Dare to Inspire

Sustain the Fire of Inspiration in Work and Life


By Allison Holzer

By Sandra Spataro

By Jen Grace Baron

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Dare to Inspire shows how to spark and sustain exponential growth.”
–Shawn Achor, New York Times bestselling author of Big Potential and The Happiness Advantage

Inspiration is a most critical resource to be managed in modern work.

The problem is that the power of inspiration often feels fleeting. But what if you could design your own way to be inspired at work on a regular basis? What if you could make your own inspiration last?

Rooted in 18 engines of inspiration that emerged from interviews with leaders across different industries, Dare to Inspire shows how to supercharge inspiration for yourself, your team, and your organization. Each chapter offers tools, strategies, and examples of how to make inspiration happen and last.

Through stories of pioneers in business, health, education, and other industries, readers learn how to effectively use the engines to spark inspiration, along with specific practices to sustain it. Dare to Inspire features Chef Wes Avila, the founder of L.A. sensation Guerrilla Tacos, who was inspired to revolutionize his industry; crowdfunding pioneer Charles Best, who founded DonorsChoose to meet the challenge of connecting teachers in need with donors interested in supporting educational programs; and many others. This will be a vital book for anyone interested in creativity, success, achievement, and happiness.


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Our story as friends, business partners, and authors is a story about inspiration—how we spark it in ourselves and one another, how we are sustaining it over time, and how we translate it into positive impact in our work and lives.

We founded our company InspireCorps in 2013, but its roots were planted years earlier.

One of our earliest collective memories is meeting over Google Hangouts to talk about “our positive change model.” We came from vastly different industries and backgrounds: Jen from leadership development in Fortune 500 companies, Sandy from Silicon Valley and academia with a PhD in organizational behavior, and Allison from emotional intelligence and coaching within education. Despite our different perspectives, one common passion connected us.

Given that the average person will spend more than ninety thousand hours at work in a lifetime,1 it is a travesty that so many lack a meaningful connection to their work, unable to use personal skills and talents to have a positive impact, unable to feel fulfilled in their work. It’s a lost opportunity to make a positive difference in the world. It’s a lost opportunity to feel fulfilled and excited in those ninety thousand hours of our lives.

We recognized early on that our common passion is to remedy this for individuals, teams, and organizations. And we had good ideas for the shape and content of the remedy. But we didn’t know, at first, what to call it. We talked about it as that magic thing that happens when

• your performance and impact are at their absolute best, or

• teams collaborate in sync and together create incredible impact, or

• organizations innovate and delight the world with positive change and extraordinary results, both internally and in their business.

Through ongoing conversations, we wrestled with trying to pinpoint the key concept that captured our vision. We talked it through until finally, one day in August of 2012, we had a conversation where we punched through the wall. Allison, with her MFA in fine arts and visual memory, remembers exactly where she was sitting at that moment—on the phone in the kitchen of a small historic home her parents were renting for the summer in Essex, Connecticut.

We realized that day that the key concept we had been searching for was inspiration—inspiring individuals, inspiring teams, inspiring organizations. There is little research on it in the areas we came from, so it eluded us at first. But when we landed on it, we knew.

With renewed clarity about our focus, we started researching what is known about inspiration. Our digging confirmed that, while a few academics have studied the abstract concept, very little is known about how it actually works, especially in the workplace. Thus began our quest to understand inspiration: how to create and replicate it and how to harness it as a resource that leads to extraordinary directed actions and results.

Our own research on inspiration began by consolidating insights and observations from our work with more than 320 senior leaders and then, starting in 2016, by embarking on focused, original data collection on inspiration through interviews with leaders across industries and levels about inspiration in their lives and work. We have conducted live and video interviews with nearly seventy-five leaders across a variety of industries, experiences, generations, and backgrounds, which confirmed and expanded on the considerable secondary research (i.e., positive psychology, emotional intelligence, motivation theory, and organizational behavior) that we conducted on the topic. We have analyzed these interviews qualitatively, identifying themes and insights that are the foundation for the frameworks we introduce in this book. This work is at the frontier of a new field of exploration that will continue to evolve and unfold. As we continue these interviews, we are already recognizing new and important ways to reinvent work around inspiration.

