Fuel for Success: 4 Unlikely Sources of Business Inspiration

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

As a business owner or entrepreneur, you constantly need to be on the lookout for new inspiration.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, you constantly need to be on the lookout for new inspiration.

If you close up your bubble and only focus on those in your immediate circle, you’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities for growth and innovation.

And, believe it or not, the best inspiration may come from the most unlikely of sources.

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Look to These 4 Improbable Sources

Inspiration is less about the source and more about the takeaway. In other words, you shouldn’t care as much about how you learn the lesson. Think of it like a nail that you’re trying to drive into a piece of lumber.

While most people use a hammer to drive the nail in, does it really make a difference if you use a hammer or a large blunt object? The only objective is to get the nail into the wood.

While learning from a textbook or company manual may sound great in theory, it doesn’t always happen this way. Sometimes you have to shift your attention to improbable sources because they represent the best opportunities for growth.

And while there are opportunities for learning all around us, let’s spark your imagination by analyzing a few alternative sources that you may have not yet considered.

1. Traveling

If you really want to figure out who you are and expose yourself to new experiences, try traveling for a prolonged period of time. We’re not just talking about a weekend. Go somewhere you’ve never been for a week, a month, or even a year.

Many Millennials are even putting their college educations or careers on hold to travel the world. And who could blame them? Not only is traveling fun, but it also teaches a number of valuable lessons that can be used later for business inspiration.

According to Ryan O’Rourke, editor of Treksplorer, traveling teaches six specific lessons:

  1. You are capable of more than you’ve ever imagined.
  2. People are fundamentally good.
  3. You are just a tiny blip on a large radar.
  4. Stereotypes are insane.
  5. The world isn’t a dangerous place
  6. One person can make a difference.

“Travel can turn introverts into extroverts, bring confidence to the meek, and create adrenaline junkies out of thin air; it pushes your physical and mental limits, forcing you to quickly adapt to uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations,” writes O’Rourke.

There is tremendous business value in these takeaways, especially being able to quickly adapt to uncomfortable and strange situations. While it may be unfeasible to take a month off work to travel the world, look for any opportunities you can find.

2. Sports Handicapping

Now, let’s turn our attention to an even stranger source of inspiration, sports handicapping. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, sports handicapping basically involves the practice of assigning value to a specific sports team, athlete, or competition and predicting the outcome of a future event in order to enhance the chances of profiting.

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“Most people who are proficient in the art of handicapping have developed their own methods of prediction, and through much trial and error (usually a lot of the latter) have found a system that they feel comfortable with when they make wagers,” writes entrepreneur T. Michael Testi.

Over time, each handicapper’s system gets refined, and many build online communities that provide picks to customers in return for some sort of compensation.

Being a successful and profitable handicapper takes a lot of discipline. You must be committed to posting picks and lines every single day if you want to be successful. And as soon as you start falling behind with poor picks, you have to change your formula.

While you have to be careful about mixing business and gambling, you can learn a lot by studying successful sports handicappers. This includes a willingness to learn through trial and error, even when the latter seems more prominent than the former, and that you aren’t in control of everything.

3. The Arts

It’s amazing how many people shy away from art because they feel as if they aren’t talented enough to indulge or appreciate different forms. Well, the counter argument is that you probably aren’t an Oscar-winning actor, but this doesn’t stop you from going to the movie theater to watch a critically acclaimed film. In other words, why should it stop you from exposing yourself to other art forms?

Kevin Daum, an Inc. 500 entrepreneur and best-selling author, firmly believes that the arts can teach entrepreneurs a number of things about business. And while you can find just about any lesson if you look deep enough, Daum likes to focus on the leadership lessons that can easily be extracted. Specifically, he points to the idea that the arts teach you how to manage dynamic groups of people effectively.

“People like to describe artists as eccentric and strange, and many are. So imagine trying to manage an entire company of these weirdos,” Daum writes. “And yet somehow, unlike your company, these people happily and consistently deliver highly creative and effective product, even with strict time and resource constraints.”

Daum chalks this up to an artist’s willingness to facilitate collaboration and focus on the end objective, a powerful customer experience, over less important details.

4. Exercise and Fitness

Not only should exercise be a healthy part of your daily routine, but you can also learn some valuable lessons from fitness enthusiasts and professional trainers. Aside from the obvious takeaways, such as pacing yourself and setting goals, there are some subtle ideas that are worth your time.

Just ask fitness expert and New York Times bestselling author Ben Greenfield. He reached a point a number of years ago when he literally became addicted to exercising. He couldn’t go to bed at night if he hadn’t participated in a challenging workout that day. Eventually, this caught up with him in a negative way.

“In my pursuit of extreme levels of fitness, I'd forgotten the sage and ancient wisdom of that day of rest. Our muscles thrive on contraction, then relaxation,” he says. “Our brains thrive on wake, then sleep. Our bodies thrive on work, then recover.” Greenfield had reached a point where he was proficient at the former, but forgetting the latter.

Have you ever considered the fact that working all the time isn’t noble or healthy? Sometimes it’s just plain foolish. Being able to work 12 hours per day, seven days per week doesn’t make you strong. It means you don’t know what to do with your time. It also means you don’t understand your mind and body. If you want to be productive and effective, then must learn to balance work and rest.

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Stop Reading and Start Living

Again, there’s nothing wrong with an academic textbook or company manual, but at some point, you must look to the world around you for valuable lessons. Whether it’s sports handicapping, the arts, or anything in between, the best business lessons are sometimes found in the most unlikely of places. 

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