a crisis:
Right now, we are battling a major public health crisis, navigating a social and racial equity movement, and, in our spare time, electing a president. It’s a lot. Not only have our personal and social lives been fraught but at the same time, our work lives have changed in myriad ways. Almost every person is managing some form of logistical, physical, psychological and/or emotional disruption. Many of us are full-time employees, parents, and now also teachers in our own homes. At the same time, we are managing fear and uncertainty with our daily activities of living and mourning traditions, habits, and even lives lost. It has felt overwhelming, uncomfortable and at times, insurmountable.
What we DON’T need now is the status quo, complacency or apathy. What we DO need now are new, creative solutions (“possibilities”) related to these challenges and a powerful drive to achieve them (“invincibility”) – what we need now is, in fact, inspiration. Inspiration drives innovative problem solving, resilience, collaboration, and better overall performance – and it does this even in the midst of a crisis.
Discovering the Inspiration Fingerprint of 2020
So, if we need inspiration to lead ourselves and others through a crisis, how do we create it and cultivate it?
Our book identifies 18 pathways – what we call engines of inspiration: actions you can take or ways to think that will reliably spark inspiration when needed. Our research shows that each of us has a personal “inspiration fingerprint,” made up of a subset of the 18 engines that especially light us up. Our book takes you on a journey to crack your own inspiration code.
While our inspiration fingerprint is unique to us, thus varying widely from person to person, when we look back on the year, we see patterns of how inspiration has played an essential role in how people have responded to all of the turmoil of 2020. Here is the fingerprint we have seen emerge throughout the year.
Connecting to and Voicing Values and Purpose
We’ve heard from so many of our clients in 2020 that burnout threatens their employees and culture. Employees today navigate back-to-back virtual meetings, a growing sea of tasks and a shrinking pool of resources. Add in significant uncertainty around employment and health-overwhelming responsibilities and setbacks – personal and professional – and the load becomes really large. In this environment, the inspiration engine of Connecting to and Voicing Purpose and Values has emerged as a critical and grounding touchpoint for many. This engine is about ourselves, the decisions, strategies, and actions that make up who we are, who we want to be at our best, and the kind of contribution we want to make. Reconnecting to our core values and the contribution we want to make gives us a clearer sense of purpose. This North Star can inspire us to clarity around what to do in the next 20 minutes or in the next phase of our career. It is a heuristic to guide our actions and decisions especially as things shift quickly around us. In this year of uncertainty, we witnessed so many find their footing and their voice by connecting to their “why.”
One example of this was a client who had been through significant reorganizations and shut-downs during the year. As she navigated the changes, she focused herself and her team on their shared values of values of inclusion and figuring out the toughest problems together, and supporting each person as a human, showing care and highly personalized attention with everyone she came in contact with. This gives her a powerful sense of purpose as she leads through this tumult. She is not alone. We ran values and purpose digs across several companies from April to the present; we asked them to draft purpose-driven impact statements, based on their strengths and desired contributions, and share them in our virtual sessions. So much more than words on a page, employees felt inspired when voicing them and witnessing their colleagues’ reading their statements. The inspiration was electric and contagious.
2. Vulnerability and Transparency
Another engine of inspiration that has emerged as essential during 2020 is that of Being Vulnerable and Transparent. For many, the expectation of what strong leadership looks like has been expanded to include what was previously deemed the “softer” side of leadership: showing empathy and sharing personal feelings and vulnerability. In fact, this past year, we’ve benefited from and needed leaders who recognize that they don’t have all the answers (which requires vulnerability) and transparently communicate this and the truth to us. Whether it was about how a country will battle a pandemic, how our child will be safe at school, or how the rights of protesters will be respected and protected, leaders that have communicated openly and honestly, with vulnerability and transparency, have gained our trust and respect.
We learned from leaders like Jacinda Ardern, the now newly re-elected Prime Minister of New Zealand, that strength and kindness are not mutually exclusive. To the contrary, Ardern showed the world how leading with vulnerability, empathy and sensitivity is essential to confronting uncertainty and potential peril. She has inspired many across the world with her empathy and transparency, opening the door for all of us to take this risk more often. And, with this leadership, she has been one of the most successful leaders in the world in battling the covid-19 virus for her country.
3. Overcoming Constraints
Perhaps the engine of inspiration that emerged in the most powerful ways in 2020 was that of Overcoming Constraints. The ability to bounce back with grit and perseverance in the face of adversity is a tried-and-true, most powerful source of inspiration.
2020 was a year of constraints and adversity of so many kinds and magnitudes. Medical care providers on the front lines of tending to those struck by covid-19 were constrained by too little PPE, too few beds in their hospitals, not enough ventilators, and altogether insufficient emotional and psychological capacity to endure the ongoing fight. But they overcame. As did the EMTs, grocery workers, police, transportation workers and all those with essential jobs that have kept our country running amidst unimaginable challenges. But overcoming constraints was not limited to these heroes. People who shifted to working at home also overcame all kinds of constraints – from finding dedicated space in their homes to work, to drawing boundaries between work and home life when they seemed to blend into one another, all day and evening. The inspiration we saw in how people found their groove working at home, despite the disruption, is admirable – Darwin would applaud the adaptation many showed. One example is illustrated in the picture below of Gretchen Goldman, Research Director at Union of Concerned Scientists, during a national interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN. She shows behind the scenes what was really going on in her house during this interview (note the vulnerability and transparency). In so many cases, people have risen up to the challenges they have faced and charged forward with solutions and new energy to affect positive change.
Inspiration is Within Your Control
In a year like 2020 with so many things outside of our control, we find comfort in the places we can affect change. One of the biggest lessons of this year is confirmation that it is possible to find and generate inspiration when we need it most – we don’t have to wait for it. Encouraging exactly that kind of command of one’s own inspiration practice and experience, is exactly why we wrote Dare to Inspire. We look forward to hearing your plan to create inspiration in the coming months and into 2021! The world needs your inspiration – take charge and bring it forward.