From this research, we learned that inspiration can be more than a fleeting emotion that feels good—it can and should be a daily practice, a deliberate orientation, and a mindset of staying connected to what inspires you. Our mission became clear with these core insights. In our work with clients, what makes the difference for them individually and collectively is sustainable inspiration directed toward positive impact. We are committed to building a corps of individuals who spark and sustain their own inspiration.

The truth is, we are lifelong learners excited to continue learning (and sharing about) how inspiration works. For now, we are thrilled to share the fundamentals with you in this book.

We have learned that inspiration is a most critical resource to be managed in modern work. It is the intangible that generates extraordinary results. What inspires us is that you have the ability to harness it in ways we can’t even imagine.

Our wish for you as you read this book is that you take command of how inspiration works specifically and uniquely in your life and work. Each chapter offers tools, strategies, and examples of how to make inspiration happen and last. And each chapter concludes with a Work It section that invites you to engage in the chapter’s material with a designed activity. The first three parts of the book focus on your individual experience of sparking and sustaining inspiration. As you master this, you will also learn, in Part IV, how to share inspiration with others and to harness inspiration on teams and within organizational cultures to make your greatest contribution.



We all know of India’s famed Taj Mahal, the breathtaking white marble shrine inspired by Emperor Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The massive mausoleum complex where Mahal is buried took twenty thousand workers and one thousand elephants more than twenty years to construct.1 It is a reflection of a great inspiration that started with an initial spark of an idea that was sustained over time and through obstacles until completion. An initiative of such magnitude required more than the initial flash of an idea and a robust checkbook. It began with a promise—a promise Jahan made to his wife as she lay dying.

Their story began nearly twenty-four years earlier, when Jahan had first spotted Mahal,2 then named Arjumand Banu Begum, a Muslim Persian princess, while walking through a bazaar with an entourage. He was fourteen and she fifteen. He was so taken with her beauty that he went home and announced to his father that he wanted to marry her. After five years, they were married, and she was renamed Mumtaz Mahal, “Jewel of the Palace.”3

Mumtaz became Emperor Shah Jahan’s constant companion, even accompanying him on military campaigns. Although he had other wives, as was the tradition, she was his soul mate. But her life was cut short due to complications from childbirth, as she bore Jahan’s fourteenth child. On her deathbed she made Jahan promise two things: “that he would never remarry” and that he would build a monument to their love.4

Her dying request was the spark that inspired the project that became his personal mission—constructing a building as a symbol of his enduring love for his late wife. He required his court to go into mourning for two years, during which he began working on plans to build a beautiful mausoleum over her grave.5 Jahan was known for commissioning impressive structures throughout Northern India, so this tribute was in keeping with previous projects. Erecting ornate mausoleums in memory of royal family members was a tradition of the Mughal people.

The Taj Mahal complex was situated across the Yamuna River from Jahan’s Red Fort at Agra and “was constructed of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones such as jade, crystal, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and turquoise, forming intricate designs in a design known as pietra dura. Its central dome reached a height of 240 feet and was surrounded by four smaller domes; four slender towers, or minarets, stood at the corners… the real sarcophagus containing her actual remains lay below, at garden level.”6 The final cost was more than $6.3 million, in seventeenth-century money, and is now worth more than $1 billion.7

Clearly, the building of the Taj Mahal reflects an act of inspiration sustained over decades. We offer this as an illustration of the immense power of one individual’s sustainable inspiration to fuel extraordinary results rather than to advocate the building process itself (which included some unethical practices by modern standards). In the same way that inspiration fueled the building of the Taj Mahal, inspiration can be a powerful driver of extraordinary results in our work today. When we observe phenomenal leaders, teams, organizations, and endeavors in the world, we see that inspiration is not only an essential element in the spark of a novel idea, but it is also the fuel that feeds motivation over time to realize their achievements. What little research there is on inspiration in the workplace bears this out. Eric Garton and Michael Mankins show in their research that an inspired employee is more than twice as productive as a satisfied employee and more than three times as productive as a dissatisfied employee.8 The problem, and the opportunity, is that only one in eight employees today is inspired in his or her work.9 To explore the opportunity further, we must start with understanding what inspiration is and how it works.


