I'm reading a neat book by Jesse Schell, The Art of Game Design.
He had an awesome section on inspiration and a lesson he learned from his juggling days.
He was at a juggling festival when he was 14 and saw someone in a powder blue jumpsuit juggling there who really stood out from all the other professional jugglers. Not because of his suit, or because the guy was doing anything complicated, but because he had a style about him that was very unique and remarkable. This impressive juggler saw that Jesse was watching him and they had this conversation.
Powder blue jumpsuit: "Know why my tricks look so different?"
Jesse: "Uh, practice".
Jumpsuit: "No - everybody practices. Look around! They're all practicing. No, my tricks look different because of where I get them. These guys, they get their tricks from each other. Which is fine - you can learn a lot that way. But it will never make you stand out."
Jesse: "So where do you get them? Books?"
Jumpsuit: "Ha! Books. That's a good one. No, not books. You wanna know my secret? The secret is: don't look to other jugglers for inspiration - look everywhere else. I learned this one watching a ballet in New York (as he does a trick) And this one I learned from a flock of geese I saw take off from a lake up in Maine... See, these guys can copy my moves, but they can't copy my inspiration (After pointing out someone copying a move but looking bad in the process)."
You also see this type of copying Jesse saw at the festival all the time in this industry of ours of selling online software. Application after application looks like a knock off of someone else's design. Which is great for learning, but as pale blue jumpsuit pointed out, these things will never look as good as the original because they lack inspiration.
An example from our business that might fit this lesson of where to find inspiration is one of the reasons we created tgethr, an online project management application we use.
I threw a potluck dinner party of about 10 people and realized how much I enjoyed these small groups of friends sitting together enjoying a meal instead of trying to mingle with these same people at a much larger and louder party. Or even trying to eat at a much louder restaurant with hordes of other people.
I also realized that Facebook and Twitter felt like huge loud parties too me, and the conversations I have there are short and choppy because of the noise. The people who I hear in those places are the ones that are yelling the loudest and most often.
We wanted to create a space online where people felt more like they were at a small dinner party sitting around the table with family and friends to have a conversation without yelling in short sentences. And now today we think we've accomplished that somewhat. I end up having much better conversations with friends and family online than I was having before. Of course, these conversations aren't like the real thing, but they feel like we accomplished something great, when people tell us what tgethr feels like to them, and it matches what we were inspired to do.
"i love it. unlike facebook and twitter, i don’t feel like i’m broadcasting my business out to hundreds of my ‘friends’, making sure it’s generic and non-offensive… and even more important not getting random blurts from people i barely remember. tgethr feels more like sitting around a table chatting with your peoples." - Isaac K., Chicago
Here's the Google Book's snippet of the inspiration section from Jesse's book. I haven't finished the book yet, but there's a lot more great stuff in here.