On Inspiration: Improving the world while we help our business

I have written on the topic of how emotion almost invariably wins over rationality. Utility maximizing behavior, the kind where we weight different factors by some form of algorithmic process and then determine what is ‘best’ only exists in our imagination. The drivers of our choices tend to be subconscious, be it when we act as shoppers, parents, employees or stakeholders. Human beings function in ways that defy simple rational models of behavior. That much we know. How to untangle the complex web of subconscious influences is the hard part – but our industry is making strides in honing our ability to do so.

I have dealt with consumer choice and its underlying (mostly subconscious) drivers (deep metaphors and emotion and choice). I have also written about what makes people engaged and motivated (mirror neurons) in the context of businesses – particularly when looking at employee productivity and motivation as well as customer advocacy. At MASMI, we have defined engagement as the confluence of think, feel and act:

“The emotional bond that employees feel for their organisation, reinforced by rational considerations, that leads to greater discretionary effort in their work, recommending the organization to others, while reducing the likelihood of exploring employment alternatives.”

Terry Barber and his team at the Global Inspiration Institute have been exploring that ‘extra’ set of factors that make us tick. They developed a powerful construct, around the term inspiration. Its overriding principle is that inspiration is the extent to which people perceive that a company and its management are using its products and profitability to improve the world and its people.

Thrash and Elliott (2003), whose academic work largely provides the basis for the construct of inspiration, posit that it has three core characteristics: transcendence, evocation, and approach motivation.

Transcendence refers to gaining an awareness of better possibilities. The new awareness is concrete and vivid, as reflected in vision metaphors such as illumination and insight.

Evocation refers to the fact that inspiration is experienced as evoked; one does not feel directly responsible for becoming inspired and ascribes responsibility to something beyond the self.

Finally, inspiration involves approach motivation; one is compelled to actualize one’s new idea or vision.

They go on to argue that these core characteristics reflect two core combination processes:

  • Being inspired by involves the appreciation of and accommodation to the perceived intrinsic value of the evocative object (e.g., beauty of a landscape, elegance of a creative insight, or virtue in a human action).
  • Being inspired to involves motivation to transmit (e.g., express, actualize, or imitate) the qualities exemplified in the evocative object.

In the context of businesses, Terry and his team have looked at what specific characteristics inspiring companies exhibit, underscoring the critical role that management plays in achieving it:

Authenticity—demonstrating crystal clarity in understanding what you stand for as company/brand (your core principles) and being fully transparent and consistent in how you live up to those core principles.

Affirmation—the ability to leverage what you stand for (i.e., your core principles) so as to tap into the dreams and aspirations of others, and demonstrate how you can make their dreams become a reality.

Vision—engaging all stakeholders to share a broader and bigger purpose, one that ignites a sustainable passion in them to be part of helping you realize your compelling vision as it help them realize their vision.

Story—the ability to leverage the use of metaphor, allegory, symbols, and drama to communicate and perpetuate the significance of your mission and overall purpose; and by creating community with others who demand to be a part of something special and bigger than themselves.

Progress—committed to the necessary sequential steps and due diligence to pave a pathway for growth; a road that serves as milestones and guardrails as the organization head towards certain destination in realizing its vision while being true to what it stands for.

Credibility—a willingness to put a stake in the ground and never compromise no matter what the cost so as to continually generate and sustain a high level of trust and goodwill with all stakeholders.

Servant Leadership—a commitment to serving others, your community and demonstrating that people, culture and purpose, and doing what’s right are more important than process and the bottom-line.

A powerful driver of engagement and advocacy, they see inspiration as a key differentiator in this age of increasingly complex and rapidly changing wants and needs.

Fascinating work – I hope it will inspire companies to up their game! And if they do that right, customers will surely follow, while making our world a better place. What more can one ask?




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