When you look at this beautiful planter what do you see?
Most people only see a parrot and plant — but if you look more closely you can tell that the bird is made from old tires!
It would have been easy to discard the tire and to think it had no value, but fortunately a creative artist gave it new life. Keep the parrot in mind the next time you’re set to discount someone or think that someone/something had no worth. There is the potential for beauty inside everyone.
How can you use physical space to tell a story? Well, if you’re the Iowa Department of Transportation, you use rest areas to help travelers gain a sense of place while highlighting some of the state’s unique features.
One facility along I-80 showcases the Iowa Writer’s Workshop — a renowned creative writing program that has produced many best-selling authors, Pulitzer Prize winners, and National Book Awards — and Iowa’s role as “the center of writing in America”. The rest area greets visitors with a multi-story pen to symbolize the physical act of writing, and then features quotes from Iowa authors in various displays both inside and outside the facility. It’s like a mini-museum along your route.
It would have been easier, and probably cheaper, to make a generic restroom with some picnic tables and vending machines — and it would have also forfeited the opportunity to entertain and educate the thousands who stopped there. Iowa had the “write” idea. Take a lesson from them and use your space wisely as a way to share your story.
There’s a story circulating on Facebook about a group of boys who donned their white shirts, black sportcoats, and ear jacks to dress up as Secret Service men for Halloween. The costumes came about to allow their friend to participate in street clothes — posing as the President — because his religion does not allow him to wear a costume.
It would have been easy to say that their friend “can’t” participate, but instead, the boys displayed creativity in their quest for inclusion. When we want something badly enough, we almost always find ways to achieve it.
Remember these boys the next time you’re ready to be tricked into saying that something “can’t” be done. There is probably an alternative way to get that treat if you work at it.
A friend asked for a glass of water at a restaurant and this is what she received:
It was beautiful: a tall glass with hollow rectangle cubes, and an extra touch of garnish to set it off. It would have been just as easy to provide a plain drink — as everyone else does — but what an effective and inexpensive way to set yourself apart.
What is the equivalent of the beautiful glass of water in your organization? Add an extra touch to something you offer and delight your customers. The goodwill transfers to the perception of your entire offering as well as reminding your staff that going above and beyond is part of your culture.
I watched a panel discussion with the members of Spotlight, the Boston Globe investigative unit that won a Pulitzer for their coverage of priest abuse in the Catholic Church. I was a journalism major and have a special affinity for those in the news, especially today when investigative journalism is more important than ever.
The panelists shared that one of the gifts of the unit is the luxury of having time to truly research a story, conduct follow up, file information requests, put pressure on people to get the story, and be persistent enough to “get the information from people that don’t want to give it to us.” Having extended time to research a story frees them from the pressures of a daily deadline and allows them to not only research the story and write it but also to add the interactive multimedia elements that allow their findings to resonate with a broader audience and have a greater impact.
A panelist commented that not all the work of Spotlight makes it to the front page, rather some of their most important work is the scandals that they prevent because people know Spotlight (and good reporters like them) will be looking over their shoulder.
While your organization likely doesn’t need an investigative research unit, consider whether it would benefit from a team that has the luxury of time. Could you dedicate a team (or person) to go deep on consumer feedback? Have a few people who are given time to pursue new partnerships? Allow selected staff members to have the time to reengineer high-impact processes?
The world operates on tight deadlines but surprising and significant work can happen when you allow the right people to work without them. Go deep to uncover insights you don’t see on the surface.
My sister’s motto is “Why be plain?” and it applies to websites as well as signage like I wrote about yesterday (dot 3403).
We’ve all had the dreaded “this page is not available” pop up on our screen, but why does it have to be boring and simply give a 404 Error message? Companies have created a host of more creative options, allowing them to communicate the same message but in a way that is entertaining instead of annoying.
Invest the effort in making all your communication cohesive and intentional. Don’t waste the opportunity to build your brand — even when you’re having temporary trouble with your website.
In a creative use of an old phone booth, people can now visit our “Telepoem booth” and dial a designated number on the traditional rotary phone to hear a poem read to them. There is a directory of choices, fastened to the booth with a wire as phone books used to be, offering a whole selection of poems by Iowa artists. The directory gives you the poem category, length of the reading and the number to dial, just as it was in the dark ages of White Pages.
Our local arts organization worked with the state humanities group to bring the Telepoem installation here for a year and I found it to be great fun. It’s free to use, so I listened to several readings — but I’ll admit I received as much enjoyment just from using the rotary dial and hearing that long-ago sound of the wheel spinning around as I did from the poems. It’s a sound that is all but lost with today’s push-button or digital calling.
Vintage everything is so popular right now — and the Telepoem booth fits right into both the arts vibe of our downtown and the trend toward nostalgia. It’s a creative marrying of the two elements that provide a novel activity for people to enjoy.
What do you have from days gone by that you can repurpose into something appealing today?
It used to be that live performances brought truckloads of sets to evoke different emotions depending upon the song. Today, all that is accomplished through lighting.
The Trace Adkins concert featured synchronized lighting with a different array for each song — or even each stanza of the song — and used high-powered spotlights to bring the stage into the crowd. The lighting was a show in itself independent of the music, featuring colors, patterns, rotations, and choreographed movements.
But all with the same lights.
What is the equivalent to spotlights in your organization — something that you use for one purpose but could be expanded to provide much greater utility? It may be a piece of equipment, a resource, furniture, space, services, or personnel — but think hard about what you are using in one way that could serve you better by leveraging its versatility and impact. Hoping the light bulb goes off for you!
Our library has installed a series of panels along a walkway that each tell one segment of a story for children. The plot of this edition is about finding an alligator and each panel is accompanied by an activity for kids — hold your hands to your eyes like a binocular, clap when you read the word alligator, count the number of words on this panel, clap your arms like an alligator snout, etc.
The panels are part of the StoryWalk series created by Anne Ferguson and embraced by the library as a way to combine reading with exercise. We normally think of reading as a sedentary activity but StoryWalk allows families to be outside and enjoy a book together.
Think about the desired behaviors of your clientele and how you can adjust your offerings to encourage people to do things as you wish. The library wanted movement + reading so sponsored this project on several key walking trails in town. How can you bring your organization to people in innovative ways?
When he was a 23-year old waiter, Rob Angel’s roommate invited him to play “charades on paper,” a made-up game that involved drawing out words that were randomly picked from the dictionary. Angel realized the potential of this activity and turned the idea into Pictionary, a board game that has sold over 32 million copies.
Pictionary wasn’t Angel’s idea but he is the one who turned the concept into a tangible product. He saw what could be and put in the work and effort to make it become reality. The result provided countless hours of fun as well as a profitable business.
There are many steps in the creative or entrepreneurial process. All the initial ideas don’t have to be yours. There is a role for people to see gaps and fill them, to take something new and see its potential, or to turn others’ concepts into something more. You don’t have to be the one who generates the initial notion, but you do have to be paying attention enough to recognize the lightbulb when it goes off — and then be willing to act on it.
As psychologist Edward de Bono said: “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.” Inspiration is all around you. Turn it into something great.