BURFORD “BONEHEAD” HARRIS wasn’t stupid, just a little stubborn. But calcified in his thinking though he might have been, he exemplifies a facet of human creativity that cannot be ignored. And like the stopped clock that’s right twice a day, his inclusion in the Pioneers of Creativity serves to remind us that an idea is an idea, even if it ends up being a horrendously, stupendously, ridiculously idiotic one.
And here’s how that happened.
As we’ve all heard from time to time, creativity thrives, and thus ideas flow best, in an atmosphere free of criticism and harsh judgment, and our brainstorming is most effective when it follows one essential ground rule: there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Unfortunately in Harris’s day, this concept was not yet widely accepted.
Burford worked in an era when bad ideas were not only criticized openly, but any individual who proposed one would be physically attacked by colleagues and beaten soundly about the head and shoulders with rolled-up newspapers.
“Bonehead” Harris had so many bad ideas in fact, and was so insistent and relentless in offering them up despite the consequences, that his coworkers had to employ a tag-team approach in any brainstorming session that involved him.
As a result of this almost constant pummeling, not only did Burford’s colleagues become themselves exhausted, but his head grew even harder, eventually taking on the appearance of a cow pelvis.
Now back to that horrendously, stupendously, ridiculously idiotic idea. One day, while his teammates were wacking away on Burford’s pelvis-like head with their rolled-up newspapers, he sat writing in his notebook of really bad ideas. At one point he suddenly stopped writing, looked at his notebook, and read aloud the words, “Housebreak a dog by spanking it with a rolled-up newspaper.”
To his coworkers, this sounded brilliant, and they immediately dropped everything to run home and employ this revolutionary, though cruel, technique of dog training. Of course, we now know that spanking a dog with a rolled up newspaper only scares the pee out of it, but like people used to say, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The point of the story is that ideas, like people, are neither good nor bad in and of themselves, but must be allowed unfettered expression in an atmosphere free of judgment and condemnation, their consequences to be evaluated and acted upon separately. Only not with a rolled-up newspaper.
THE “PIONEERS OF CREATIVITY” ARE THE FORGOTTEN HEROES OF ADVERTISING & MARKETING, HERE TO REMIND US THAT CREATIVITY IS A WELLSPRING, AND IF WE TRY TO INTERFERE WITH THE SMOOTH FLOW OF IDEAS, THINGS ARE GOING TO BACK UP AND SOMEBODY’LL HAVE TO CALL A PLUMBER.