How to Make a Broom Last Forever, and Other Important Lessons

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I’ve had this broom for more than 25 years. Other than the paint chipping in places, it is still in pretty good shape considering all leaves, grass clippings and whatnot I’ve swept up over the years.

How is that? You’d think that after 25 years of sweeping the bristles would be bent over to one side or the other. No matter how good the Shakers designed brooms, this is bound to happen at some point.

When I was in high school I learned how to draft. Not how to pick players in fantasy football or how to get behind a big truck to deflect the wind, rather I learned how to make technical drawings used to build things. Like houses, machinery, furniture, etc.

Drafting is done exclusively on computers nowadays, but back in those dark ages of high school we used pencils and paper, the same way Brunelleschi did back in the Renaissance, when he practically founded the practice of architecture for the Western world.

One of the keys to being a good draftsman (or draftswoman, as the case was with Beth, the only girl in my drafting class), was the consistent weight of the lines you drew. Different thicknesses in lines could mean different things depending on what you were drawing. This subtlety might not be that important when drawing an exploded view of a tool, but if you drew something designed to handle electricity, the varying lines thickens might lead to something slightly more explosive.

The key to consistent line weight was to twirl the pencil while you drew. You do this by slightly twisting the pencil in your fingertips while you pulled or pushed it across the page. Try it for yourself. When you learn how to do this — and there is a trick to doing it — you not only get lines that are consistently the same, but you can go long stretches between having to sharpen the pencil.

So what does this have to do with the durability of my broom? Surprisingly, everything.

As an experiment, after destroying another broom I applied that same idea of twirling a pencil while drawing to sweeping. Twirl the broom every time it is used, never sweeping in one direction for more than a few strokes. The bristles never have the chance to get bent in either direction, so they have stayed straight all these years.

This is a very handy tip I’m sharing to help extend the life of your broom.

But this story also shows how taking a creative approach to even the simplest task can solve a problem. How taking two completely different things and combining them into in a new and novel way can produce a solid result.

Drafting and sweeping couldn’t be further apart, but by making a simple creative connection, the problem of wearing out my broom was solved. So much so, I haven’t bought a new broom in years.

So the question becomes what are things you do in life that might be applied to other areas of life, inside or outside of work, to make things better? Learning to see and make these connections is a giant step towards creative problem solving.


Hidden in Plain Sight

The 4th in a series about how big ideas are good for business.

Ideas are everywhere. They float around all the time just waiting to be discovered. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a 1000 times: On any given day, anyone can come up with a great idea. The key is to know where to look.

Years ago I discovered the art of Sister Corita Kent, a Catholic nun who made and taught art in southern California in the 1960s-70s. Very bold and graphic, her work has been admired for years. Charles EamesBucky Fuller and Ed Rucha were also big fans.

Sister Corita is famously known for her “10 Rules for the Immaculate Heart Art Department“. But it is one of her personal mantras has stuck with me over the years: Look at everything. Not just art and culture, but science, news, books and any and everything our world has to offer. If a large part of creativity is combining two or more seemingly disparate things into something new, then the bigger pool you have to draw from the better the chance you’ll have of making something original.

But being creative is more than just being observant. I believe there are two additional crucial ingredients.

The first is curiosity. You might think this is splitting hairs and should be rolled up under being observant, but curiosity is different. It’s not that you want to see something new, it’s that you want to understand that thing. I can watch NASCAR all day but will never understand it because I am not the least bit curious.

The second is timing. When you are aware of your surroundings, you are much more receptive to finding new things. Let me give you an example of what I mean by a newly acquired awareness: When I got engaged to the love of my life, I had no idea about how gigantic the bridal industry is. No idea how many magazines, stores, specialty items, shows, programs, etcetera, there existed for brides-to-be until I knew that world existed. Scared the bejesus out of me, and I am certain it’s even scarier these days.

So, how is being more observant and aware good for business? Here’s a real-world example:

I had the opportunity to work on a fund-raising campaign for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. At the time, they were looking to grow the Diocese, make improvements and extend their outreach. They engaged the studio I was with to develop a campaign. We needed a solid concept to hold all the different pieces of communication together to deliver succinct and consistent messaging.

