Thinking Outside of the Box
When it comes to novel ideas, innovations, and inventions, sometimes somebody who doesn’t have work experience in an area outshines those who have been in the industry for years. This is probably why most Israeli start-ups succeed – someone without a background marketing an idea or product starts dreaming about what they’d like to do to solve a problem. They think about what they most want to see if such a marketable commodity existed, and then they work out the details either in their heads and/or while refining their prototype. Procedures for producing the end product have not been dictated by so-called experts who tell the new innovators what to do – rather, the innovators achieve the result out of love of the project. They don’t have the influence of what others have done in the past to develop new wares like what they want to market, and they don’t have the voices telling them what is and isn’t practical to achieve their goals.
These inventors literally “think outside of the box” creating concepts and processes which are so radical yet practical, people wonder why somebody hasn’t thought about the ideas before.
This was illustrated to me this year when I got talked into participating in a “Gingerbread Building” competition sponsored by a semi-local historical society and museum. Usually, we don’t do anything for the actual Christmas Day, but we do get involved in local-fundraising projects this time of year (and give any money we would have spent on Christmas celebrations to deserving charities. We thought, “If the season is supposed to be about the birth of Jesus, then why is everybody else getting the presents besides Jesus?” It just didn’t seem right to our family considering Jesus’s compassion on the poor).
In my life, I had only attempted to make one other gingerbread house and that was years ago to cheer up my comrades in Medical Residency who were feeling low working at the hospital over the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This whimsical little house was from a kit and it turned out okay, but it certainly wasn’t perfect. A lot of additional candy was used to cover-up its flaws, and the extra vibrant colors made the project sparkle. When I took it to my fellow despondent residents, they told me I was too late to make a gingerbread house for Christmas (okay, let’s face it, I bought the kit at a half-off day-after-Christmas sale!) and that they had all started their diets trying to get their New Year’s resolutions off to a good start.
I said, “The reason why I made it was to bring a little cheer and color into our workroom. I know you guys are kind of ‘bummed out’ about having to be here when a lot of you are used to being off. So, I just wanted you to know you were loved, thought of, and appreciated by making this for you. Even if it just sits around as a decoration and it makes you feel loved and appreciated, then it was worth it to make one!” That put a whole new perspective on it and people agreed that they definitely felt like somebody, somewhere cared about them and their morale.
Cake decorating has been a fascinating hobby of mine for a long time, and it can be very therapeutic when one has a lot on one’s mind. After my husband had his terrible motorcycle accident which demolished his shoulder in November and after spending a lot of time trying to work out “all the unpleasant details” related to such an event, I needed to unwind. Even though I had never participated in the gingerbread building contest at the museum (and never even had time to go by and see the entries in the past), I agreed to enter the contest. And, it supported the museum by bringing more people to view the exhibit than they would normally have this time of year.
Since it was for a historical museum, I started thinking about what kind of building would be appropriate to construct. To me, the building had to be uniquely Oklahoman and related to the history of settling this area. After much deliberation, the subject of the Route 66 Round Red Barn near the Oklahoma state capitol was firmly decided upon. (THE US Route 66 – the historic “Mother Road” going from Chicago to Los Angeles, the subject of the old song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66!” and of the 1950s “Route 66” television show.) Oklahoma’s portion of Route 66 is still a major tourist attraction and there are a few iconic buildings left from its heyday, including a round barn built in such a manner because the farmer/owner had read round buildings stand up better to the winds in tornadoes than rectangular buildings.
Nobody had ever thought of entering a historical building before in the “Gingerbread Building” contest. So the idea of entering a ROUND historical building related to settling the plains on the very highway which directed and ushered away most emigrating Okie Dust Bowl survivors to California was never conceived before!
The contest rules said that the entries would be judged by unique design (meaning no kit houses), difficulty of project, and choice of materials. Everything, by the rules, had to be edible, which in my case meant lots of gingerbread and lots of candy decorations, including red licorice to simulate the barn’s curved outer boards. Thus, I had my concepts of what a gingerbread-y looking building should be and the other contestants had their paradigms of what should be entered in the contest. Plus, to support a dome-shaped roof with gingerbread shingles, the barn’s structure had to be very substantial and strong (reinforced by a thick, long candy cane as the center pole).
The entry was heavy and hard for me to lift, so I knew it had to weigh between 40 to 60 pounds (around 20 to 25 kilograms). Upon arrival at the museum, two big guys with a cart insisted on helping me get the barn into the exhibit room. It has a cookie base on which to stand, but it had to be carried in on a thick cookie sheet to keep the cookie base from fracturing from the weight. Naturally, the two big guys said that they didn’t want to take the chance moving it off the cookie sheet, especially after I told them that I thought 3 to 4 people with one or two spatulas each could lift together and successfully remove the barn from the pan!
I looked around, and there were meticulously-done, immaculate entries which looked like real-life buildings. Notably, there was a very natural-looking log cabin and a fantasy-inspired “Santa’s Castle and Workshop” (featuring “Elf-made toys” and a “Reindeer stable”). After one look, the thought crossed my mind – “I haven’t got a chance compared to these!”
But I was surprised to discover after the judging that the Round Barn got first place in the adult division (and Santa’s Castle got “Best of Show”, which it definitely deserved from all the details with hand-sculpted toys coming off the elves’ assembly line). This infuriated some of the ladies who entered the show annually! They said mean things like, “What’s so special about the first place winning entry – why did it beat out our entries – what was going through the judges’ minds when they picked that round thing covered in candy?” (Which could be overheard from the lobby of the museum.)
But it won because it was original, completely departing from what had ever been entered in previous years. Concerning the candy decorations, for contrast to the red licorice “boards” of the barn, it needed rainbow colored candy canes, gum drops, M&M’s, and other multi-colored candies. For dormant grass peaking out of the “white frosting snow”, the cookie base (and a hill built from gingerbread scraps) was covered in canned German-Chocolate icing (which my late mother-in-law’s kitchen still had on hand). Many rocks were old almonds and pecans (probably spoiled and rancid from age so they were ideal for decorations!) also from my late-mother-in-law’s kitchen stash. So, it had plenty of eye appeal and variety of materials nobody else used.
Best of all, it was modeled from photos of a historic building (now restored, made into a museum in its own right, and it has become a popular tourist attraction as well) and this was the type of thing the historical museum, as a whole, promoted in its year-round exhibits. To me, it will always be symbolic of quite literally “thinking outside of the box” designs of traditional gingerbread cottages (because there is absolutely nothing “box-ey” about a round barn). In the coming new year, may we all have the courage to use our imaginations and creativity to solve more important issues and problems in the same manner (just like our initial example, the Israeli start-up entrepreneurs).
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