Idea Machine!

Kids are natural-born problem solvers and creators. Until they reach a certain age (10? 11?) they see no obstacles in overcoming challenges of any size or scope to make wonderful things that are easy to take for granted. My little dude is 7 and has no shortage of imagination or solutions-oriented spirit – he comes up with dope ideas almost every single day.

One of the many things I’m grateful for this year is the way he unknowingly shows me the value of iterating and innovating using a limited set of materials and parameters through a simple yet challenging exercise: he asks me to draw a unique napkin for his lunch each day using just a few colored markers and our imaginations.

When he first started asking, I thought we’d run out of ideas pretty quick. Here we are, more than 4 years later, and our idea machine has become a prolific part of our lives that gives us great joy.

Silly? Maybe but this silly exercise has translated into serious value in other parts of my life, opening my heart and mind to new and more diverse approaches to solutions both personally and professionally.

My little boy shares his ideas so freely, too, it’s impossible to not be inspired by the power of a child’s natural gifts for collaboration. For example, I learn from him how teams work best when each member brings even something seemingly small to the table.

I don’t always remember to take pictures of them but here are some of our favorites (out of hundreds now):

A big, smokey explosion with stuff flying everywhere that says BOOM, drawn on a white napkin with a black marker.
“Daddy, today will you please draw an explosion for me? A smokey one with stuff flying everywhere that goes BOOM?”
A dandelion with seeds being blown into the wind, drawn on a white napkin with blue marker.
And, “Will you please draw a blue dandelion with some seeds blowing away in the wind, daddy?”
A rocketship drawn on a white napkin with fire coming out of the engine and you can see the Earth.
“Daddy, will you please draw a rocket ship for me? With fire coming out of the engine + you can see the Earth?”
“Daddy, how about a chicken dressed up like a pumpkin for Halloween?”
A giant squid drawn on a white napkin with a black marker.
“Daddy, today will you please draw a giant squid that’s white? Just by itself, daddy!”
A black bomb drawn on a white napkin with a red, yellow and orange lit wick.
“Daddy, would you please draw a bomb for me? Because I think you’re the bomb, daddy!”
Merry Christmas, daddy
“Daddy, it’s Christmas time! Will you please draw Rudolph for me?”
T Rex
“Daddy, how about today you draw a T-Rex!”
blue. smiling shark
“Will you please draw a friendly, blue shark, daddy? And he’s smiling at us!”
ice mountains with Moon and stars
“Daddy, today please draw some ice mountains and the Moon and stars are shining!”

And, I’m especially in love with the moments when he challenges me to draw things that are way outside my comfort zone with ideas from the imaginations of great artists who’ve inspired us all:

Charles Schulz' Woodstock. His yellow head and shoulders drawn on a white napkin.
“Daddy, will you please draw Woodstock for me today?”

“Daddy, how about you draw Hobbes?”

“Hey, dad! I know! Draw Beaker!”
“Daddy, can you draw Donald Duck, please? He’s kinda hard.”
“Just keep swimming! Draw Dory, daddy!”
“Okay, daddy, today please draw Wall-E.”

This is all just to say that it’s often seemingly little things, in the unsuspected parts of life, that inspire me in everything I do. The best part? He’s starting to draw with me:

Until my sweet pal showed up (now 7 years old), I didn’t know or even think I could draw well at all but, thanks to his inspiration, I’ve a new love for challenges like these that nudge me to be more innovative in ways both big and small.

Someday you might find and read this, sweet pal, and be reminded how grateful I am for you, for getting to be your daddy, and for the many gifts of inspiration and love you give to me. No small thing. Thank you. I love you.