By William D. Ellis
SEVENTEEN-year-old Lynn Hunt worked part-time as a typist in downtown Cleveland. On day, her office manager noticed of invoices that she rolled into her typewriter. The green slip had an odd-shaped window cut into it. When Lynn was finished, the manager picked up the slip and found an addressed envelope behind it. She smiled “Beautiful! You type addresses on the envelopes at eh same time that you type invoices!” A small thing, perhaps_ but Lynn’s on-the-job inventiveness speeded the entire office’s typing practices and earned her a raise.
Usually, we assume that creativity belongs to architects, artists, decorators and such. But often, while the creative types are painting the same bowl of fruit and designing the same glass-box skyscrapers, a harassed sales manager somewhere is figuring out a new way to move an overstock of galvanized iron, or a tool-and die maker is designing a power takeoff that will do three jobs simultaneously. On-the-job creativity is everybody’s property, and hundreds of people have discovered that it can make almost any line of work into an adventure, a career.
One of these people is a mechanic for a large manufacturing company. He knew that the company was planning to purchase some expensive new machinery to speed manufacture of automobile engine bearings. Eating lunch under a tree one day, he suddenly envisioned a device which, installed on the company’s present machines, would streamline the production just as effectively as the costly new equipment. He flattened his brown-paper lunch bag, diagrammed his idea on it, and dropped the bag into the company suggestion box. The device worked. And the company rewarded him with a bonus of $26,000.
The principal arena of creativity is the workaday world of people who are smack up against getting a job done. For instance, Martha Driver, a librarian in East Cleveland, had the responsibility of moving 60 tons of books to a new library building across town. The library board had budgeted for a moving job; but Martha preferred to save what money she could for more books. She persuaded the local newspaper to publish a story headlined: “Draw Out All Your Summer Reading Now. Return Books in September-to the New Library.” Presto! The book-moving job was taken care of at a considerably reduced cost.
The existence of large corporate research and development laboratories often discourages an individual from developing his own on-the-job ideas. But big R & D departments have two major handicaps: they are usually involved in big problems; and they are not likely to have your knowledge of the problems-and the possibilities-of your job. For example, noticing how many calculators and adding machines that he sold were later stolen from offices, salesman paul Sander devised a lock and cable attachment for lasing the machines to desks.
Then he formed his own company to manufacture and sell the device. On-the-job creativity is often merely a matter of imaginative combinations. A service station across from a businessman’s-lunch restaurant runs a perpetual tire-selling contest among its employes. The fellow who usually wins goes over and inspects the tires in the restaurant parking lot. When he finds worn tires, he leaves a handwritten note under the windshield wiper: “I have a new 4-ply steel radial for your left front. If you’re here tomorrow, leave your car across the street. I’ll put the tire on while you cat.-Mike-from-across-the-street”
Undoubtedly the happiest ideas grow out of doing what you like to do. When Mabel Westerberg’s daughters married and moved to the suburbs outside Chicago, she found herself shopping for them in the big downtown stores. She enjoyed it, and this sparked a thought: thousands of house-locked young mothers sometimes pay out as much as $30 for a baby-sitter, lunch and transportation to go downtown for a $25 blouse. Mrs. Westerberg, with the backing of her husband and family, took $5000 out other savings and began bringing things to young mothers’ homes. Today her home shopping service, known as Queen’s-way to Fashion is a more than $20-million-a-year business.
Possibly the most important single element in bringing an idea into being is simply believing in it and hanging onto that belief. Matt Kieman was an aggressive young salesman of business education courses. His golden idea came during his daily two hours of commuting from Port Jefferson to New York City on the Long island Rail Road. He proposed to his employer that the company hire a railroad car and present its courses to commuters.
Management couldn’t see the idea “at that time.” But every day that Mat watched people on the 6:42 sleeping, wasting precious hours, the idea gnawed at him. Finally, he resigned his job, rented a railroad car, built two classrooms in it, formed a company called “Edutran.” Adelphi University supplied professors, books and the curriculum, as we as 55 commuting graduate students. Matt’s program-now known as “Adelphi-On-Wheels”-expanded to two other eastern railroads and 200 students.
Where do creative ideas come from? For an answer, observe yourself. Do you do your best thinking at your desk or when you’re away from the job? Do your hunches come in a flurry for several days, then dry up for a month or so? You can study and take advantage of these patterns. Do your ideas jump out at you when driving? Pull out of traffic to write them down while the bloom is on.
Ask other people about their creativity tricks and adopt any that suit you. An industrial designer confided to me that when he’s really stuck, he walks through a war surplus store; there he invariably finds some gadget that helps break the idea jam. A middle-management friend pretends that he’s president of his company, and imagines what he would change first. Many people abandon a good idea when they get hung up on a “missing ‘link” that they can’t resolve. Professionals in creative jobs encounter the same gaps, but they leave them blank while they work out the rest of the idea. Whatever the problem, a good idea should keep burning a hole in the pockets of your mind. Keeps the idea simmering. Your subconscious mind will work on it while you’re eating, sleeping, doing chores. Don’t give up. Your hunches may be your future!
By William D. Ellis