by: David Armano

"Daddy, daddy!  Look what I did!"

That's awesome Max!  ...I replied as any parent would.  We were looking at one of Max's assignments in kindergarten.  It was matching and coloring shapes.  Typical stuff, I thought as my five-year-old skipped away.  But I looked at the paper a little longer.  I couldn't help but notice the teacher's comment.

"Try staying in the lines."

Now, I understand that kids need to learn how to color in the lines.  It teaches them basic coordination and concentration.  But what does it teach them about themselves?  What does it teach them about skills that might serve them well one day in the real world?

Couldn't there be an assignment in addition to coloring shapes that maybe included handing them blank sheets of paper and asking them to invent and name a shape that no one has ever heard of before?  Maybe some kid would come up with a Sqoval, or a Tri-square, or even an Octocircle.  Who knows?  The point is that we do need to be taught to do things like coloring shapes at a young age, but shouldn't we also be taught how to invent, create and look at problems from a totally different perspective?

The Picasso Tree

One morning on my way to work, I hurried to my car while balancing the usual assortment of my laptop bag, coffee and a granola bar.  Just as I was about to pull out, I noticed the tree in our side yard.  Max and I had put one of these "tree faces" on it—a set of eyes, nose and mouth that makes your tree look like something out of Lord of the Rings.

But what caught my eye, was that all the features were mixed up.  The tree looked like Picasso had come by during the night and did some of his best work on it.  I knew immediately what had happened.  So I went back in to ask Max what the story was and he simply replied:

"it looks better that way".

And of course he was right.  It does look better this way.  So needless to say, we kept it as is and are the only house on the block to have a "Picasso Tree"—and an original one no less.  In fact, I think the company who makes these should consider marketing a special line like this.  You can "create your own Picasso Tree", with it's own unique placement of facial features.  YOU can be the artist.

That's what coloring outside the lines will do.  It can take a good idea, and build upon it.  Make into something better, unique, or as someone once said—a “purple cow”  :).  Of course this is something that school can’t always teach us.  But look at the world around us.  What if someone told Steve Jobs to “stay in the lines”, or what if Thomas Edison never tried coloring outside of a line, just to see what would happen?  What about that person at Motorola who thought the world was ready for a unusually thin and stylish phone?  What if that individual just “stayed in the lines”?

Coloring outside of your own personal lines doesn’t mean taking a trip on the bohemian express—but it does mean looking at something differently.  I can imagine little Max taking a step back and looking at his creation.  Sure, the Tree face was cool before, in that Lord of the Rings kind of way.  But now, it’s both cool AND differentiated.  And how many brands can say that about themselves?

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