Less Is More
I'm not big on inventors or entrepreneurship, in general. That sort of stuff doesn't excite me much. The guy who came up with the iPod is clearly brilliant and I reap the benefits of his work, sure, but it is something so out of my realm of thinking, I have no relationship to the invention or any insight into the processes that got him to that Eureka! moment. Smart inventor guy. Good for him. He should meet the guy who invented Playstation 2. I'm sure they'd have lots to talk about.
However, occasionally an invention/innovation will come along that will floor me with its simplicity and elegancy. For example, when I was younger, way younger, like, Junior High, I came up with an idea I thought was brilliant. It was a fake car alarm for those who couldn't afford one! I had a whole manufacturing plan in place, too. It would be a tiny box running on a watch battery. One side would be sticky stuff so you could affix it to your dashboard, the other side would hold a blinking red light. When you left your car, you would turn it on and the light would blink, indicating you had a car alarm so robber, please move along. The other part of the package would be a very realistic sticker you would affix to your window, also indicating you had an alarm. Secondary evidence, as it were. "But wouldn't people get wise to the fake alarm company name?" Well, I would print five hundred different stickers! Confusing everyone, including the would-be burglars! Laziness and beer and, like, the prom kept me from ever doing it, and then of course, someone else did. Sure, maybe they did it before I ever had the idea. I don't know. All I know is I'm not a millionaire and I don't have a hot tub.
Here are two people who have hot tubs, and whose work I'm currently astounded by its elegance and simplicity and eau de business genius:
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS
Alright, naturally, everyone on the Internet loves them, including me. I've been to numerous shows, have most of their CD's, etc. geekness, etc. But I'm currently on their jocks not for the clever songs and eclectic artistry. No. I'm crushing on them right now because they started writing music for children.
It seems very simple, but most great ideas do. Never best sellers, TMBG's, after dabbling in television scoring and musicals, released a children's album a few years back called "No!" It sold more than their normal releases do. And that got them thinking, boy. They wrote two more children's albums, "Bed, Bed, Bed," and "Here Come The ABC's," and expanded their new tot business, aggressively inking deals with Disney and Simon & Schuster. Crass and selling out? Well, no. Not at all. For one thing, TMBG's music has always been creative and humorous and experimental and sonically accessible and playful, all of which lends itself perfectly to music geared at children. The other half of that is that they are such good songwriters -- and because of that playful spirit already inherent in their music -- one doesn't get the sense that writing about the letters "LMNO," for example, would be a come down from writing about purple toupees or James K. Polk. It's difficult to imagine that they would find suddenly, partially gearing their work towards children binding or dispiriting; like the look behind the eyes of failed action star Vin Diesel as he promotes The Pacifier.
The other reason I admire this move from a tactical standpoint, is that finally parents have something to listen to other than cloying shit like Raffi. Additionally, old-school TMBG fans are popping out kids left and right! Perfect timing! Granted, weird little babies who get read Dave Eggers books as they drift to sleep and grow up on Soy Milk and the sound of daddy playing online gladiator games in the other room, but children nonetheless. Everybody wins!
THE GUY WHO INVENTED COINSTAR
I have a serious gay crush (unless it's a woman) on whoever concocted this fucking thing:
"Here's my sales pitch. People will give me their money. I will give it right back to them... but they'll only get 91% of their money back. That's all I do for them. I TAKE money from people, and they are happy about it afterwards. Who's in?"
Coinstar is genius. It is actually the "Change Bank" sketch from Saturday Night Live come to life. It's the most simple, perfect thing I've ever heard of, because everyone walks away happy! Banks stopped accepting loose bulk change and rolling coins is a fucking tedious endeavor. Enter Coinstar with its happy green machine, chillin' at the supermarket next to the firestarting logs and the dog food, casting shadows over the cheap-ass vending machines spitting out Homies and seven Skittles for a quarter. Coinstar doesn't even have to give you shit It just takes. Takes and takes and then prints out a tiny receipt for part of your own money back. And you walk away happy! Pure evil genius.
So They Might Be Giants and Coinstar, I salute you.
Now if you could just figure out at way to work a Roomba into your next offerings, I'll marry you both.