Wow! Yesterday, Bill Watterson, today Berke Breathed. Cool. Enjoy these links.
Penguins and things
I got the chance to meet Berke Breathed early in my career while visiting a girlfriend of mine who was attending UT Austin. Berke was the second most famous guy on campus at the time just behind this running back named Earl Campbell. Breathed had just published a book of his wildly popular cartoon strip “The Academia Waltz” that he was doing for the Daily Texan, UT’s student newspaper.
The thing that struck me most when first meeting Berke was how absolutely accidental the whole cartooning thing was for him. Here I was, doing everything I could to become a cartoonist, drawing constantly, studying the art form and immersing myself in anything that had to do with comics. And there was Berke, doodling these amazingly hilarious strips about college life, seemingly unaware he was creating brilliance along the way, with this “I could really care less about cartoons” kind of attitude. It was, as you can imagine, somewhat maddening. We crossed paths now and then throughout the years but, unfortunately, never became friends.
But his work was another matter. It became, at the time anyway, the ultimate example of a successful comic strip. Millions of adoring fans, millions of dollars in the bank account and millions of cartoonists who wanted to be just like him. The first complete anthology of Bloom County strips is now available, a worthy exploration into, perhaps, the last great social-political cartoon commentator of our time (no offense to Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury). I highly recommend it.
One of the things that has driven me crazy about Breathed is his flippant and canned answers he has given in the numerous interviews he has given during his career. It was if he was running a marketing campaign to spin his career into cutesy, dismissive quotes, with little substance or insight into the real human being who drew penguins with big noses and influenced an entire generation with his own unique brand of humor and satire. Finally someone got it right. Rather than bore you any further with my ramblings into the creative genius of Berke Breathed, I’ll simply point you to this new LA Times interview, where finally, Breathed drops his guard long enough to show us the real and authentic voice behind Bloom County.
The Mind Blender...Sure to give you more than just whirled peas.
This is just a little contraption I came up with to try and jolt the old creative juices. One word of caution. Don’t try to blend all of these at one time unless you really want to end up like Christopher Walken. Oh. And One more thing. Make sure the lid is on. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Creative brainstorming in the corporate environment can often be a challenge. There’s almost always someone in room who doesn’t speak enough and always someone who speaks way too much. Egos can impede the entire process, particularly if one of them happens to be the boss. An overbearing manager can bring the entire process to a screeching halt leaving some fantastic ideas, ideas that make you money, totally unexplored.
Creativity in today’s workplace is needed now more than ever. Thousands of businesses nationwide are passing up a golden opportunity to innovate, which is vital for survival, simply out of fear. The newspaper business, which is where I spent the bulk of my career as a cartoonist, is a prime example of an industry afraid to change, afraid to invest the money it takes to reinvent the business model. Papers across the country are laying off some of their most creative talent and cutting content to save money in a time when they need to be totally committed to out-of-the-box creativity and innovation.
So what can we learn from the collaborative relationship of John Lennon and Paul McCartney that can translate to the corporate environment? Plenty. I think there are some key elements that Lennon and McCartney used to create some of the most lasting music of our time that we can incorporate into the day to day creative brainstorming in the workplace.
Brainstorming with the Beatles
1. Check the egos at the door. To have successful sessions of creative brainstorming it’s vital that everyone is free to pitch ideas equally. There can’t be a pecking order and there can’t be a room full of yes sir, bobble heads. Unless, of course, you want really crappy ideas that make the boss feel like he’s Einstein when his creative IQ is more like Goofy. The reason Lennon-McCartney worked so well is there was mutual respect. It worked for them and it can work for you.
2. Give every idea a chance. Everyone involved in the session must be totally free to submit whatever idea they have on their minds without the fear of ridicule or apprehension. I’m pretty sure the idea for the song “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” sounded a little lame at the time.
3. Be the Yin to their Yang. Lennon-McCartney did the bulk of their songwriting by throwing out small ideas that were the exact polar opposite in lyrical content of the song they were working on. Always remember that “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time” was countered with “It doesn’t get much worse”. That’s Yin and Yang.
4. Be Fearless of Failure. Not every song the Beatles recorded was a hit. Don’t expect every brainstorming session to be one either. Keep digging and eventually something will click .
