10 Jun 2016

The business of inspiration

First published on LinkedIn, 9 June 2016

I was thoroughly inspired by attending The World Business Forum in Sydney recently. Apart from learning so much from renowned business leaders I realised it had been too long since I made time to simply soak in a creative atmosphere. Are you making time to be inspired?

There’s so much to running a successful business. You need to deeply understand your customers; you need a great idea for a product or service; the right team and leadership; a robust strategy; funding; equipment, accountants and systems … But one of the key ingredients that so many people ignore to their detriment is an intangible asset: ongoing inspiration.

I was reminded of this so powerfully at the World Business Forum in Sydney, where I had the privilege of listening to stories told by some of the world’s most successful and innovative business people and leaders.

The inimitable Richard Branson shared his story about the birth of Virgin Airlines, which came about through frustration. “I was flying from Puerto Rico to the British Virgin Islands when I was 28. I’d been away for three weeks and American Airlines announced they wouldn’t fly til the next morning because of demand. So I went to the back of the airport, borrowed a blackboard and scribbled ‘Virgin Airlines $39 one way’ and I managed to fill up my first flight.”

This is part of how he operates – he looks at what businesses are not doing to serve customers and moves in with a proposition to make customers happier. And with the right proposition, he surrounds himself with the best people. In Richard’s words, the power of a good leader is to learn the art of delegation and ‘always, always look for the best in people’.

Andrew Thorburn, our CEO, talked about the challenge of transformation and developing a burning ambition that explains why we exist beyond profit.  He also spoke about leaders needing to be visible – a topic I’m particularly passionate about.

Sometimes you need to look in the mirror

But it wasn’t just the big businesses and powerful technologies that caught my attention. Chris Gardner, author of the 2006 autobiography that become a blockbuster film, The Pursuit of Happyness, told a powerful story about the time he was a working homeless man with a 14 month old toddler.

Each day he would go to the train station to wash his little boy in the sink of the public toilets and he’d stare at himself in the mirror and ask himself the tough questions – Why did this happen? And, what will happen next?

Chris was disarmingly honest. “The most brutal question was, how did I get here? The answer was just as brutal. I drove here. I had something to do with the situation and circumstances that had become my life – there was something liberating and empowering about that. Because if I drove here I can drive out again.  You can’t change something until you own it.”

I was profoundly affected by both the story and the insight, and by so many other personal stories of success and failure and what we learn from both.

Making time for inspiration

As I listened to this incredible line up of speakers, I realised the benefit of this kind of creative and inspirational input. It’s so important to have this kind of inspiration to create the momentum you need to move forward in business – and to enjoy it.  My conversations with our customers regularly provide this inspiration.

Without ideas, insights and stories from those who have travelled where you’re going or somewhere similar, it’s so easy to run dry of both ideas and enthusiasm. So I want to ask you some important questions – what fuels your business creativity? When was the last time you took time out to simply be inspired?

You’d be amazed at the ideas that begin to emerge when you do this – it’s one of the best business investments you’ll ever make.

You may think you don’t have time, but without this kind of investment you may never be able to fully harness the potential of your business.

Angela Mentis is the Group Executive for Business Bank at NAB. 

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