Traditionally, inspiration is defined as an ephemeral experience, where a situation, event, or person sparks new possibilities, capabilities, and actions. The Latin roots of the word inspiration mean, literally, “to breathe in” or “to take a breath”—imagine experiencing that moment as a gasp or infusion that gives new life and excitement to the project at hand.10 Typically, the experience is fast, like being overcome with a burst of positive energy—like a spark. That burst of energy makes one feel full of ideas and potential along with freedom from constraints that can hinder progress. Sometimes this spark of energy wanes over time, sometimes it translates into action—such as Emperor Shah Jahan’s spark of inspiration from his late wife’s last request that propelled him to engineer one of the greatest and most beautiful architectural feats that exist today.

We define the initial moment of inspiration—the spark—as the intersection of possibility and invincibility. Possibility expands the boundary of what could be, it extends beyond our normal limits of what is possible or current conceptions of what may “work.” Possibility is firmly rooted in hope—it introduces new ways of thinking about things and a new capacity to visualize, create, analyze, and foresee. It’s what allowed Jahan to conceive of a monument that far surpassed anything done prior.

Invincibility is the confident energy that complements possibility in the spark of inspiration and translates it into action. Some people may hear the word invincibility as an abandonment of all common sense and regard for safety. Instead, within the experience of inspiration, invincibility operates as a heightened confidence and courage that leads to taking action toward a goal in ways that are rational but bold. In Jahan’s case, invincibility showed up in his ability to mobilize tremendous numbers of people and resources, over decades, to realize the project.

As an example of this: one participant in our original research on inspiration, the chief executive of a not-for-profit organization, explained the feeling of inspiration as a combination of possibility and invincibility. He is neither a fighter, nor a race car driver, nor a cyclist, but he described the feeling of inspiration as: “I felt like I could do anything. I could walk out of the room and knock anyone out. I could get into a car and win the Indy 500; I could get on a bicycle and win the Tour de France.”11 We see possibility in this executive’s vision of himself fighting or driving or cycling, all of which are outside his normal activities. And we see invincibility in his confidence to conquer all these areas, despite his lack of experience in them. What is important here is the opening up of his perspective and options for the future, whether or not he decides to pursue these lofty goals or achieves them.

The flipside of inspiration, as many of us have experienced, is burnout. Christina Maslach, a pioneer of research on burnout, explains her most current research with Michael Leiter12 on burnout as the simultaneous presence of three states: (1) physical exhaustion; (2) professional inefficacy, defined as lack of confidence in your own abilities; and (3) cynicism, defined as irritability, withdrawal, and loss of hope. Many who are caught in burnout long to recapture inspiration.

The way Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck, a family-owned travel and leisure company, described inspiration to us illustrates how it contrasts with burnout: “Inspiration for me is about hope. It’s about wanting something better, more—not in a greedy way, but in a way that makes you (or a family, or a company) feel more fulfilled and complete. You’re looking for individuals, experiences, or stories that provide a sense of: ‘I can do it.’ There is that sense of confidence and aspiration of knowing that you can raise your game, that things can get better, that we can be more. There are these moments and converging points of optimism, positivity, and desire to make yourself and the world a better place.”13

The spark of inspiration can transform our mindsets: it makes the impossible seem possible. It can change how we see our own capacity; it can even change the way we see the world. The result can be major revelations, even revolutionary ones: inventions, the creation of new industries, markets, and produtcs, new careers or partnerships never before thought possible.

