Sourcing Creativity

We met for breakfast in the ground floor restaurant of the antique Foshay Tower (now the W Hotel) in downtown 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 and shook hands.  When the waitress came to take our order John had not even glanced at his menu.  He was busy watching an antique car stopped at the traffic light nearby.

“Bring me something out-of-the-ordinary,” John requested.  “And, any new fangled tea flavor you might have.”  I instantly realized he was a man in search of new experiences.  When the waitress started to tell him some of the more off-the-beaten-path menu items, John stopped her.  “Just surprise me!”  He made my two eggs over easy with grits and bacon seem rather blasé!

After a few typical interview questions I asked him how he came up with ideas for cartoons.  “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.”

“The cool ideas are everywhere..You have to let it work you as much as you making it work.” he said.

“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 talked about 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 on the sidewalk by our window with a beagle hound 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 an obvious passion welling up in his countenance.  As he began to draw, the woman at the table beside us ordered a cappuccino.  “Aha,” said John.  “Let’s have the dog drinking a cappuccino!”  And with that, his drawing pen went to work.  He portrayed the dog with lots of steamed-milk foam on his mouth.

With a wide-eyed look of satisfaction 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 the 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 did you 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 books.

It happens when you are placed in a position to experience energy in action and join with it.

Creativity comes from choosing the light – a sort of table by the window.  It happens when you are placed in a position to experience energy in action and join with it.  Creativity is the result of focused daydreaming, letting reality blend with fantasy in a non-judgmental manner.  It surfaces when you are willing to take the risk to rearrange order and upset the tried and true.  Creative people effortlessly ignore mind-limiting barriers and laugh at conventions that are mere form.  They find joy in the simplicity of life and allow themselves to be completely free to wonder as a child.  They are friends of the bizarre; partners with the uncommon.

Creativity happens when passion becomes the magical bond that links head and heart.  Failure is merely feedback, never rejection.  Ideas are treated as old friends at a large party—there are no hurt feelings if visitation time runs out since they will be there for the next adventure. John demonstrated a flow without a pause button.  He showed an obvious 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 play!
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Image credit: designpics / 123RF Stock Photo

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several national best-selling books including Take Their Breath Away, Managing Knock Your Socks off Service, Managers as Mentors, The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service, and Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service. His newest book is: Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.. Global Gurus ranked him both in 2014 and 2015 as the #1 keynote speaking in the world on customer service. His has appeared live on CNN, CNBC, Fox Business, ABC, Bloomberg TV, NPR and his work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, Money Magazine, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CEO Magazine, Fast Company and Businessweek. He can be reached at

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