Roger von Oech

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Karl Boggs

Interesting timing - we were trying to come up with an internal logo for our internal invention/ideas initiative at work and a couple of us thought the light bulb was overdone. The vote came out to make th light bulb the core image. Two of us actually wanted to use Franklin's kite and key because it implied both research and discovery and just seemed more playful. It's an even older invention, but I hope we will always have kites to play with.

Devil's Advocate

It's high time we get rid of some of the other widely accepted visual metaphors that we so crustily take for granted. One of the most important is the red light that means "stop" in various traffic, railroad, and other situations.

First, the color red as an indicator for "stop," has been in use since at least the 1830s. With over 170 years of use, this symbol is definitely past its prime, and should be replaced.

Further, the color red is a symbol of evil and oppression. It long represented the communist USSR and still represents communist China. Red also represents blood, which in today's climate of terrorism, is associated with violence and death. Over the coming years, the color red will become more vilified by those who oppose communism and terrorists.

Don't even get me started on the "red light district."

It's high time we declared the death of the red light and demanded a new metaphor for the concept of "stop." Political correctness and the simple passage of time demand it.

devils advocate of the devils advocate

I can see the point if you are replacing it with another brilliant metaphor. But I don't even see a lousy metaphor.


Since longevity usually equates to familiarity, it would seem to me that longevity would be an argument for keeping a metaphor, not eliminating it.

Steve Cunningham

Interesting comments from Devil's Advocate. I'd like to see his implementation plan (I'm not sure we'd like the results).

I'm not sure what to suggest, but I would think that whatever it is, it would be appropriate that it gets changed yet again before another 125 years goes by.

Carl Klutzke

I think the reason the lightbulb was used was because inspiration seems to come as a flash of revelation, thus it makes sense to visualize it as some sort of light source. You could depict just a sort of flash over someone's head, a burst of rays, rather than an actual lightbulb.

You could use the newer, more innovative light bulbs: the coiled fluorescent bulb or an LED bulb. (Well, no, I don't think most people would recognize an LED.) FYI, I did buy new fluorescent bulbs for my ceiling fans this week, and they're surrounded by a glass bulb so they look very much like incandescent bulbs.

Valeria Maltoni

Tom Peters has beenusing the red exclamation mark.

Becky McCray

My husband coined this phrase for realization, if not new ideas:
"A light came on over her head, and quarters flew out of her mouth." (like a slot machine)

This is a really tough assignment, Roger! What can symbolize a new idea? Sounds like a good thought to percolate over the weekend. (hmmmm... percolate! maybe that's a start of an idea!)

John Koetsier

Interesting question.

Steve: Devil's Advocate is saying (in a complex and funny way) that the light bulb is still an excellent metaphor for innovation. You know, I think I agree with him.

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. . .

One thing you might do to stimulate some thinking, Roger, is look at a hardcover copy of Guy Kawasaki's Art of the Start, for which Guy held a cover contest. The inner flaps of the cover are full of the covers that were submitted, and one of them came to my mind as I was reading your post.

It was an egg, cracking, as whatever was inside it was just beginning to hatch. A white light was emanating from within the egg. I think this cover concept made it to 2nd or 3rd place.

It was a cool cover concept for beginnings (maybe even innovation) and I suspect that a lot of the others might form seeds for would germinate fresh ideas in your brain as well.

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. . .

FYI, Roger, the style of comments that you've got makes it hard to determine who actually wrote which comment ... the name above or the name below.

David Robinson

Roger, I think the explosion of the old metaphor is the metaphor that you seek. The cover image is the explosion of the light bulb.

On the other hand, if I were a cartoonist I'd use a lightbulb to indicate a new thought - the metaphor works regardless of age, but to satisfy those symbol hunting environmentalist, I might draw one of the new energy saving variety;-)

Jim Ley



How about a sapling/budding plant? I'm thinking of the already-present "ideas are plants" metaphor in our culture (e.g. "my ideas have come to fruition", "a fertile imagination", etc.)
On top of that, I doubt "the environmentalists" would mind :)


i nominate the butterfly. it continues to baffle scientists as to how it undergoes its transformation. within the first day or so in the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar liquefies. liquefies! it's gone from the linear process of shedding its own skin several times, to building its chrysalis [which it generates on its own] to turning into liquid. within that primordial stew are certain cells programmed to begin to form the completely different creature that will emerge.

one down side might be that butterflies seem to be a more 'feminine' symbol. but in many cultures they symbolize new life and transformation. of course, according to the "journal of cultural entomology" [an amusing find i stumbled on when writing an article about butterflies], in some cultures they are an ill omen, probably because they are shape-shifters like witches. in any case, butterflies are complex enough to have many ideas and metaphors attached to them.

either way, i'd nominate something biotic at an idea-metaphor. current trends include 'green living,' organic shapes and colors and textures, and other celebrations of nature [weeds notwithstanding]. anything technological you'd use will eventually go the way of the light bulb!

Phil Dunn

I like the kite idea because: “Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun.”
- George Scialabra

And I like the plant idea.

"An Idea is a feat of association." - Robert Frost

So..I'd suggest a corn kernel.. or maybe a candy corn... or a seed or a sprout.


that's easy...

? a question mark or several ??????

because: always asking = creativity

never satisfied, at least for long, with the previous answer or explanation

Phil McKinney

What about a "target" ?

Some ideas are "good" (on target but ...) while others are "killer ideas" (on the target and in the bullseye).



I think that a human brain itself is a good metaphor. It is always a question how do we use it, but potentially it keeps all universes inside.

Roger von Oech

Whoa! Lots of good comments. Here are a few thought.

Karl: It will be interesting to see how fresh your image looks in 2012.

Devil's Advocate: Isn't "red" also the color of the Devil ['s Advocate]?

Kevin: You've got a point, but there are such things as "dead metaphors."

Carl: I guess you could use the "swirly" new bulbs as a metaphor for "trendy new ideas."

Valeria: !

Becky: Now there's an image of innovation: coins spurting out of one's mouth. Perhaps that's the metaphor of the successful entrepreneur.

John: Thanks for the suggestions. BTW: comment attribution formatting style is the TypePad does it.

Jim, Chris, Shelbey, Phil, David, Lilia: All good suggestions!

A purple star.

A mashup between Seth Godin's purple cow and the use of the star as symbol of great quality. Either is hard to find/spot but when we find them it's brilliant.

David A. Wagner

It's about illumination, not technology. It's about filling a dark space with light. Stick with the light bulb...

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