Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Think Inside the Box

I can't draw. However, if there were a Museum of Masterfully Finished Coloring Books I would be very well represented there.

As a child, my crayon-rendered portfolios were filled with blue skies, green grass and perfectly aligned red brick walls. There was never a speck of color outside the lines. That's what we all thought we were supposed to do.

One day, as we concentrated so diligently on our work, the purple-grass/orange-clouds people took over. The “creative” types who saw the world not as it was, but as their fertile minds could create it. Suddenly there was poetry that didn't rhyme and those oddly shaped Michelob bottles.

They were thinking outside the box.

The Star-Spangled Banner now took twice as long to sing because the singers kept adding wild notes between the melody.

New age baseball managers started inventing positions. Now they had fifth starters, spot starters, long-relievers, left-handed specialists, short men, middle relievers, set-up men and closers.

Budweiser came up 36 different flavors of beer.

Call it “The Picasso Principle.” It goes something like this: The farther away from the norm that a person can think, the closer to genius he or she is. People who, in a less tolerant age, would have been institutionalized in madhouses were now writing, directing, legislating and designing football uniforms for the University of Oregon.

And I'll admit that those of us who liked to stay inside the lines started to feel a little left out.

But here's a little secret. Not all of those outside-the-box ideas are genius ideas – even when geniuses think of them:

- Thomas Edison built a machine to hunt down ghosts.

- Alexander Graham Bell spent the last 30 years of his life (and a small fortune) attempting to create sheep with six nipples instead of the sheep-standard two.

- Leonardo DaVinci invented shoes that would theoretically allow a person to walk on water. (Seen any water-walkers lately?)

- The Japanese inventor who had a hand in bringing us the floppy disk, CDs, DVDs, digital watches and karaoke machines has a new invention – a spray for a woman's most delicate regions that makes her irresistible to men.

But if some of our great minds have hit a few foul balls, these inventions by lesser lights ought to earn their creators a permanent home in The Out-of-the-Box Thinking Hall of Fame:

- A well-known U.S. company has “a serious product” ready for release (so to speak): Underpants that hide the smell of farts. (No word on its sound-muffling capabilities.)

- Fake breasts that contain milk. Dad wears them so that he may enjoy the bonding experience (but not the tugging experience) of breastfeeding his child.

- The baby mop, which is a wider version of the standard mop, but with no handle. You gently place it under your not-yet-walking toddler, and he or she begins to earn his or her keep as each movement mops the floor.

- Umbrella shoes. Yes, they're tiny umbrellas on the toe of each shoe to keep your feet (but sadly not your ankles) dry.

- The banana guard, which is a plastic receptacle shaped exactly like a banana (but available in designer colors) that can hold the uneaten portion of your peeled banana when it's just too much for you to finish all at once.

- The nose-shaped pencil sharpener. I'll say no more on that one.

- The safety coffin, which offers an escape hatch in case you wake up after a huge mistake has been made.

Actually, that last one makes a lot of sense to me.

So, okay – I will acknowledge the great advances that some of these forward-thinking ideas have brought us. Microwave popcorn is far superior to the old-fashioned Jiffy Pop shake-it-over-a-flame method, for instance. And Velcro … well, you just gotta love that.

But we worker bees deserve some respect, too. How would these magnificent minds know where the box they want to think outside was if we weren't already in there plugging away? And after all, we're the ones who basically serve as the ultimate judges for all of these great ideas, right?

You don't agree? Ask the outside-the-box thinkers who came up with Ben Gay Aspirin, Bic Underwear or New Coke.

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