Build a Better Mouse Trap?
Everything in life is perspective.
Where does that come from? Our subconscious mind, that’s where. Where do those thoughts come from? Our life experiences, whether at the hands of a parent, a teacher, a pastor, a friend, a porn magazine or Vogue. These images lodge embedded in our brain and all our choices are driven from that region, unknowingly, like flying a plane on autopilot.
While studying the distinctions of WHY, WHAT and HOW, this morning I had a flashback. Being a retired high school art teacher this idea intrigued me and loosened the neocortex part of my brain (What and How) and sparked my limbic brain (why).
My days as a high school student started in a newly developed sub division in Nassau County, Long Island, in a built for my family brand new split level house on Rose Lane.
I was shy, introverted, ugly, fat, the oldest of three daughters expected to do everything perfectly, and not directed toward any future other than getting married and getting taken care of. For millennials to read that it wouldn’t be expected for them to understand that ‘getting taken care of’ phrase, but for sure, the boomers get it!
My mother got a peek at my IQ test results (an ancient standardized test culture, before testing became the paramount motivator) and saw I was creative. She insisted I get put into an art class. Now folks, you have no idea how radical that was! When you think of ‘getting taken care of’don’t you naturally think ‘wife, and that thought goes straight to ‘home ec’? NO. ART.
I remember the teacher’s name. It was 9th grade. We had to create a sculpture out of clay. Totally 100% uninspired I started to make something. Going up to the teacher for help, she started to reshape what I had done. This infuriated me, went back to my seat and sulked, then did something radical: I walked back up to her and smashed what SHE created and said, ‘I’m doing this MYSELF!” She gasped. Our relationship was never the same, neither were my art grades. ‘Maurice” was a very ugly three dimensional head in clay with a mustache. Since he looked french to me I named him Maurice. To this day I still can picture that face!
The art teacher never taught with the motivation of WHY, but WHAT to make and HOW to make it: Her How. It was always an outside job and, again, to this day, I can’t recall a motivating WHY from those days decades ago. It’s no wonder the education system in the US is one of the lowest in the civilized world.
Sinek, in his book START WITH WHY, says this:
“Average companies give their people something to work on. In contrast, the most innovative organizations give their people
something to work toward…
But great companies give their people a purpose or
challenge around which to develop ideas rather than simply
instruct them to make a better mouse trap….
Companies with a clear sense of WHY tend to ignore
competition, whereas those with a fuzzy sense of
WHY are obsessed with what others are doing.”
Think of a mouse trap. How many of you automatically went to the wooden slab with a spring? I did. When I googled ‘mouse trap’, all these images came up. How cool… a trap that actually has a compartment for the deceased victim to be hidden inside.
The other picture above shows a completely obscure idea: A Mouse trapping people. It’s called Disney World. Had the conventional world of What and How had their way, Walt Disney would have thrown in the towel and quit the idea of building an empire around a rodent called Mickey. Had he quit his WHY – to create an endearing cartoon character to brighten the lives of people – had he used the old wooden spring-slab mouse trap, Mickey would have been dead before the first animator conjured up the 2D mouse that could sing and dance.
Had Walt gone after the What – draw the mouse, then found an artist to achieve the How, Mickey would have died on the lightening bolt, life giving table (picture the creation of Frankenstein). But Disney created Mickey from WHY. Not from What or How. What was the outcome? A global phenomenon. What do you think it created? Exactly what Walt set out to do – bring joy and happiness to humanity, especially children.
He relied on his people, his staff, to create innovative ideas, bring Mickey to life, generate a generation. He gave them a challenge to develop ideas rather than make a better mouse trap. Although, folks, he DID make a better mouse trap. Didn’t he!
I often wonder, had my first high school art classes contained WHY, who knows where I’d be now. Perhaps in the realm of Vera Wang, or Oscar De La Renta, or Stella McCartney… or Irving Penn, Richard Avedon… I LOVED fashion photography! Instead, I wound up inspiring, not manipulating; giving my students a WHY behind every art project that juiced them up to figure out the best How to do it, respect others viewpoint and interpretation, and demonstrate their own personal empowerment to make a statement that was important, valued and impactful. The WHY caused them to anticipate my class everyday. The WHY made the time fly whether it was a 45 minute class or a 90 minute class. Moans could be heard when the warning bell rang. WHY? Because they had to leave their WHY behind and go to the next class, which was always, inevitably, WHAT and HOW. My art room was inside-out. The other subjects were outside-in. I ‘drew out’ what they possessed inside. The others fed them information they would never use again, from the outside.
Lucky for me, my parents decided to move from the stifling suburbs and our beloved split-level into a 3 bedroom apartment in Whitestone, Queens, right after the Throggs neck bridge was completed… up the block from the house where Oscar Hammerstein lived, I made a decision to change my life. I put away being reclusive, alone, shy, quiet, unrecognized. I created a new intention, probably the first time I ever consciously did so, to have a new life in Bayside High School, with 6,000 other kids. I became one of the top 6 artists in the school, had a teacher that looked like Santa Claus on the original Coca-Cola bottles, who was a straight WHY man who changed my life. He challenged me, gave me direction, instilled empowerment, lifted me out of the ‘get married and get taken care of’ syndrome, and got me into the best art education college of it’s day. My parents almost dropped dead when I told them I wanted to go to college. It wasn’t in their plan. But it sure in hell was in mine. I WOKE UP!
I have WHY to thank, always an inside-out kind of girl. I exhort you to start with WHY, begin with purpose, and the universe will open up doors for you never ever conceived before in your wildest dreams. Watch out what you wish for: “When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.”
You gotta know your WHY. It’s your ticket for access and success and learning
Walt & Mickey 1930
more about who you came here to become!