Learning the Art of Inspiration

The article Learning the Art of Inspiration written by Kathryn Cooper, President & Chief Learning Officer of the Sustainability Learning Centre, was originally published in the Sustainability Learning Centre newsletter.


"The power of aspiration is much greater than the power of desperation"

Peter Senge shared this insight with the participants of The Natural Step Accelerate Conference earlier this month in Toronto. He was examining a paradox - the scale of change toward a sustainable human presence on the planet is urgent, massive and time bound - but the last thing the world needs is our panic. "Things are way too late and far too desperate for pessimism," he said.

Instead, he counselled our "mindful change agency". He urged anyone with a leadership role in sustainability to recognize that the "new normal" is transformational thinking. We need to inspire people to toward an aspirational future if we want make a difference.

Your Role as Chief Inspirational Officer

Inspire - "to breath life into". I am not sure that our current "celebrity" culture believes that each one of us can, or has a responsibility, to inspire others. We like to leave that up to the experts - the great business, political and spiritual leaders of our times. And then - we're disappointed. When was the last time you were inspired by someone famous or in a position of power?

Inspired moments seem few and far between - or generated surprisingly by the guy next door - who claims not to have done anything extraordinary at all. That's when you realize - if we are going to make this work - we all have a role in it.

The Art of Inspiration

Senge says we all can and must learn the "art of inspiration". I agree. Where you place your attention - grows. How - Senge urged us to:

  • connect to your intentional aspiration - put purpose at the centre
  • create a safe space for employees, community, whoever needs to be part of it; to hold the "possibility of that aspiration"
  • create a field of objective and empathetic listening
  • engage in reflective and generative dialogue - see the mental models and assumptions that block our actions - our blind spots - the perspectives of others
  • start to co-create a field of action
  • play with rapid prototyping or piloting - find out what works and what doesn't
  • then do it all over again

There is some new language and concepts embedded in his approach. Learning about new ways of doing things is essential to shifting toward a culture of sustainability, and part of our responsibility as leaders (see below). 

"Transforming systems is about transforming relationships", noted Senge. "Changing our culture to be more sustainable lives in every conversation." It also lives in our willingness to open our minds and hearts to a new way of doing things. Each one of us can do that - it is - your source of inspiration to others.

Written by Kathryn Cooper
Source: Sustainability Learning Centre