innovationWe met for breakfast in the antique Foshay Tower (now a W Hotel) in Minneapolis.  My breakfast guest was the renowned cartoonist, John Bush.  Now deceased, his syndicated cartoons were at that time white-hot.  I was there to learn how his mind worked since my co-author, Ron Zemke, and I were in search of someone to illustrate our new business book.

“Let’s sit at the table by the window so we can see the people in the street,” he suggested after we met.  When the waitress came to take our order John had not even glanced at his menu.  “Just bring me something out of the ordinary,” John requested. The waitress started to tell him some of the more off-the-beaten-path menu items and John stopped her.  “Just surprise me!”  He made my two eggs over easy with toast and bacon seem plain vanilla!

After a few typical questions, I asked how he came up with cartoon ideas.  “The cool ideas are everywhere,” he said. “I just pick something and daydream about what it might be like.  You have to let it work you as much as you making it work.”

“Give me an example,” I probed.  John smiled.

“Well, give me a subject, any subject, and let me see where it wants me to take it,” John proposed.  I was struck by how he spoke of ideas as if they were good friends with a mind of their own.  “How about a cartoon about a dog?” I suggested.  A man was at that moment walking by our street side window with a beagle on a leash.  John took out his drawing pad like a kid opening a new box of crayons.

“Why don’t we put the dog in a restaurant like this one having breakfast with his new owner,” John recommended with passion welling up in his countenance.  As he began to draw, the woman at the table nearby ordered a cappuccino.  “Aha,” said John.  “Let’s have the dog drinking a cappuccino!”  And with that, his drawing pen portrayed the dog with lots of steamed-milk foam on his mouth.

With a wide-eyed look he exclaimed, “Done!  All we need is a caption; I think I have just the one!”  He penciled in the lines the dog in the cartoon was speaking to his owner seated across from him at a restaurant table.

“My last owner wouldn’t let me order this, said it made me look crazy!”

I howled.  “That is hilarious,” I said.  But my quest for symmetry forced me to continue:  “But, why not have the caption say, ‘said it made me look mad?’”  I got the best creativity lesson of all.  “The creative part of humor,” John stated, “is to let the viewer fill in the pattern.  There would be little to ‘get’ if you made it totally obvious.  It needs to pop in the viewer’s mind like the punch line of a joke.”  We hired John Bush!  He would ultimately illustrate several of our knock your socks off service books.

Innovative service requires the application of creativity and ingenuity. But, you’re not innovative or creative, you say?  Perhaps you have just not been looking at the right source.  What if you picked something random and applied it to your service experience?  John Bush used a dog walking by.

What if you chose a different set of eyes to examine what you are seeking to solve?  What would a group of first graders suggest? What would Walt Disney do?  What if you turned your problem into a play, a food, a celebration, the combinations are endless.  What if you made your service experience smaller, done alone, done in reverse, done with a guide, greener, more romantic, slower, with elegance, easier, more inclusive, faster, done remotely…keep going!

Innovative happens when you effortlessly ignore mind-limiting barriers and laugh at conventions that are mere form. Become friends of the bizarre; partners with the uncommon.  It happens when you relax with your issue and let it “play us” instead of seeking to control it.  It appears when you engage others in the search—a customer, a colleague or someone unrelated to your problem. Innovation happens when passion becomes the magical bond that links head and heart.  Failure is merely feedback, never rejection.

There is a creative person inside each of us waiting to emerge and make service gourmet in an innovative way.  John demonstrated a flow without a pause button.  He showed an excitement that he could be both spectator and creator thus marveling at the gift that was given to him to express.  And, the ease with which he demonstrated his amazing genius loudly telegraphed that gift was available for anyone willing to request a table by the window and freely play!

Adapted from the award-winning best-seller, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service by Chip R. Bell.  Available through Amazon.

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