The Business of Inspiration
I am Devin D. Smith and welcome to my first blog post EVER! It is a short piece about how my journals from prison taught me about the business of inspiration.
Talk about a long time coming. Since I launched Ship and Anchor in 2019 I knew there would likely be a blog on the website. But even as early as 2015 I’d already considered writing a personal blog. I mean, I am an expressive, slightly eccentric daytime dreamer with lots of ideas and deeply held convictions. Blogging was inevitable, right? Nonetheless, this specific blog post was actually conceived, and partially written, exactly 9 years and 1 day ago from the writing of this 1st draft.
I was at Brown Creek Correctional Institution in Polkton, NC. I was working-out on the yard. Having been incarcerated for only a month, I was trying to keep my spirits lifted as I grappled with the reality of my four-year sentence. At that point blogging was the last thing on my mind. At any rate, there I was powering through a set of push-ups when, POOF! A formula popped into my mind.
It was the most peculiar formula, one not involving numbers, but concepts. It appeared in my mind so abruptly that my natural reaction was to shake off the distraction and get back to my workout; yet it arrived with such clarity that I could not ignore it. Despite all the commotion around me, inside me, it was all that I could seem to focus on. I stopped what I was doing and ran inside. I needed to make sense of it. I needed to write. In that moment, unbeknownst to me, the foundation was laid for this blog post and the very ethos underpinning Ship and Anchor.
Education + Relation = Inspiration
That was the simple equation that appeared to me. It kind of made sense, but I felt like something was off a little off. It didn’t quite feel like a balanced equation. I just took it one step at a time.
If you are to inspire someone to do or believe something then, at minimum, they must have some baseline of relevant knowledge. For instance, if I don’t know that bees are disappearing across the globe then, I most certainly will not be inspired to devote resources to save them. Thus, education is required to inspire action or belief. Next, relation.
In addition to possessing the necessary basic education on the matter, people must also understand why they should care, how that which you’ve educated them on relates to them. ‘Okay, I know that bees have been dying at alarming rates for over a decade now, but what does that have to do with me?’ The knowledge on the matter alone does not inspire one to action, but rather the understanding that they are directly connected to the matter.
This is because humans are relational creatures. We are wired to understand the world through relationship – the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected or relevant to one another. For instance, most people are more inspired to action after the killing of a human than after the killing of a deer partially because we have closer relationship to other humans than deer. The “relation” variable of the equation provides relevance, justifying the action you hope to inspire in others. Thus, there is rarely inspiration absent of demonstrating how there is relation.
The formula was beginning to make more sense to me. I stopped writing, excited about my new revelation. I went back to my bunk, partially to revel in pride in the joy of my "ah-ha" moment, partially to shake off the nagging feeling that something still was off about it. Suddenly the lightbulb went off.
ILLUSTRATION! Just as spontaneously as the original equation had popped into my mind, so too did the final variable in the equation: illustration. Think about it. After someone has the minimum required knowledge and understands how that which you are advancing relates to the things they care about, inspiration still is not guaranteed. This is especially so if you are aiming to change behavior or belief, as both are often deeply ingrained and the product of habit. In such cases, perhaps most important of all the variables is illustration – the clear, vivid picture of the world because of that which you are advocating your audience do or believe.
Illustration is essential because no matter how much we believe an action will benefit us, if we cannot see the path to the destination then fear of the unknown and comfort with the familiar will seduce us to inaction. This is especially so if the destination is far or difficult. A clearly illustrated path keeps us motivated as we near our benchmarks. Further, if the illustrated destination is vivid enough to engage the senses – sight, smell, taste, sound, touch – we are able to experience this inspired future, even if only for a fleeting moment. This makes us more much compelled to move forward.
So, that is the formula: Education + Relation + Illustration = Inspiration.
And THAT is the business of Ship and Anchor Consulting. We are in the business of inspiration.
The Business of Inspiration
Initially I would explain that Ship and Anchor specializes in management consulting, business development, and strategic messaging for organizations that serve or market to our four impact groups. However, it was not until recently that I realized that the glossy-eyed head nods I would receive from listeners meant my explanation was not resonating. I couldn’t seem to understand why people who didn’t specialize in this work were not inspired by my industry jargon. I figured maybe I needed to communicate it with more enthusiasm! Yet, all that did was make my cheeks sore from the forced facial expressions. What was I to do? As a mission-driven founder, I decided to go back to our mission.
The mission of Ship and Anchor LLC is to inspire organizations and individuals to transform into their best versions yet. Simple. I then dug a little deeper and I revisited my journals as an uninspired college dropout, working-out on the prison yard. After reading the journal cited throughout this post, I realized how to explain what Ship and Anchor does. We specialize in education (management consulting), relationships (business development), and illustration (communications). It’s that simple. As consultants we teach organizations to operate more effectively and efficiently; our business development helps our clients and partners build relationships that add value to their businesses and stakeholders; and we craft communications that paint clear, compelling pictures.
At Ship and Anchor, we have a saying: “What’s your anchor?” This is more than a rhetorical question, or some cute phrase themed to match the company name. Rather it is a reminder that, like an anchor, the mission and methodology powering our work will keep us from going adrift. It keeps us on-course to our desired outcome - transformation. This is why we also ask each of our clients and partners, what’s your anchor?