Joe Gebbia, one of the cofounders and chief product officer of Airbnb, was unemployed and struggling with a recent increase in rent when he and his roommate at the time, Brian Chesky, came up with the idea for their business in 2007. Joe Gebbia, a designer himself, knew that a major design conference was going on over the weekend and quickly set up a website for artists to stay with them in their apartment. In his TED Talk,14 he speaks fondly about that weekend when a few guests paid twenty dollars each to sleep on an air mattress on the floor. Gebbia and Chesky hosted them, made them feel at home, and went out of their way to make their guests’ stays memorable. This experience led to their revolutionary idea to create a new possibility, a way for people to share their homes with strangers and the founding of Airbnb.

Possibility is not always about new ideas; sometimes it shows up as recognizing future trends and forces. In his book The Purpose Economy, Aaron Hurst writes about his belief that we are in the early stages of a fourth economy, a purpose economy. He explains that millennials are demanding purpose through a more localized economy and are moving away from consumption and toward the enjoyment of relationships, connection, and experiences.15

Coworking is a perfect example. In coworking, people who are self-employed, have different employers, or have different work arrangements share a common, independent work space. While it has been around for a while, coworking is now a fast-growing way of work; the number of people participating in a cowork situation has grown from less than one hundred in 2007 to a projected five million in 2023.16 Adam Neumann saw possibility in the integration of these existing trends and launched WeWork in 2007, which now includes almost 250 global workspace locations where people rent the use of private and shared space as their place of work.17 Neumann likens it to a gym membership—you pay your fee and have access to the equipment.

But Neumann did not stop at just providing work spaces. Instead, he saw greater possibility in light of people aspiring to purpose and connection; he believed that at the heart of WeWork was creative community. Neumann brings people together with workplace amenities like snacks, baristas, foosball tables, networking and learning events, and happy hours. He even offers coliving spaces where workers actually make their homes at, or very near, the coworking space. Neumann aspires to help redesign entire cities to increase connection and community. Meeting the opportunity to provide workspace for millions of workers was a new idea, but going the extra mile to create community, connection, and purpose for their members, supporting the whole worker and not just their need for a table and chair, is the visionary idea. It reflects creating a greater possibility; and it demonstrates a sense of invincibility in transforming expectations for what work is and can be in our modern world.


We have described inspiration in the previous section as a powerful, and even potentially transformative, moment that combines feelings of possibility and invincibility. The problem is the intense, heightened experience of inspiration can be fleeting. Further, we often think about it happening to us, and we don’t know when it will happen again. In other words, inspiration isn’t something you can control, create, sustain, or replicate on demand.

But what if you could?

There are two aspects to making inspiration a reliable tool to fuel our endeavors: first, we have to be able to make it happen on demand; and second, we have to be able to make it last. The spark of inspiration is much like the artist’s muse—an external force or being that brings about new ideas and approaches. However, once you seek out, observe, and know the kinds of situations and people that spark your inspiration, you can actively pursue moments of inspiration so they happen more frequently and in new or different ways.

This ability to be self-aware and actively engage in creating more inspiration in your life is at the foundation of how we aim to reinvent inspiration as you know it through this book. We will do this by providing readers with a blueprint of eighteen engines of inspiration—actions that will reliably spark feelings of invincibility and possibility—that emerged from our observation and interviews of business leaders across myriad industries and life circumstances. These engines of inspiration and how to activate them in your life comprise Part II of this book. In providing this framework of engines, we give you an opportunity to know what sparks you and learn about new engines you can actively pursue to find that initial spark of inspiration.

With engines to fuel the initial spark of inspiration, the question then becomes, How do you make the spark last?

