One moment in my life when this was reaffirmed for me was when I was hired for a day by 3M to sit in a room with some other creative people and come up with funny ideas to print on Post-It pads. At the time, in the mid-1980s, 3M was seeing a lot of other companies doing humorous Post-It pads and selling lots of them, while 3M was just supplying the empty sheets. They decided they might as well get a piece of the action, hence the experiment I found myself involved in. I had never done this kind of brainstorming in a group before. But my brain was ready and started producing almost immediately. Of course, some of what it produced was unusable, as you can imagine. Stuff like, "Would you pay more attention to this note if you knew I was naked while writing it?" Or: "When finished reading this, chew it up and swallow it."
Silly stuff, but some good ones, too. And all of us came up with lots of ideas, in an area that most of us had never explored before.
I found the same thing true when writing captions for cartoons. As soon as I put my mind to it, the ideas would flow. Even in prison, when I sat down and knew I had to come up with twenty or thirty Scenes and Captions to send to a cartoonist, say Roy Delgado in West Virginia, they would start to happen, and I created a unique source of income for myself. Not a fortune, but enough to let me live very comfortably and buy whatever I wanted or needed at the monthly visit to the canteen.
Like many people, new situations sort of frighten me, I'm not attracted to the unfamiliar--until I dip my toe in and find it often fascinating and highly rewarding--so I have to often give myself a push. As a toddler, I remember my father at the South Jersey shore (usually Wildwood) lifting me up and plunging me into the ocean. Scary stuff, but I quickly came to love that ocean and during my entire childhood there were never happier moments than our annual vacation to the beach. A whole self-help book can be extrapolated from this experience. But nowadays, I have to plunge myself into the ocean.
Though you see it here first, some of this will be expanded and surely end up in a future chapter of a future book. Another thing I've discovered over the years is that
it's useful to go back over my life and rediscover the lessons that led me in successful directions, things I may not have paid much attention to at the time. We all have those, and we all often miss the point. We all need to attend, "The University of My
Life." At my age, I am now in the post-graduate studies phase.
I just stopped to jot down two cartoon ideas. I don't know if the cartoonist I send them to will like them enough to draw them up and submit them to Harvard Business Review or Saturday Evening Post, but they will definitely be part of my next batch.
Here they are, judge for yourself (and you can probably figure out where the inspiration sprung from for each of them):
Scene: OLD MAN COVERED IN POST-IT STICKY SHEETS WITH WRITING ON THEM SPEAKS TO COMPANION.
Caption: "It's one of the great ideas from that new memory course I'm taking."
Scene: DOCTOR TO FAMILY MEMBERS OF DECEASED PATIENT.
Caption: "It was the excitement of discovering red wine and dark chocolate were good for his heart."
All of this life experience has convinced me that there aren't many limitations to what my mind can create, just limitations on what I'm willing or smart enough to ask it to do.
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