As a child, playing with my friends meant a lot more to me than just having fun: it was an escape. This was because my mother suffered from clinical depression. Knowing she was not well was a very hard reality to grow up in.
On one particular day when I was about 13 years old, I was at my mother’s bedside in the hospital waiting for her to wake up. Various doctors and nurses came in to check on her, but they didn’t talk to me. No‐one who appeared to have any sort of rank or seniority said a thing. I guess I had spent so much time there I had become a little like a part of the furniture.
But then a cleaner came in to mop the floor. After a short time he caught my eye and smiled as he said something to the effect of, 'You must be Alex. Your mother has told me all about how much she loves you and your brother and sisters. I think your mother is great — you are lucky to have her.’ And that was it: he went on his way. But that’s all he needed to say.
I have reflected on that memory many times over the course of my life. It was so brief, but so poignant. That gentleman gave me a sense of my mother and myself. He made me feel comfortable about the difficult circumstance I was in by speaking to me with respect and kindness. And he gave me a renewed appreciation that insight can come from anyone, at any time.
Insight does not always come from someone in a senior position, someone with more experience, someone you would expect. Keep an open ear and mind when it comes to the people you listen to.
The more you listen to all of those around you, the better you will become at filtering through the noise to find those nuggets of gold that you can learn from. It comes down to developing a feeling for the environment around you — this is one of the skills you have to develop in your life.
I have learnt to respect all people. It has been a key part of my life and management approach for many years. Respecting people allows you to live within a more positive world where additional insights are gleaned by the other person’s comfort in you, because they know you respect them.
Every person in the world has a perspective worth listening to. Insights really do come from everywhere.
Insights from others will provide the stimulus to further develop your own knowledge, ideas, creativity and emotion. The challenge is to create the relationships and circumstances to attract such insights. All around you the opportunity to learn abounds — but are you looking?
Make it happen: how to find insights
Here’s how to find the insights and resources that inspire you.
Know that resources abound
You really can find insights anywhere. Read articles or stories about people and their achievements that you find inspiring. Attend events, watch a documentary or see a movie that excites you and gets your creativity flowing. Think about what made what you have seen or heard so special.
Here is my favourite thing to do: have a different conversation with your parents or friends about their life experiences, and what made them do the things they did in their life. Speak to the heart — welcome to a whole new world.
Why do some people have great idea after great idea, like it just comes naturally to them? I can tell you, while many of those people are naturally creative, they also possess an ability to absorb like a sponge. This process makes them confident and opportunistic.
A good starting exercise is to take a successful idea you have read or heard about, and then give yourself the creative freedom to write down what you would do to make it even more impactful. This will help create a healthy habit of expanding your mind.
Capture your ideas
Do you get frustrated because the new ideas that come to you do so at inconvenient times, like in the middle of the night, or when you’re at the supermarket or catching public transport? To avoid forgetting them, carry a pad and pen, or have a notes app on your phone, so you can record your ideas any time they arrive.
Value every environment
I often start a conversation with people I don’t know, and I do so in various environments. It might be with the person I’m sitting next to on a plane or at a sporting event, for instance. Sometimes listening to the perspectives or story of someone from outside your day‐to‐day life can spark fresh inspiration.
While at work, if you’re struggling to be creative, change your environment. Find a dedicated space where you are undistracted, or go for a walk to clear your mind and think freely.
Break down barriers
Try a ten‐minute free‐writing session about a topic that interests you. Free‐writing is where you write down anything that comes into your mind about a particular topic during a set time. Don’t read or change anything during the free‐writing session — just keep writing until the time is up.
Hone your observation skills
On many occasions after an important meeting I have asked my colleagues to recount to me what they observed in body language and communication. The reason I do this is because people often speak more clearly through their body movement than they do through their words. Sometimes you have to work hard to observe feelings and obtain insights, rather than hear them.
So start asking yourself why things are the way they are around you. The key to this exercise is asking questions. The more curious you are, the more insights you will absorb, and hopefully the more ideas you will generate.
Not everyone wants to play
I have discovered over time that not everyone is willing to share their personal insights or ideas. Not surprisingly, they may also be uninterested in yours. Learn to recognise that in other people — although I have always tried to make it a personal challenge to influence them to change, because sharing insights between people can build lifelong respect.
Break bad habits
One of my great frustrations when I taught at universities in large lecture theatres was that everyone sat in the same seat every week. Think about it: you can learn only so much from the person next to you. So, in every setting you find yourself in from this day forth, sit next to someone different and see how much more you learn.
To get the most from the insights available in your life, remember these tips:
- valuable insights can come from the most unexpected people and places
- consistently listen and observe
- make a note of the insights that have inspired you — these may help you form your own
- be curious — talk to people.