5. Find the right atmosphere to Create in. Lennon and McCartney did a lot of their creating in hotel rooms and recording studios. While those places can be stifling, kind of like the boardrooms we brainstorm in, you can bet they were comfortable and relaxed. Have a day of casual dress, meet at a bowling alley and do your brainstorming while bowling a few frames. Break out the Hawaiian shirts, put on some Jimmy Buffett, string up a few Christmas lights in that boardroom and start the meeting over Virgin Pina Coladas and Margaritas. Now that’s an atmosphere you can create in
6. Check the cell phones and blackberries at the door. Distractions are the mortal enemy of creativity. Sure, a bowling alley isn’t exactly quiet, but it’s a lot better than someone taking a cell phone call in the middle of a brilliant brainstorm. Set aside the time and treat it with care. Lennon and McCartney wrote about Penny Lane, not ON Penny Lane. And neither should you.
7. It’s brainstorming not brain surgery. Some people thrive under pressure and great things can be created under a tight deadline but to put expectations on every session is just not conducive to great brainstorming. Sure Paul McCartney got the melody and structure for the song “Yesterday” all at one time. But he went around singing “scrambled eggs” for weeks until he could find a lyric more suitable for the song. So throw some windup toys on the boardroom table, cater in some ice cream and have some fun while you’re thinking up the next great idea. Relax. It’s only brainstorming.
‘Life moves pretty fast – if you don’t stop and look around, you could miss it.’ Ferris Bueller
National Lampoons Vacation
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Breakfast Club
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
John Hughes created some of the most indelible and memorable movies of the last 30 years. He defined an entire genre of films that resonated with teenagers and their parents alike, because they were based on truth and authenticity. Hughes believed in creating strong characters that were anchored by honesty and some serious inner soul searching. It’s the biggest reason why the movies that John Hughes made had such an incredible impact on an entire generation of moviegoers.
There’s a lot we can learn from the John Hughes creative process. He was uncompromising in his method of storytelling, refusing to write movies and projects he did not believe in. He worked fast, but only after research had finely tuned his initial spark of an idea.
Here’s just a few highlights and insight into the creative mind of John Hughes
1. He took a risk.
Much like last weeks Incubator spotlight on Bone cartoonist Jeff Smith, Hughes had a very defining moment when he decided to follow his dream. After tremendous success at a Chicago ad firm, Hughes had an epiphany, He simply did not want to come to the end of his life not knowing if he could have been a writer on his own terms. So Hughes left his job at the ad agency, even with his wife expecting their second child. He made the final decision after a snowstorm kept him homebound for a week with nothing t do but write. It was then he knew he had to give it a go.
2. He set a time frame. For him it was three years. His wife agreed and he set out to follow his dream.
3. He built a bridge. He did freelance work for the National Lampoon, writing one piece called Vacation that went on to spawn several hilarious film movies starring Chevy Chase. So even though he quit his day job he still had the bridge of freelance to help pay the bills.
4. He worked fast, believing that good story telling begins with not censoring yourself along the way, instead refining the piece only after getting to the end. How fast? Two days to finish Sixteen Candles, and eight hours to polish off the last 40 pages of Home Alone.
5. He worked off of what he referred to as “benchmarkmoments”. Those times in life when we find ourselves having to adapt to change. Marraige, Death, Gruduation, the birth of a child. He also believed in upbeat endings which is perhaps one of the reasons we find his movies so appealing.
6. He wrote knowing which audience he was writing to.
7. He wrote what he knew but also believed in writing as a “process of discovery”, Writer Joshua James explains Hughes process best when he says “If it’s going to be any good, you’re going to have to find your way in to a part of yourself that you didn’t know existed, so that reading it, your readers can go to places inside themselves that they didn’t know existed.” James continues “He created characters who had the spark of life and truth which only comes from going deep into those unexplored places — if a writer doesn’t do that, he/she will never create anything but cliches and cardboard cutouts”. Planes, Trains and Autombiles was loosely based on an actual incident in his life. His movies based on his memories as a teenager were actually filmed at his former High School.
8. He kept “idea books” jotting things down, generally from his sponge-like observations of his own experiences as well as the experiences of others.
9. He made movies for himself. If your writing is based on authenticity it will resonate with its intended audience.
10. He believed music was a key component to creative storytelling. If you haven’t seen Breakfast Club in awhile, do so now and you’ll see a perfect example of why.