CRAYON BOX 5: Creative Lessons from Michael Jackson

2 11 2009

No one struck by lightning expects to be struck by lightning, unless maybe they stand in the middle of an open area during a brewing storm holding a golf club. I had an idea for the Crayon Box 5, however I was struck by the unassuming creative lightning bolt today. I went with a group of friends to see This Is It, the movie documentary giving a sneak peak to Michael Jackson’s rehearsals for his final concert or what he called his “The last curtain call.”

Growing up I was always a fan of Michael’s music and his music videos. I use to watch the Thriller video over and over and over again until I think I wore the tape out. I will admit I was mostly drawn into the movie magic and makeup for the zombie/werewolf behind the scenes done by Rick Baker, none the less it was a full entertainment package.  Below are some of the amazing behind the scenes makeup FX of Thriller.

I use to lip sink into an MJ toy Microphone to his vinyl records. Yes for the young ones out there, real LP’s with the soft scratches and the wonderful pops!

My sister and I both had MJ figurines, and even the iconic sparkling glove. As I grew up I was never a die hard fan, but I did buy his music here and there and sing at the top of my lungs to his music wile driving in the magic car bubble where anyones vocals sound amazing.

Now we all know there has been harsh criticism of his personal life and many allegations, none of which have been proven. You might choose to believe or not believe in the allegations, but for a moment let us put all of that aside. As I sat in the theatre watching This Is It I was witness to something very special. Getting the chance to see behind the scenes into MJs creative process, leadership, innovation, storytelling, and humanity left me in awe.

We all know MJ was an amazing talent. What grabbed me however was watching him tweak, test and re-polish everything from lighting, to vocals, instrumentals, dance moves, staging and more. Michael had that ability to feel the moment then realize the vision both before and after trial runs. If the lighting or guitar came up too quick after a pause in his dance choreography, he would pause and calmly say something like, “No…no wait a bit, let it simmer, bam then bam, let the note simmer longer, get all of it then we BAM with the lights and second note” When they ran through it again, you could see how he was able to squeeze every drop out of a perfectly choreographed moment. That new refined moment brought me to chills even though I just saw the same sequence 1 minute earlier with little to no effect.

MJ had the Midas touch with his dancers as he polished off moves. He would push his guitarists to new levels by refining notes and beats. He would fix the temp simply by humming or beat boxing with his lips to the music director or musician. When they filmed special backdrop scenes he was there to plan out every step of the way. When something didn’t feel right, he would stop, and find away to do it better. Seeing a test run, and then what his tweaks did to improve every detail was again inspiring.

I started to realize he was more than a singer and dancer known as the King of Pop. Michael Jackson was a creative genius, innovator, and leader. Every time he had to stop his rehearsal, he would know exactly what was wrong, and push his team to do better. The amazing part, was he had no attitude about it. Michael would thank them for trying and teach them how to do it better. He would explain, apologize for miscommunication and thank them for their patience, a graciousness Im sure came with age. MJ often finished his corrections with, “…it’s all for love.” 

The preview of the movie below is the only one that shows enough to truly catch the essence of what I am trying to explain and I recommend watching it.  Pay attention to how he interacts with his cast, his voice overs as he speaks to his team, as well as the part where he is beat boxing to explain how he was the bass to sound.

We can learn a great deal from Michael Jackson and his creative process. As a creative we should always be pushing the boundaries and innovating. We should care about what we do, the message we are sending and make our teams a part of a creative family. We should teach and show people what we want instead of only demanding what we want. We should try our vision many times and refine it along the way, and when we are done do it all over again. Last but surely not the least, we should look to others for inspiration. Michael said it best “The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.” Thanks Michael.

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CRAYON 6: Play with Your Food

28 10 2009

I use to play with my food and if I remember correctly it was not frowned upon. As long as I ate it I was free to build forts out of mashed potatoes and make faces out of breakfast bacon and eggs. Now I never really got into full face dives with piggy oinks, like that of the Randy in Christmas Story.