The Taj Mahal was surely not just a fleeting idea that came up on Mumtaz Mahal’s deathbed. The initial idea grew into a vision, then a plan, which was sustained over a long period of time and through many obstacles along the way. Clearly, Jahan was able to make his initial spark of inspiration from his wife’s deathbed request last roughly two decades, dedicating tremendous resources and commitment to the completion of this endeavor. In this case, the spark of an idea to memorialize his wife led to Jahan’s life’s work, which kept him connected to her memory. Today, millions of people a year travel to the Taj Mahal to be inspired by this shrine to love, which English poet Sir Edwin Arnold describes as “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones.”18


Jahan’s inspiration is only one example of lasting, sustained inspiration. It is a tangible, historically important illustration of what inspiration can do, which serves now as a source of inspiration for many who visit and admire the architectural feat. But inspiration happens on smaller scales all the time in important and impactful ways. Individuals across myriad industries—from health care to the automotive industry, education, government, market research, think tanks, and start-up companies—and throughout all levels of an organization thrive in today’s changing world when they are inspired to achieve collective goals and have greater impact in their work. Our great opportunity is to increase how—and how many—employees are inspired in their work. The current rate of only 1 in 8 is tragic.19

In our firm’s work with clients, and based on our research on the topic across numerous industries, we’ve seen individuals who can sustain their inspiration in their life and work over time and in the face of obstacles. They have demonstrated that inspiration need not be just a fleeting, intense burst of momentary brilliance.

Inspiration can be actively sought after and sustained over time. The key, we’ve found, is knowing what inspires you, understanding that you can choose it and generate it, and then making an intentional practice of it.

Like other intentional practices for thriving in life (i.e., exercise, time management, meditation), you get to choose to sustain inspiration, own how you practice it, and maintain it in a way that is your own. When inspiration is a practice, it can be sparked and resparked through intentional action, leading to an enduring sense of possibility and invincibility in areas that are meaningful. It is more than a passing thought or idea. It is also more than creativity and innovation. It is a resource that can provide ongoing support and guidance toward greater effectiveness.

Carefully designed intentional practice cultivates a habit of inspiration. Like a muscle you work at the gym, access to and regeneration of sustainable inspiration gets stronger and easier the more you exercise it. When you practice sustainable inspiration, you shape yourself in new ways. What is key to intentional practice, which is different from habit formation, is that it entails actively designing a portfolio of activities and experiences to support inspiration. Whereas a habit is rooted in repetition, intentional practice is steeped in thoughtful design and action.

Just as the bodies of athletes perform differently than less-fit ones, individuals practicing sustainable inspiration are qualitatively different from those that are uninspired. Fit bodies operate in new ways—the metabolism speeds up, blood pressure drops, and the resting heart rate falls, among other changes. Some people, once in shape, actually crave exercise; they notice when they are not active. In that same way, we can train ourselves to experience and sustain inspiration more often. The more inspiration is exercised, the easier sparks come, the longer the flame shines, and the more frequently they occur. We notice when we feel inspired and when we don’t, and we crave it more often in our lives.

So, how do you intentionally practice inspiration in order to sustain it? This will be the focus of Part III in the book. We talk about ways to sustain inspiration through managing your energy, emotions, and mindset, boosting your inspiration through support, accountability, and success, and intentionally resparking the engines of inspiration more often.


The advantages of sustainable inspiration show up vividly in our daily lived experience. Overall, we’re more optimistic, creative, confident, and open when we’re inspired. We make richer connections to people, we infuse interactions with more substance and value, and we enjoy our lives more. Being inspired has its own rewards in and of itself.

In addition, and equally as important, sustaining inspiration over time leads to success in your endeavors. The Taj Mahal was an incredible feat resulting from one individual’s sustained inspiration. Imagine the results compounded within organizations comprised of many individuals sustaining inspiration in their work every day, integrating inspiration into their teams and the culture of their organization.

Our research looked at the advantages of inspiration at both the individual and organizational levels.

In addition to just feeling better and enjoying life more, when individuals sustain inspiration, they have a tremendous advantage in overall performance, with an opportunity to expand that impact to their teams and organizations. Sustainable inspiration yields important individual advantages, including (1) visionary and strategic thinking, (2) better performance and results, (3) stronger connections and community, and (4) purpose-driven and calling-oriented people.

