Two days following the HARDI Annual Conference, I woke up at home thinking of inspiration.  The speakers at the event last month are what you would expect: inspiring, educational, interesting, and they all lent some fresh perspective while hopefully fired up our mental engines.

In the two decades of attending HARDI conferences, I don’t recall ever going up to a headlining speaker and asking for a photograph until I did so with Jeff Ma, the math whiz kid from MIT and the inspiration behind the book, Bring Down the House and the movie “21.”

His take on analytics and the beauty of math (and much of its ultimate predictability) was fabulous. But what I suspect was even more interesting was a response to my question about a “hero” of mine, author Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, The Tipping Point.) Ma praised Gladwell for his writing skills (he writes a great narrative) but suggested that his conclusions were lacking solid analytics. Now, I’m not sure who I should believe.

I don’t need to belabor the physical courage of Aron Ralston, who cut off his hand while trapped by a boulder and then hiked out to rescue. He wrote a book and the movie, 127 Hours, was based on his exploits. (In a less charitable moment, a former HARDI president noted that it was fine that Ralston can now make a living with public speaking engagements, but castigated the Carnegie-Mellon engineering graduate for breaking a cardinal rule of safety: going out alone in the wilderness.)

Karl Rove was the lone political pundit. The former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to President George W. Bush was not always charitable or in agreement with President-elect Donald Trump, and was even less generous toward Hillary Clinton.

But all of this is precisely the point. There is seldom a perfect answer for how to run your business (or life). We all know that different circumstances, personal opinions, prejudices, varied backgrounds, and one of those dreaded business words, serendipity, also play a role. But the exposure to this varied talent (there were many more speakers) does add a dose of inspiration during the conference.

I suspect some business people have a problem with inspiration because they question its long-term impact. There is merit in that kind of thinking. I suspect we can find repeated studies to demonstrate this point, and frankly, we only have to consider what happens to most people regarding New Year’s resolutions.

While a one-time speaker or event might send someone onto a pilgrimage of change, for most of us it's different. I suspect the more common approach is to attend an educational session with the idea of improvement and to do so constantly, thus exposing yourself to a variety of ideas. Afterwards, you can decide what's useful and what to discard.

In my years of attending HARDI conferences, I don’t believe anyone has told me that a single speaker transformed their business or their lives. However, anecdotally, I’ve heard many members say they did something differently because of a speaker they heard. You could argue the real secret is not the changed practice, but those individuals who placed themselves in a position to hear something new and fresh, giving themselves a moment to rekindle their enthusiasm.

What I’m really suggesting is that we all need inspiration, and that if we’re smart, we’ll recognize several elements will keep us inspired. The first element is inspiration doesn’t follow us like a loyal pet. It’s not an every day, every moment type of event. Maybe there are some people like that, but I don’t have that kind of energy level. Do you? More realistically, we use inspiration for those special moments when everything we do seems to be moving along smoothly, when we decide to try something new — like a policy or practice that will move the business along in a more profitable manner, which might be nothing more than making a calculated gamble.

Another use of inspiration is when we are feeling challenged beyond our capacity or when the roadblocks keep multiplying, adding to our frustration. In its simplest form, that’s when we extend ourselves to work that extra hour, face that unpleasant task of firing an employee, or push ourselves to do five more pushups.

If there is a secret to relighting the fires of inspiration, it must be positioning yourself in the right setting under the right circumstance. It might be meeting with a close mentor who gives you a boost. It might be reading a favorite author or podcast that inspires. It also should be attending the annual HARDI conference or a focus conference to blend the knowledge and expertise you gain.

I just called the Phoenix Marriott Tempe at The Buttes to book my room for the Supply Chain Focus Forum, March 26 to 28, 2017. Join me, and let’s get inspired.

We’ll both feel better for it.

P.S. For an explanation of our new look, visit my blog at