Inspiring Minds Want to Know

Last month was my celebration of “Rantmas” in Death by Unanimous Decision – decrying the slow decision-making that will mark the end of so many associations.

This month let’s pretend that everything will be awesome, Awesome, AWESOME!! despite the evidence and talk about Inspiration. See I can be positive and hopeful. 😊

Make sure to read to the end (promise you won’t skip) for insightful, impactful, hard charging bonus content.

Oh, to be inspired.

As the great actor Audrey Hepburn once said,  “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible!'”

Every year at some point, all of us must reenergize, forget the past, and find the inspiration to keep pursing personal, professional, or organizational goals.

But inspiration finding doesn’t come easy. The search for inspiration is a long, arduous road filled with inspirational speakers.

I hate inspirational speakers.

Here is a summary of every inspirational speaker ever. “I had a challenge but I’m so awesome I overcame it and here’s how you can do it too if you’re as awesome as me. “[Insert appropriate video/website as evidence of awesomeness].

Well good for you.

For a moment, I’m happy but then I remember their problem has nothing to do with me. It’s the equivalent of someone else winning the lottery. Yay, your friend won the lottery but you’re still a brokeass loser. [Editorial note is “brokeass” hyphenated? I digress.”]

To be inspired, I need to be able to apply the inspiration to my own life or organization in some sort of meaningful way.

So, in no particular order but leading with my wife, Martha, so that I live to write another day, here is what inspires me and why. Take from it what you will.

How my wife inspires me.

Recently, I was just settling onto our couch for an hour or so of theoretical contemplation and strategizing when my wife inspired me.

She “suggested” I get back up and complete several tasks around the house that I had apparently “promised”, her words not mine, to do. Completely on my own, and not because she told me to, I personally decided this was a good idea.

I call this Direct Inspiration – as in she directly inspired me to move from strategizing to implementation. Thanks honey. 😉

The other form of wifely inspiration is Indirect Inspiration.

Recently, my lovely bride has begun a plant forward diet. As a result, much if not all of what she cooks is plant-based. This indirectly inspires me to prepare more plant-based recipes and eat more plants – all good. I like plants. On a side note, it also inspires me to sneak out of the house and eat a steak occasionally.

From improving my diet, to studying languages, to exercising more, my wife has indirectly inspired me to improve my life in countless ways. What’s not to like?

She inspires by example.

Think of the people you know. The ones you find yourself emulating. How do they inspire you? To improve your life, seek out people whose behaviors you want to emulate. Want to get better at marketing, follow some marketing geek on LinkedIn. Interested in losing weight, follow a trainer on Instagram.

In addition, remember you are also an indirect inspiration to other people. You may not know who or why but trust me, despite your obvious failings (to you at least), someone is looking to you for inspiration. Are you the one that stays late to help? Are you the one that makes sure the report is formatted consistently? Are you the one ensuring everyone is included in a discussion?

Don’t forget or minimize your own inspirational ability.


Indirect inspiration teaches you that you aren’t alone. Direct inspiration teaches you that you’re bound together contractually by the state of Illinois and by “vows” you exchanged in front of loved ones and hangers on.

How my competitors inspire me.

Association Laboratory does a lot of things. From research and strategy consulting to educational opportunities, our competitive environment is defined as “everyone”.

I mean anyone with a laptop can be a consultant and offer “strategy advice”. Any rando posting some dumbassery on LinkedIn competes with us on education. I’ve watched companies post their “research” with sample sizes of less than 20 people and talk about “trends” in the industry.

Nerdy Research Note – when you have sample sizes that small, you are effectively telling people what you and some of your friends think on a question.  Clever names like “Pulse Survey” or” ImpactoMeter” don’t change this fact.

From large companies to “digital nomads” we get to battle them all. Yaaaaay.

But competitors teach you about yourself.

I track who beats us out for business. Why do they win, and we lose? By understanding who we lose to, I gain insight into three things.

  1. Was it personal? They know the group and I don’t. The lesson? Get more personal.
  2. Was it sales based? You know you’re better than they are, but did they navigate the sale process more effectively?
  3. Was it marketing? They are good. You are good. The reason you got beat is they are positioned better (this time) than you and thus got rich while your own kids starved a slow death.


Watch what your competitors do and learn how the market reacts. It teaches you how you are perceived and allows you to focus on what you can improve.

How my clients and customers inspire me.

Association Laboratory has a large product offering. From consulting to sector research to events, and educational activities and content. As a result, we promote what I like to call the Portfolio of Fun and Insight to a wide audience through a variety of communication channels

We monitor who buys or engages with us because it tells us what they hear (vs. what we think we say). We monitor what they buy from us since this gives us evidence into what products most directly meet their needs. We monitor who buys from us to determine what markets see in us a solution to their problem.

Think of it this way. If someone buys water, they are thirsty (or dirty). If they buy food, they are hungry.

How your audiences interact with your association tells you what they hear and how they match you with a solution to their needs.

People’s reaction to you and what you say gives you insight into their needs.


Your members, customers, attendees, and advertisers, sponsors, etc. teach you about yourself and inspire you to continually rethink what you do and how you talk about it.

How my colleagues inspire me.

Unfortunately for me, the core Association Laboratory team is positive, enthusiastic, and excited about experimentation and risk.

Frankly, it’s exhausting. I’m looking at you Nikki Haton Shanks, Nikki Golden, and Meg Whedbee.

But there is good news too. My wonderful team not only lends me energy as my ancient body collapses under the weight of its years, but they also inspire me with fresh perspectives. They see challenges and opportunities differently than me.

In a way, it’s like having special glasses you can put on to give you a fresh, new look at a situation.

Talk to your folks (staff, volunteers, others) about the nature of your situation. Listen honestly and look for trends across the people you discuss an issue with. Understand their own biases, too. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about adding to the color wheel of your understanding.


The people you work with give you new energy to carry the ball up the field (sorry for the sports metaphor) and a different perspective on your personal or organizational situation. Let them inspire you.


As promised, here is some official insight. If you skipped to this point, go back to the beginning, and read the whole thing.

Ok, here it goes.

In the 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, a character asks, “How did you go bankrupt?”, in response he was told “Two ways,” “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Inspiration works in a similar way. We often think about the Big Insight, or as they do on television, The Big Reveal. Our culture celebrates this moment.

But the Big Moment of Inspiration is just the final step. It’s like pretending the top of the ladder, where you can finally see over the wall, is the only step that is important. Every step is essential.

Everyday, your spouse, partner, friends, competitors, and colleagues are inspiring you. It happens slowly, often unnoticed over time. One day, the aggregation of this inspiration reaches a critical mass that allows you to “see” what you need to see to move forward.


You are constantly being inspired (slowly) until all the people that inspire you help you reach a critical mass that allows you to see the inspirational idea.

In Summary

Let’s finish with a great quote from Casandra Brene Brown, an American professor and author (six number-one New York Times bestselling books) known for her research on leadership.

“I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” — Brene Brown

Just some thoughts From My Seat at the Bar.