I did however, use to take flower and water and mix it in bowls pretending I was a chef and loved it.  I used food coloring, fake spices, and even dog treats for color.  I didn’t eat it I just had fun with it.  Play-doh was originally homemade flour,water and salt with food coloring right?  Why not get creative again with food for both play, eating, and presentation?   Playing with your food can be more than a way to delay eating food that you would rather not taste.  I urge you to play with your food. You can have a Souper hero spoon, a face to decorate, make sculptures, turn a boring hotdog into redneck octo-sushi.

You can play tic-tactoe on toast and more.  

Sometimes the food you play with might not even be edible…Bacon band-aides anyone?  

Next time you sit at the table or want to make dinner a bit more interesting, drop the salt and pepper and play with your food.  If you get to sling gooey rainbows of culinary slop at everyone at the table, like in the movie hook, Bangeranggg to you!

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CRAYON 4: Bring a "Kids" Lunch Box to work

22 10 2009

So I work with all different kinds of creative people, and one thing that makes me smile on the way into work is what many people carry into work. What they carry says as much about the person as it does about my group I work with. The item I am referring to would be the lunch pails and boxes in all shapes, sizes and materials. I have seen them in plastic and cloth, and even the wonderful Thermos brand that are  all plastic with a matching a thermos. There are designer lunch boxes and even state of the art lunch boxes.

These aren’t just containers holding a meal to tie one over until dinner. No these metal and plastic rectangles are badges of youthful honor. The majority of the art on the lunch boxes are what some might call “childish.” These are not childish they are brilliant.  It is incredibly satisfying to see a guy who is 42, with a wife and kids walk into the front door with a Superman tin lunch pale. Anyone who says “thats childish” I truly feel sorry for them. Walt Disney said it best…

“Why do we have to grow up? I know more adults who have the children’s approach to life. They’re people who don’t give a hang what the Joneses do. They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought – sometimes it isn’t much, either.” – Walt Disney

My current lunch box model is a plastic Thermos with Duck Tales on it (pictured below). Unfortunately it has broken latches so I am on the hunt for a new one. Go and check out ilovethe80s or some other web searches to find a lunch box that brings you back to your youth, or just puts a smile on your face. It could be an A-Team or My Little Pony box, could be Disney, The Lone Ranger, Magnum PI, The Beetles, or even a Partridge Family lunch box. Don’t even think for a moment what others might think. I guarantee they will be impressed, intrigued and want to find one for themselves…and if anything they will be jealous of your individuality. If not, I pity the FOOL!   

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CRAYON 2: Build a Fort or Tent!

20 10 2009
So I had 3 chairs, 1 table, about 5 bedroom linen sheets, maybe a sleeping bag or two, and a flashlight.   What I really had was a wagon covered river raft just like in the game Oregon Trail.  With a friend, we sailed the high seas, braved the Amazon and Congo, floated through monster infested waters that occasionally turned into molten lava.  We even managed to wire a TV with a VHS to watch Labyrinth or Goonies on the tented raft  Top it all off with junk food, soda pop, and pixie stix and it was bliss.  

Some how we were able to sleep in the tent, interrupted only by the occasional collapsing of the tent in the middle of the night, which was just the monster “Three Horn” playing tricks on us.  So I challenge you as an adult or parent to build a tent in doors out of sheets and other found objects, watch a movie and bring the junk food.  Oh yeah and flashlights are an effective way to scare off “Three Horn.”  Trust me.    

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CRAYON 1: Play a Board Game

19 10 2009

Here is a quick single crayon to smell. Go grab a board game, for that matter go grab one that is not meant for adults. No really, do it, and play it with a friend or two. The key here is to choose a game that you use to play as a kid and see what happens. My favorites were Clue, Operation, Mouse Trap, Win Loose or Draw, Hungry Hungry Hippo, Candy Land, Battleship, and the others below.
Remember Ants in the Pants and Cooties? They are so simple and brought me right back to being a kid. My sister loved Mystery Date, but I chose to use that game board and her Easy Bake Oven as a torture chamber for my G.I. Joes. 
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CRAYON BOX 1: Smelling Crayons Leads to Better Creativity?

