“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless,” said Thomas Edison, who found more than 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb.
Well, apparently I am in good company. I intended to make a pair of mittens to match my recently crocheted black scarf and hat, but the next thing I knew, I had a mitten that was the right shape and the wrong size—unless, of course, you are an NBA basketball player. I thought about it a while, knowing I did not want to rip out the stitches. I also did not want to throw the mitten into a cage to be used as hamster bedding, as Josh Peterson suggests in 5 Reuses for Errant Mittens. A few days and several showers later, it hit me that a mitten is really a bag of sorts. Then I began thinking about what you can put inside it, and how you might change the mitten to fit that purpose. The next thing I knew, the Smitten With the Mitten Pencil Case was born: a mitten bag for pencils, felt tip markers and crochet hooks that can close with a drawstring. It also serves as my project for Week 4 of the 52 Weeks Challenge.
To be sure, finding a new use for a single mitten is not exactly rocket science. However, it illustrates the point that creativity is often the result of finding unexpected uses for ordinary items, or of turning an apparent mistake into a boon.
Take cell phones, for example, which grew out of the need for portable versus fixed (land line) telephones. These cell phones have grown up to become smart phones with downloadable applications that enable users to not only converse with each other, but also to take notes, surf the Web, track fitness and dietary habits, pay bills, play games, take photos, translate, convert currency and temperature, read a book and much more. Where bamboo was originally used mainly for patio and lounge furniture, it is now being utilized as natural fencing, incorporated into fabrics and yarns, and substituted for other hard woods in floors, ceilings and wall coverings. The quest for alternative energy sources is itself an exploration in how to use ordinary materials in extraordinary ways.
Spotting alternate uses for what sometimes seems to be a mistake requires an open mind or a sense of playfulness. In 1943 General Electric was seeking an inexpensive substitute for rubber. By combining boric acid and silicone oil, a substance was developed that stretched and bounced more than naturally occurring rubber. Although General Electric shared its discovery with other scientists, most felt that other rubber synthetics were superior. Several years later a copywriter named Peter Hodgson bought the production rights to General Electric’s version of synthetic rubber and introduced it as Silly Putty, a children’s toy, at the International Toy Fair in 1950. Later still, other uses were discovered for this product, such as picking up lint or animal hair with it, holding down tools in a weightless environment, or relieving stress.
Success in creativity often comes about through an initial failure, or a series of failures. In her newsletter article, Discovering the Treasure in Failure (re-posted through permission by Native American beading artist Joni Stinson on her blog, Trail of Treasures), beading artist Margie Deeb writes, “I’ve come to realize that destroying is as much a part of creating as the act of creation.” After investing more than 60 hours in weaving a beaded rope that didn’t meet her expectations, Margie cut, pulled and yanked it apart. In the process, she discovered not only a new design, but she relived memories of her experiences while she created the initial rope. In short, she writes, she developed “a more compassionate view of myself.” Margie managed to turn around her disappointment in the initial outcome of her project, learning from her mistakes and allowing herself to make new discoveries. In short, it really helps to have a constructive outlook.
Being as positive as I can, I’m not sure that a mitten two sizes too big for me will solve the world’s problems, but I’m open to suggestions.
© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.