While I was at Landor Associates I instituted an inspiration forum called Pasture. The name was inspired by a passage in Gordon MacKenzie's incredible book "Orbiting The Giant Hairball".
In one passage he describes how the majority of the time cows spend creating milk is spent in the pasture, eating grass and soaking up the sun and air. Only a small percentage is actually "producing" the milk attached to the milking machine in the barn. So grazing in the pasture is of incredible importance to creating milk, but this invisible part of the process is often overlooked and forgotten.
In Pasture everyone in the agency, not just designers, brought to a "show and tell" anything they were inspired by, a website, a book, a song, a work of art, a design and shared it with the group at a free pizza lunch. The incredibly wide range of inspiration was energizing to people in every functional area in the agency.
As creative leaders we know that the most disparate influences can find their way into design work to great effect. Looking at only competitive design influences and ideas is the quickest way to get more of the same cliches and well-trodden solutions.
We all know that shopping the competition and looking at award winning work is one way of finding inspiration, but looking outside of a category - far outside - can lead to the most innovative ideas. Designers have that special capacity to take the most divergent input and synthesize it into an elegant and breathtaking piece of work.
Giving designers that much-needed time to metaphorically graze, experience the sunlight and breath fresh air is the best way to keep them from coming up "dry" at milking time.
So yes, designers are like cows. But hey, it's not my analogy, it's Gordon’s and very true indeed.
Image Souce: Flickr.com: Terinea IT Support. www.terrine.co.uk