I get inspired by the simplest things. It's the joy and challenge of looking at the world with childlike eyes -- eager to capture whatever is in front of them. It can certainly be a studied and practiced approach but most times it is an inadvertent mini-adventure. I was walking around my neighborhood on a path I've taken countless times and I happened upon a flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk. Yes, this trite image has been used countless times to speak to the resilience of nature. But, the unexpectedness of the encounter grabbed me. This simple scene of urban nature reminded me to appreciate the everyday.
I've been inspired by ones with great experience that I've had the chance to observe like Phil Knight and Howard Schultz while working at Nike and Starbucks. I've also had the chance to learn from strangers I've talked to on the subway. I was riding the NYC subway a few weeks ago and, after four stops, the lady next to me turned and said, "I just want to say how much I appreciate both what you're wearing and your kind face." I had not spoken a word to this lady, but I had taken an additional personal challenge that day; I was going to make each person I passed, or sat across from in the subway, smile. And it almost always worked. I did not wear a gaping grin. It was a face of happiness, of wonder, of appreciation for the amazingness of the city and being in it.
It's the blessing of continuing education that life gives us, if we are open to the lessons. If we are willing to give in order to get. Sometimes it's the more formal continuing education, whether great conferences where you can learn from and connect with others. I've spoken at myriad conferences around the world and have many times learned as much from speaking as I have from my fellow speakers or conversations I've had with attendees.
Conferences like the HOW Design Live conference starting June 22nd in San Francisco, where I've had the opportunity to speak previously. I remember speaking at this same conference in Las Vegas a few years ago and the distinct passion and hunger for learning that came from the audience. Afterwards, I hung out in the lobby for hours talking to each person, listening to their stories as they shared their challenges and excitement. Each one of them left an impression on me that helped feed my experience and excitement for my profession and my passions. (Industry conferences are unique ecosystems aren't they? I remember walking by another industry conference that was a gathering of some arm of IT. I peered in at the gathering and observed them but comprehended little. They were speaking a foreign industry language, even their dress was of their industry. I'm sure they viewed our design conference with equally perplexed eyes.)
If you approach each day with the innocent idea that you're going to learn something from each person that you encounter, your life will pivot. My hair assists me in having these types of conversations and learning opportunities. I was returning from the east coast on an airline and four of the flight attendants surrounded me (kindly) as I approached the bulkhead mid-flight. They said, "okay, you have to tell us about your hair, but first, we just have to say that you have the friendliest look on your face. You seem to glow. Can you just tell us a little bit about yourself?" I didn't take this as an imposition, I looked at this as an opportunity to learn and share. "What's it like to earn a living 30,000 feet above ground?" "Is flying fun when you're off the clock?" I was curious about who they were and their stories equally. And they saw an open, friendly face topped with curious hair.
Think of the sea of people you encounter every day as a moving database of knowledge and experiences that you have the opportunity to tap into at will. You can potentially learn as much from the corner bodega as you can from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Open yourself to them and be open to learning from them. It will feed you, it will enrich you. The empathy and experiences you will gather from each small inspiration will tie you even tighter to the human spirit that unites us all.