How to get inspired

by | June 25, 2012

“So here’s my question,” she said, searching my face earnestly as if expecting my answer to be a life-changing breakthrough that would solve all her problems.

“How do you get inspired?”

Stunned and dumbfounded, I stared at her for a long moment.

I had just finished presenting at a Leadership Education conference. I had stressed the principle “Inspire, Not Require,” meaning that quality mentors inspire their students to greatness, rather than requiring them to jump through hoops.

I taught that parents and mentors who struggle with this principle aren’t inspired themselves — to be inspiring, one has to be inspired.

She waited expectantly.

As I pondered how to answer such a bewildering question, I looked down at the tile floor — just common gray ceramic tiles you walk on every day without ever thinking of them.

I wondered how the flooring was installed. How long did it take them? What tools did they use? Who invented those tools, and how and when?

I wondered how tiles are made. Who discovered the process, and when and how? How has it been improved over time? Why does baking clay make it hard?

Where did the clay come from? Where were the tiles produced? Who founded the company that produced them, and why?

I wondered about the workers who installed it. What are their stories? Why did they start installing tile? Do they enjoy it? What are they working for? What do they look forward to? What are their dreams? What television shows do they watch? What books do they read?

Who chose this particular tile color? How did they coordinate when the floor would be tiled in conjunction with every other aspect of constructing the building?

Speaking of color, what makes color? What is color? How do we perceive it? Why do we like some colors and dislike others? Why are there so few pink or purple houses? What materials are used to color tiles? How does that material stay baked into the tiles without rubbing off?

I thought of the water used to make the tiles and mix the grout. What is water? Does “one oxygen atom plus two hydrogen atoms” really explain its essence and explain the miracle of water? How can the same chemical compound take the forms of water, ice, and steam?

What laws and principles of math and science were used to create and install the tiles–principles that the workers and I are completely ignorant of, but if understood, could be leveraged to create value and profit?

How many feet have walked across this tile floor? What brought people here? What were they hoping to learn by coming here?

What microbes live on the tile? What do they eat? How do they grow?

I gazed in fascination down at a gray tile floor in a conference center in Round Rock, Texas.

In awe, I wondered how many millions of people and what natural resources and machines across the globe combined to produce this one floor.

Mesmerized, I thought reverently: The entire world, all man’s accumulated knowledge through centuries, all the hopes and dreams and struggles of humanity, the laws that govern the rotation of planets and the life cycle of stars are at my feet. Studying this tile floor would take me a lifetime, and I would never scratch the surface of everything I could learn by starting right here with this floor.

I felt the urge to remove my shoes; I was standing on holy ground.

And I looked up at her and said, “How is it even possible for anyone to not be inspired?”


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