1. Visionary and strategic thinking emerges from business leaders who foresee what most of us cannot even imagine. Because inspiration is a heightened positive emotion, it opens up neurological pathways to thinking bigger, broadening our ideas, and seeing into the future.20 Individuals are less likely to get stuck ruminating about the problem and more likely to see possibilities and solutions.21

2. Inspiration includes both possibility and invincibility, or confidence to take action in new ways, often leading to better performance and results. One example: inspired Starbucks baristas inventing new drinks that boost sales.22

3. Positive emotions like inspiration create neurological resonance (rather than dissonance), which leads to stronger relationships and collaboration.23 Simply put, when individuals feel inspired, they are more inclined to build stronger connections and community with others, as software technology leader Andrea Goulet (CEO, Corgibytes) illustrates. Inspired leaders, like Goulet, are more open to and more appreciative of others and their contributions. Corgibytes is a firm that specializes in using software remodeling techniques to address problems in legacy code bases. Rather than conforming to a traditional software coding house culture of individual contribution from heads-down coders, Goulet intentionally cultivates a relationship-based culture. She invests regularly in efforts and initiatives designed to foster empathy, connection, collaboration, and rapport within her inspiring software coding team. She explains the importance of these connections as follows: “Empathy is the glue that holds a vision and the fuel that drives a team to achieve it.”24

4. Finally, inspired individuals often are more oriented to purpose and calling, which leads to taking purposeful action. Many know the story of entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS, a company that designs and markets shoes, who traveled to Argentina for a much-needed respite from the hard-driving days of building four companies in a row.25 While there, he learned that many children didn’t own shoes, preventing them from attending school and walking to get water for their families and exposing them to disease. He was inspired by the opportunity to put shoes on these children’s feet, fueling his sense of invincibility. He loved the local canvas shoe, called alpargatas.26


  • "Smart, well-researched, and timely... Dare to Inspire shows how to spark and sustain exponential growth."Shawn Achor, NewYork Times bestselling author of Big Potential and The HappinessAdvantage
  • "In Dare to Inspire, the authors have identified a most critical element of successful teams and organizations of the future...their practical tools and frameworks make inspiration accessible and sustainable for any leader, team, or organization."—AmyC. Edmondson, professor, Harvard Business School, author of The FearlessOrganization
  • "Dare to Inspire shows us how inspiration need not be a fleeting emotion, but can be intentionally practiced, sustained, and cultivated for maximum positive impact on the world."—ScottBarry Kaufman, psychologist at Columbia University and coauthor of Wired toCreate
  • "A must read for entrepreneurs, effective leaders, and CEOs who want to build a competitive advantage through the power of their people."—Chip Conley, New York Times bestselling author and hospitalityentrepreneur
  • "A compelling compilation of examples showing the remarkable results inspired teams achieve and a leader's roadmap on how to accomplish it."—Gary Garfield, former CEO Bridgestone Americas
  • "What's at the intersection of possibility and invincibility? Inspiration. The authors show you how to spot it, grow it, and sustain it to fuel your own creativity and motivation, and that of your team or organization."—Margaret H. Greenberg, MAPP, PCC, executive coach and author of Profitfrom the Positive
  • "People hope for success, but they crave inspiration; the problem has always been in knowing how to find it -- Holzer, Spataro, and Grace Baron show us how. Reading Dare to Inspire, half the time I had a lump in my throat, the other half a fire in my gut."—Brigadier General Thomas A. Kolditz, PhD, founding director, Ann andJohn Doerr Institute for New Leaders Rice University and founding director,West Point Leadership Center, U.S. Military Academy
  • "This is a useful workbook for people seeking a positive spin on easily digestible advice."—Publishers Weekly

On Sale
Nov 12, 2019
Page Count
304 pages