7 10 2009

There I was watching some creative guru on stage spewing out a wealth of knowledge on creativity, when I heard him repeat a statement I had heard twice before. With squinted eyes and a lean forward, as if to share a secret he said, “Studies show the simple smell of crayon increases creativity in the human brain.” With out much more explanation he moved on with his brilliant talk, however he just invited my mind to a cerebral dinner with no address or e-vite Google map. So what happens when you smell of box of Crayolas?

I mean, should I be grounding this stuff up and snorting my favorite color green? For most people when you smell crayons, as an adult, there will be a cerebral flash back to child hood. Most can relate to this as many of us have used crayons through out childhood. I started to tinker, in my apparently crayon needy brain, how does this smell supposedly make us more creative as adults? Through out my life and design career I have studied thought process, creative problem solving, and our brain. 

“There is no doubt that smell is a powerful sense. The olfactory system, the apparatus responsible for our sense of smell, has a pathway in the brain closely associated with the limbic system. The limbic system contains the amygdala and the hippocampus parts of the brain, which are closely associated with emotion and memory respectively.” (BBC)

Think of smells that might remind you of the holidays, or a favorite meal, and it takes you there. The smell of fresh cut grass is my flux capacitor and 1.21 gigawatts later I have been transported to my childhood summers in Chicago. These summers are filled with lazy evenings, no school, baseball, cooking out, and fireflies. As nostalgic memories wash over me in warm waves, my very mind set changed. I came to realize crayons might bring us back by way of nostalgia to a childlike thought process. So I went and bought a box, opened it for a smell. Without many specific memories, it did still take me back and made me smile. I felt free, I felt happy, and I felt a change in my mind set. Now how does this mind set apply to my creative process?

If you give a child a problem to solve they tend to find interesting and unique solutions to the problem because they have no statue of limitations. A friend of mine told me that her daughter said she wanted to create a sculpture. She supported it and let her daughter use any supplies from the family art bin. When her daughter was done, she took her by the hand and had her mother close her eyes. As the mother got ready and opened her eyes, she expected some kind of play-doh or popsicle stick man. She opened her eyes to find an open closet with clear scotch tape hanging from the clothing rack, in balled up interesting shapes.

Here was a little girl that had no clear definition or limitations of what a sculpture is and she defined it in a unique and brilliant way. Picaso said it best, “It took be 4 years to paint as Raphael, but it took me a life time to paint as a child.” When I have brainstorms I bring in people from outside the category so there is less expertise. These non-experts tend to have fresh and new ways of approaching the same problems we are trying to solve, or innovate, because they do not know about the statute of limitations.

Part of the creative process is dreaming up a solution to a problem, with hurdles such as cost, lawyers, limitations, or rules. Recently Scientists have talked about how Star Trek sci-fi gadgets have influenced them in the experimentation and creation of everything from the invention of digital thermometers to cell phones. The TV show creatives came up with the gadgets on the show with no limitations and the real scientist of the world used those dreams of fiction as a creative spark for innovation. Creatives, dreamers, and artists inspire the technology, engineering, legislation, business, and builders of tomorrow. This process is no different than allowing a child like mind set with no limitations, to come up with creative solutions then guiding that idea with a unwavering optimism.

When I lead brainstorm, I have boxes of crayons everywhere. I have everyone pick up a box and take a smell. Watching the light bulbs and nostalgia set in is amazing. Along with the nostalgia smells, one process I actually use is a kid-storm. In a kid-storm I have everyone in the group approach the problem like a 1st grader. I assign the problem like a teacher would. The group can only use crayons and paper, and doodle with their non-dominant hand, a drawing of an idea from the depths of their inner child bases on what we are brainstorming. The ideas have a budget of 10 bazillion dollars to work with, zero limits, and can even use magic. We then review the ideas and find a way to make them a reality. The ideas end up being unique, amazing, fresh, and innovative.

So next time you find your self in the isles of Target or Walgreens, be sure to buy a 79 cent pack of crayons and have a smell. Hold on tight and tell me where you end up. Just be sure if do, to remember to bring some high grade plutonium to get you back to the future. I forgot the plutonium and I am stuck with my child like brain waves of 1982 and to be honest, I am OK with that.

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