While brainstorming, I had this idea. A big one. Being a new dad at the time, nursery rhymes and children’s songs were a big part of my life. While knocking around ideas, this came to mind:

Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and here are the people. 

You couldn’t ask for a better message platform. It is familiar to just about everyone, yet so perfectly relevant to the mission of the campaign. The concept also lent itself to become a rich visual feast, extending the visual messaging by showing people of different ethnicities and ages doing the hand movements that accompany the rhyme. Merely being aware brought the concept to life.

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We put together an elegant design highlighted with photography by Ricardo Merendoni.

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The program was as successful as it was surprising, helping the Diocese meet their goals and fulfill their mission. This is a prime example of a big idea in action.

Seeing rather than simply looking is such a key element in producing excellent creative work. I’ll leave you with some good resources to start you on the path to hone your observation skills:

How to See, George Nelson: Nelson is one of my heroes who helped shape the US after World War Two. I don’t know that he was the greatest designer ever, but he knew who to surround himself with and how to get the very best design done. His book “How to See” is exactly what the title says it is … a how-to manual that every artist should commit to memory.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards: My 11th grade art teacher recommended reading this book and I scoffed at her. After thumbing through its pages at the bookstore one day, I thought to myself “Why read about drawing when the best way to learn about drawing was to just do it?”. I put the book back on the shelf only to pick it up decades later. Ms. Edwards’ book is filled with more than the how-to’s, it is filled with even more why’s.

Ways of Seeing, John Berger: You can find the original TV broadcasts of Ways of Seeing on YouTube. They are extraordinarily dated and downright hilarious at times, but the information Berger presents is second to none. Reading the book instead of watching the program will scrub away some of the 1970’s veneer, and leave you with nothing but a wonderful treatise on art, life and seeing the world.

On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz: All of the other books mentioned focus on art or design. But On Looking, instead looks at (no pun intended) the rest of the world. Although it can be long at times, it is a delightful read meandering from art, science, exploring and a number of other fascinating subjects.

The Art of Noticing. Rob Walker: Rob is a great thinker and writer. And The Art of Noticing is not only a terrific book, but his weekly newsletter supporting it is full of wisdom and continuations of themes in the book.

The Art of Looking Sideways, Alan Fletcher: Finally, of all the books I have on my shelves at home, this one never collects any dust. It is a constant source of inspiration. From the careful design of each spread to the content on each page, The Art of Looking Sideways rejuvenates my soul every time I open it. I suggest not reading it cover to cover. Rather, pick it up on occasion, turn to any random page and start there. Repeat this process any time you are stuck looking for ideas, need a break, can’t sleep at night or want to take an adventure.


More Postcards from the Future

When all the university classes went online this spring, my oldest came home from Texas State to spend the rest of the semester with us sheltering in place. Thankfully she did not bring home any Covid-19 with her, but she did bring home her Netflix account. She set it up on the TV downstairs and I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it. Especially Abstract and some of the crazy-ass anime me and the kids have watched.

By far the best documentary I’ve seen, though, has been Dr. David Eagleman‘s “The Creative Brain“. I was first exposed to Dr. Eagleman’s incredible, yet easily digestible work, in a promotional book Rigsby Hull did a number of years ago (gorgeous design — love the Didot!) for Sappi. Since then, I’ve become a big fan of neuroscientist. I was pissed, though, when “The Creative Brain” wasn’t broadcast on PBS: it was only on Netflix. So if anything good has come out of the pandemic, it as that I got to see his program.

“The Creative Brain” is fantastic. Of course I’d delight in it. The program includes interviews and insights from Michael Chabon, one of my favorite writers, Bjarke Ingels (nice URL), one of my favorite architects, Grimes, who I find interesting, and Robert Glasper, among others. I’m listening Glasper to while writing the first draft of this post. To say my little-boy-heart exploded watching this show is an understatement.

The funny thing is, that after a few minutes in, I ran got a notebook and pencil, and found myself taking notes. There were so many ideas, perspectives, insights and pearls of wisdom scattered throughout that I did not want to forget any of them. When the show ended, I read through my notes and had an idea — why don’t I share my notes. But not in some boring way — do something more fun with it.

