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Tim Burton’s Mom, the Key to Artistic Genius and What’s Wrong with America

Tim Burton — you know, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman — well, there’s a great article on — Tim Burton, at Home in His Own Head — that synthesizes, via a simple anecdote, a few key subjects I’m interested in:

  • Creativity
  • Child development
  • U.S. culture
  • Innovation

Tim Burton:

“If you look at children’s drawings, they’re all great. And then at a certain point, even when they’re about 7 or 8 or 9, they go, “Oh, I can’t draw.” Well, yes, you can. I went through that same thing, even when I started to go to CalArts, and a couple of teachers said: “Don’t worry about it. If you like to draw, just draw.” And that just liberated me. My mother wasn’t an artist, but she made these weird owls out of pine cones, or cat needlepoint things. There’s an outlet for everyone, you know?”

Thank you Tim Burton for making a few things prophetically clear:

  1. Don’t limit yourself. Do new stuff. Even if it’s ‘weird’ or not your typical thing. Your life depends on it.
  2. Kids do best when they get to follow their instincts.
  3. A culture that compulsively values (demands!) grandiose perfection — Lady Gaga or bust — is headed towards irrelevance.
  4. Innovation stems from having freedom to roam and having the freedom to produce “mediocre” stuff.

When my kids (5 and 3) say “I’m going to be an artist when I grow up!” I say proudly: “Well, that would be the finest thing one could ever be.”

To be clear: it’s not that I envision them in an art gallery or behind a drum kit. It’s not the profession that I care about — it’s the mindset… the mindset that looks through boundaries — or doesn’t even see them at all.

So, let’s make some weird owls out of pine cones, shall we?

Follow Tim on Twitter.



Four Marketing Principles I Learned From My Kids

Having kids is like being on Jeopardy for, like, 20 years: they give you the answers, you just have to figure out the questions they’re asking!

And they’ve taught me a lot about marketing. Here’s their insight:

Positioning matters. Ask a 4 year old girl if she wants a pony tail = no! Ask the same girl if she wants ‘super-high, flowing pony hair’ and you’ve got a pretty excited kid standing in line at your feet.

Make it special–novelty matters. If you’re having trouble feeding your kids the same ol’ thing just try cutting things into funky shapes. I keep cookie cutters handy–makes turning a pedestrian pancake into a butterfly easy. All of a sudden they wanna get some. With marketing, every so often, just change course. Keeps clients and prospects on their toes.

Slow down–be sincere. Ever try to read a book on fast forward? My kids called me out on that on the quick. It really made me think: life is about the here and now–if you’re not gonna do it right, don’t do it at all. Your audience isn’t schooled in your products like you are, so slow down a bit–let folks d i g e s t…

Too many choices is counter productive. Kids love choices–and if you stay disciplined, you can get your kids to do a lot of things if you avoid overdoing it. Same with clients, colleagues, direct reports. A or B? that’s a 15-minute decision. A, B, C, Ca, T, R or Z? That’s a black hole.

Get the core stuff right and nothing else matters. Kids love constant change–but they really just want you to love them in a straight-forward and consistent way. Your clients and prospects too: give them something really good and be consistent. Everything else is distracting and confusing.


A Great Example of Positioning

A conversation with my 4-year-old. I’m giving her a ‘tubby’ and…

Me: “Do you want conditioner?”

Her: “NO!”

Me: “Would you like your hair sillllllky and smmmmmooooooth?” [Major affectation added]

Yes: “Yes!”

Wouldn’t it be great if all marketing was this easy?

Lesson: Test, Outcome Over Product, Delivery Matters

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

Tonight I had a moment of parental genius–ahem.

After 2 and a half years of working overtime on putting my youngest to bed, I’ve started to experiment. Tried lots of things. Books got out of control. Can you really read 10 books to your kid at bed time?

I then tried to make my own stories up. She loved that. But, honestly, trying to come up with original stories on the fly is hard work! That lasted a couple of weeks.

Then I noticed that what Lucia really likes is to hear my voice–not really words or sentences. Meaning, as it happens, is less important… the tangible presence of my voice is sufficient to relax her.

So instead of words I started tyring a ‘Sleep Drum’–basically me making repetitive vocalizations. Kinda like a chant. It worked. But it’s hard work to chant for 30 minutes! That lasted a couple of weeks too.

Tonight, folks, I hit gold.

I decided to read ‘a book of just words’–you know, adult books.

Turns out the most kid-friendly book on my shelf is Douglas Adams. She probably only get every 5th word, but she enjoyed it enough to fall asleep within 5 minutes.

Key Lesson: Don’t censor your mind. Outlandish ideas come through time and time again!

Hypothesis: It’s probably easy to tell if someone is spinning a yarn in any language–even if you don’t understand it.