When I was in college, I took a philosophy class. Who didn’t? When I took my final exam, there was only one question that needed to be answered. The question was WHY? Like everyone else in the class, I was perplexed. What kind of a test is this? How do I answer this question? Is there more than one answer? Then, I thought there could be only one answer – WHY NOT!
Being the free spirit that I was (am), I often thought differently than everyone else. But, instead of exploring and discovering, I allowed myself to believe that everyone else knew better than me. I felt trapped and was frustrated that I couldn’t express myself for fear of being ridiculed. It was safer to fall into line.
I’ve come to understand that, when we think outside the box, we are not limited to the way the world thinks. We give ourselves permission to discover the possibilities.
Allow me to take a moment to identify three creative thinkers that thought outside the box and had an impact on the world. Two are well known, the third…
Thomas Alva Edison – Had over 1,000 inventions, most famously the incandescent light bulb. Near and dear to my heart, he and his assistant, Dickson, invented the kinetograph – the advent of film production.
"From his neck down a man is worth a couple of dollars a day, from his neck up he is worth anything that his brain can produce."
Orville and Wilbur Wright – Inventors of the airplane
"Learning the secret of flight from a bird was a good deal like learning the secret of magic from a magician. After you once know the trick and know what to look for you see things that you did not notice when you did not know exactly what to look for."
John Atanasoff – Father of the Computer (never patented the product or publicly recognized)
U.S. physicist John Atanasoff, with Clifford Berry, developed the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, capable of solving differential equations using binary arithmetic.
"To get ahead in the world you have to make a lot of noise, and maybe I didn't make enough."
We all have the ability to create. When I was in marketing, it was part of my job to come up with new product ideas. It was important to focus on consumer needs that weren’t being met. When I was Senior Product Manager on mascara at Maybelline, research showed consumers wanted mascara that didn’t clump on their lashes or gunk up on the top of the tube. I love brainstorming. I get excited when the light bulb turns on; and what seem like crazy ideas become OH WOW!
While brainstorming with R&D and Product Development, the idea of redesigning the mascara brush and developing a double wiper system was born. That later resulted in the new product Illegal Lengths and the tagline ‘wipe off the gunk, not once, but twice’. The product was a huge success. Compared to the inventions of Edison, the Wrights and Atanasoff, this may seem like small potatoes. But, it was a creative idea that met a need and benefited people.
As my life shifted and I became an actress, I still had a corporate mentality. This hampered my ability to let go and live in the moment. One of the things that helped me break down the walls to my own creativity was studying Improv at Second City in Los Angeles. I’ve always been a very logical thinker; and I was struggling to grasp the concept of improv. When I sat in class and watched others perform, I was just puzzled. I remember one exercise where the students were acting out that they were on a camping trip. They built a fire so that they could cook their food. In my mind, there are only certain things you could possibly cook in a campfire, namely, marshmallows. They were cooking elaborate meals; and it just got more illogical, as the scene progressed. After class, I went up to the teacher and explained that I was struggling. He asked me one question – “can you be five?” Huh? “Can you be five?”. I asked him to explain. He said children don’t put any limits on their creativity or thinking. They live in their own reality. At the moment, what is, IS. It doesn’t matter that there may be no logic to what they’re doing. My mouth dropped open; and I realized – I can be five. That changed everything for me.
So, I encourage you to be five. Let your imagination go. There are so many roadblocks along the way, don’t get in your own way. Allow yourself to be inspired. You don’t know where the next idea will come from. We are here for a reason. We are knitted together; and we each bring unique gifts. Do the work and don’t give up. Thomas Edison made 9,999 attempts to invent the incandescent light bulb. Imagine if he gave up before the 10,000th attempt!
In the words of Steve Jobs:
10% of people lead. 90% follow. Imagine if the 90% closed off the naysayers and allowed themselves the freedom to imagine, dream and create no matter what the field of endeavor. The possibilities are endless!
And, remember…it’s never too late to go after your dreams.