This post is the fifth in a series exploring the practice of Drishti (focus on a particular point, traditionally in meditation or yoga poses). This is written by yours truly about a technique I use to inspire myself to creatively solve problems.
When you are seeking an example of creative, innovative ways to engage the community, your mind (or google search) would not leap to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
But, that’s where I found it.
Recently I was facilitating a meeting during which we were going to creatively come up with ways to get ideas and resources to participants of a large-scale convention. The challenge at these giant, over-programmed and chaotic events is to even grab people’s attention long enough to luring them to visit a special room or booth to get the AWESOME thing that you’re offering. I wondered: How might we engage them right where they are at?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve often drawn inspiration from unlikely sources. Watching a clever TV commercial or visiting a well-constructed rest area or seeing an unusual sign walking down the street can inspire a solution to a completely unrelated challenge I’m encountering in my life or work. I snap a picture of the thing or idea and think, “Why can’t we do THAT?”
I was so grateful when I discovered that the weird thing I did intuitively actually had a name: “Analogous Inspiration.” A concept devised by the design firm IDEO, designers are encouraged to look at sometimes wildly different circumstances to get inspiration to solve their problem. For example, a designer trying to help a busy hospital emergency room manage long lines of patients might find inspiration by observing the system created by busy coffee shops to move customers quickly through the lines. These situations are far from being the same, but both settings have similar challenges and could offer ideas to each other.
So for the meeting I was facilitating, I walked around Downtown Cleveland for inspiration — a place that’s been striving to engage and draw new people to the area for years now. I stopped first at “Destination Cleveland,” an organization that promotes the downtown area. I noticed their large #ThisisCLE sign (pictured above). Being a social media nerd, I already new the hashtag — people who take photos of things happening in Cleveland use the hashtag to create excitement and energy in the community, even if the people posting are not in physical proximity to each other. I knew that the event we were working on would already use a hashtag to build community, so I looked a little further for even more unusual inspiration. I walked a couple blocks down the road to the recently renovated Public Square, another large space that seeks to engage hundreds of passerby every single day.
Surrounded by tall downtown buildings, the 6.5 acre park is scattered with lots of benches and small tables and chairs inviting passerby by to gather. There are flower beds, historical statutes and modern art. A large amphitheater contains sprawling lawn seating. I walked along the grass on this late-summer day and noticed, tucked among the lawn and flower beds, little animated, rain-drop shaped signs inviting you to text particular words to a number to get more information about … wait for it … water conservancy (of all things). My curiosity piqued, I grabbed my cell phone, took a picture of the clever little signs and texted one the number on this sign and instantly got a text response with an interesting fact about how water is conserved in that area with a web link to more information. This easy and rather low-tech method of getting information to people in a busy, public space was perfect inspiration. What would the equivalent of the happy rain-drop signs be at our convention?
You may be wondering what this has to do with our series on Drishti. As I’ve written, Drishti is most often thought of as keeping focus on a particular point. But, the point of focusing in that practice is not to get stuck on the point, but to open up a broader connection between yourself, the world and your higher purpose. Sometimes focusing on the same point, the same problem, can cause us to get stuck. Maybe there are times when we need a new Drishti to jar us out of our stuck-ness, to invite expansiveness. That’s exactly what the practice of using analogous inspiration does.
So I invite you, the next time you are stuck on a vexing problem, to relax your laser-pointed focus on it it and seek inspiration from a different source. Go for a walk. Read a seemingly unrelated book or article. Go for coffee with a new friend. Or just go to a new restaurant for lunch. That new thing just may inspire you; it might even be as unexpected as the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.