I recently did a short survey with my newsletter subscribers - I wanted to know more about them AND I wanted to test Mailchimp's Survey tool. I do these kinds of check-ins on a regular basis, but make sure to keep them pretty light-hearted. I was happy to find out that my subscribers generally really like my newsletters - on a scale from 0-10 (0 =I'm about to unsubscribe to 10=I love them), I got an average rating of 8.6! Only about 10% of the respondents reported that they consider themselves to be a freelancer or consultant, which was lower than I had expected. I was saddened to see that only 14% consider themselves happy and only 7.5% (just one in 13!) are in love. As a final step, I asked them if they wanted to share something they identify with and I was happy to see Patrycja end with "a woman from Poland, fighting for our rights". From a man in Sweden, I stand by you, Patrycja!
I make sure to end surveys like this with open-ended questions so they are free to ask me anything they want. This time, it didn't require an education in user research to spot the common theme: "How do you discover what work you are truly passionate about?" and "How do you help a design team who may have lost their passionate find it again?" and so on. There was a clear consensus around lack of inspiration and passion. Warwick specifically asked for advice on how to guide his team: "What kind of space do you prepare that allows them to express themselves? Do I approach each team member individually or as a collective?"
First of all, while I hate that all of us aren't just satisfied and fulfilled all the time, I focus on the fact that people are actually thinking about these topics and desire to change the circumstances. I instantly think of a quote from Cait Flanders beautiful book, Adventures in Opting Out:
And when things start to feel difficult, you must remember this: If you want to change your life, you have to change your life.Adventures in Opting Out
So often, we want change, but we don't actually want to change. For someone that's gone through a lot of change this last year (and have more to come), I can highly relate to how it easy it is to want change, but feel afraid of actually changing.
This year has been tough on all of us. It has been so long. In February, I met with a team from SuperFriendly and Herman Miller in Atlanta, GA and, seriously, that feels like a decade ago. What's may be even worse is that we still don't know when our lives will get back to some sort of normal - or if, god forbid - this may be the new normal.
Calm is contagious
But in order to find passion and inspiration I believe we need to find calmness. It's impossible to find passion and inspiration if you're all you're experiencing is anxiety. I once read a quote from former Navy Seal commander Rorke T. Denver that's stuck with me and that I try to bring into every team. In a keynote address the former 13-year Navy SEAL said the best leadership lesson learned in military training was simple:
"As officers, at a minimum, the boys are going to mimic your behavior. In our line of work, based on our personalities, they're probably going to amplify your behavior, and athletes are the exact same way. As leaders, as captains, as officers, if you keep your head, they'll keep their head. If you keep it together, they'll keep it together. And if you lose it, they'll lose it.
So I'm going to share with you the best thing I learned as a master chief when I was a new guy from a master chief in Vietnam:
Calm is contagious."
What's even more interesting is that you can apply this to any feeling or emotion... chaos is contagious, panic is contagious, stupid 100% is contagious, and uninspired is contagious. So in order to be able to help your team feel inspired, you have to find your own inspiration first. I absolutely realize that's much easier said than done.
Like any good self-help advice, I'll start with stating the obvious. You have to start by admitting that you're uninspired and that it's OK.
Let me say that again, admitting that it's OK is not the same as saying that you don't want to change.
If you think about yourself as if you were an app, it's no different than admitting that a feature doesn't work exactly as you want it to. It is what it is for the moment and you know you'll eventually change it, but in order to do, you need to understand why it's not working the way you think it should.
What I do to find inspiration
Working by myself, and at least to some extent for myself, inspiration is definitely something I struggle with from time to time. What I've done in the past is usually a mix of applying for full-time roles, getting a new office space, or something else that will deeply change the circumstances short-term. It, however, won't help long-term.
Work from somewhere else
Obviously this was easier in pre-COVID times, but luckily in Sweden the cafés have stayed open. So whenever I need to boost my energy levels, I've found that working from another location can help. If you're in lockdown, you could try working from another place in your home. If you have a garden, try sitting outside as much as the weather allows!
Sometimes, the best thing to find inspiration for work is to... not work. I tend to go for walks in the forest or just watch a show. Personally, this comes with two sets of challenges for me. First thing is to not feel guilty for not working. Realizing that you're just filling up gas so that you can work better. There's no shame in realizing that you need a break, but for a Finn/Swede with a strong work ethic, like myself, this can be a challenge. Second thing is to just do stuff you know works for you. For years, I told myself that playing FIFA gave me inspiration when in fact it was just an escape. That's fine as long as you're honest about the purpose of it. Thinking about something else can give you clarity.
For someone whose work is visual, I like switching context to something that's not visual. So reading something is usually helps me because I feel that it activates another part of my brain. I tend to read stuff that's not directly related to my work, but where I can see clear connections and similarities (sort of like how this post could easily be translated to working on a product instead of yourself).
Design something else
I like to redesign my website for this exact reason. It allows me to play with design and try out things without having any set of business requirements in mind. So if you're uninspired, what if you tried designing something else?
All of this works for teams too
I think all of the above examples work just as well for teams, but I'd like to point out is inspiration is very hard to 'demand' from an exercise. What works for me might not work for you and what works for you might not work for your co-worker. Each have to find their own way. When Warwick asked whether to approach each team member individually or as a collective - the answer is there's no "right" way. Some people prefer to talk in a group setting while others might feel more safe in a 1-1. As for creating a space that allows them to express themselves - this is what managers should be doing all the time. That is the most important role of a manager - to create a space that is safe and trusted.
“Ultimately, though, bosses are responsible for results. They achieve these results not by doing all the work themselves but by guiding the people on their teams. Bosses guide a team to achieve results.”Radical Candor
I would love to hear more about how you are finding inspiration in these times. Feel free to tweet me (also DM's are open) or email me.