Can you inspire people to find their own inspiration?

One thing I’ve noticed recently is that there’s a power in story. People love telling stories and explaining what they learnt from their own experiences.

Lot’s of motivational speakers and bloggers draw heavily from their own experiences, and lots of successful people have stories of “this one time when something happened and I overcame the difficulties”.

The problem is that by drawing on one’s own experiences, you’re betting that the audience relates quite deeply to you.

Let me give an example.

There are deeply inspiring sysadmin stories – stories of where persistent sysadmins have solved a mystery problem to the point where most people would have just shrugged, given up or something. Wearing my sysadmin hat, I them really impressive, and inspire me to be a better problem solver.

To the average person, they’re not anecdotes that one could relate to. If you’re a sysadmin, or in an occupation that requires creative thinking to solve problems, they may ring much closer to home and remind you of your own experiences.

Here lies the crux:

  • Things that inspire you, are most likely to inspire people like you.
  • Not everyone is just like you, and you probably think people are more like you than they are. (The bubble effect)
  • What inspires people most, is their own experiences.

and the last point is the most important.

Climbing Ben MacDui: Would someone who didn't like hiking find this photo inspirational?
Climbing Ben MacDui: Would someone who didn't like hiking find this photo inspirational?

It’s worth remembering that what inspires people about your anecdotes, is not that you climbed a high mountain, but is that you, as an equal human being, who tried, did something that they also could do. The emphasis is not on the mountain, but on the trying, and the what they could do.

If you could instead of inspiring people by telling anecdotes, if you used clever story telling, to get them to think about a similar experience in their life, then tie in suggestions about how it could have been handled, then you’d have a very powerfully inspiring tool.

Lots of people have done inspiring things: have had near death experiences, lost a loved one, run a marathon, and yet many people look away from themselves for inspiration. What if you could persuade people to learn from their own stories and own experiences?