I chose a few of Dr. Eagleman’s thoughts, and designed a series of banners that were broadcast on Instagram a couple of weeks ago. My own thoughts accompanied Dr. Eagleman’s words. For those who do not follow me, here is the series:

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Try Out Ideas

It has never been easier to make something; send it out into the world to see if it works. Try out as many ideas as possible. See what will work best.

Push Boundaries

I used to work for a creative director who always offered three solutions to answer a client’s problem. The first direction would be solid, but within arm’s length of where they were, while the second direction would push them a little further out of their comfort zone, and finally the third would be way out of left field. This approach helped our clients see where they were and where they could be. This technique pushed ideas further as clients rarely went with the first (safe) option.

Consider What Does Not Exist

My fifth grade teacher said there was no such thing as “What if…?” questions. Although she’s a very nice lady, nothing stifles creativity faster than not questioning the status quo.

Aha Moments

Sometimes ideas pop in your head while in the shower. Sometimes they show themselves while out on a run. Sometimes they appear on the back of a napkin. “Aha!” moments are everywhere happening all the time. Be prepared to receive one.

Try Something New

Doing something new is hard and fraught with risk and the chance of failure, but this is the only way to make progress.

Get Off the Path of Least Resistance

It’s easy to quit when the going gets tough, but creative solutions require hard work.

The Balance Between the Familiar and the New

Early in his career, David Bowie pushed all kinds of boundaries with his music, appearance and attitude. No matter how weird things got, at its core, Bowie’s music was grounded in straight-up rock-and-roll. He was able to push boundaries while still being accessible to a wider audience.

The Power to Imagine the World Not Yet

You don’t need a crystal ball to see the future. Creative people look deep inside themselves to see how things can be.

Creativity Does Not Equal Comfort

No great idea ever came from laying around on the sofa.

 


 

I posted a piece on LinkedIn about a year ago entitled “Postcards from the Future”. I nicked that headline from something Rosanne Cash said on an an episode of Freakonomics Radio called “Where Do Good Ideas Come From?” (Ep. 368). Here’s what Ms. Cash said:

Problems can be inspiring. If I can’t work something out in my life, I take it to language. I take it to melody. And sometimes, well, it all can be going to the Met and standing in front of that painting of Joan of Arc. That painting has inspired me. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, you think, and then it turns out that they came from the future. And I call those songs postcards from the future.

Isn’t this is exactly what Dr. Eagleman has been doing: sending us postcards from the future.


Favorite Articles in 2018

Back in 1996 when I worked at The ForeFront Group, we had a piece of software called WebWhacker (the packaging is elsewhere on this site). WebWhacker was designed to pull content down from websites to read later when you were offline. A genius app, until WiFi and mobile devices with unlimited reach became the norm. Google’s Pocket is the modern equivalent of WebWhacker. I use it every single day, sometimes throughout the day when I find things that interest me but don’t have the time to read at the moment. Apparently, according to Pocket I read a lot:

Although this is not a comprehensive list, here are some of my favorite articles I saved to Pocket during 2018:

Where Are All the Female Architects?

A museum grows in Houston

The Rise of Riso

It’s Time to Embrace the Creativity Explosion Advertising Is Undergoing

Soul Of A Subversive

Everything Goes With Everything … 

These are the conversations you need to have as a new manager

Business-Minded Artists and Alchemists Make The Best Advertising

Creative leadership

Why You Need To Pay Attention To Gen X Leaders

TITTER YE NOT by Dave Trott, of course.

Fear is the enemy of creativity

Creatives Are Overworked

I Visited A Shrine For The Patron Saint Of Procrastinators

Is Jeff Goodby the Best Copywriter at Goodby Silverstein & Partners?

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

A Designer’s Guide to Getting Shit Done

The Curbed Guide to Texas

Stan Lee Knew About Managing Creative People

The Curse of the Honeycrisp Apple

The Library of Congress Has an Incredible Collection of Early Baseball Cards

R.E.M., in Retrospect

We are verbs, not nouns

 


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