How a Smile Became a Frown! (Encouragement for Creators)

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Each year, thousands of designers, artists, inventors and businesspeople come up with multi-million dollar ideas. Some of these men and women instantly recognize the potential of their creations, and cry EUREKA!  Others apparently don’t realize what they have. They view their creations as “throwaway ideas”; serving only an immediate need; perfect for the moment, not much else. They minimize their own dreams and creativity, believing their creations are not that innovative, not that extraordinary, not that much of a big deal. Humility? Or shortsightedness? Often they fail to see the full potential of their inventiveness, or its possible future applications — a bitter lesson Harvey Ross Ball probably knew well.

Ball was an American graphic artist and advertising man. In 1963, one of Ball’s clients, State Mutual Life Assurance Company, commissioned Ball to come up with a simple cartoon design, which they planned to distribute throughout the company on memos and buttons. The insurance company had just gone through a complex and stressful restructuring, and they hoped the design would help boost the morale of their employees. Ball quickly sketched a yellow circle with two crooked eyes and a winsome smile — the prototype of what eventually became the Smiley Face. It took the artist a mere 10 minutes to come up with the idea and dash it off. He was paid $45 for his labor and, at the time, probably felt well compensated for what’s essentially a doodle. The insurance company plastered Ball’s smiley design on posters, signs and thousands of buttons. Soon, other businesses were copying it.

But no big deal. Neither Ball nor State Mutual bothered to trademark the image. After all, how could they know the little yellow face with the big smile would become so popular, even fifty years later, or that the smiley would make someone (NOT them) filthy rich?

In 1971, a French newspaper publisher, Franklin Loufrani, decided to use a variation of Ball’s design in the logo of his paper, to remind readers that not all news is bad. And it’s Loufrani who named the little guy Smiley. You must surely know the rest of this story — the smiley is profitably marketed throughout the world today — but it’s possible there’s one little detail you don’t know: since neither Harvey Ball nor State Mutual bothered to register their creation, Loufrani decided to trademark both the design and the name “Smiley” in 1988. Loufrani launched the Smiley Company and began selling tee-shirts, but in 1996 his son Nicolas took over the family business and transformed it into one of the top 100 licensing companies in the world.

Today, the Smiley Company makes over $130 million a year. One of its most significant licensing agreements was for all those tiny emoticons we use when texting on our phones and tablets. But good old Smiley shows up everywhere — stickers, mugs, hats, greeting cards, you name it! — making it the most recognizable icon in the world, with a smile second only to that of the Mona Lisa. Not bad for a 10-minute, $45 doodle.

Lesson: little ideas can be like little stones thrown into a pond, and make big ripples in life. Small beginnings can lead to bigger and better things. And no goal is insignificant. Never underestimate a good concept, and believe in your own dreams. Above all, have faith in God and in the creativity with which He’s gifted you.  And Have A Nice Day!  🙂

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin….” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT)

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The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread!

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What could be better than bread? It’s called the staff of life, because throughout time, grain products have sustained people across the globe. Hop in a time machine and visit any era — in any area of the world, and you’ll simply confirm that bread was (and continues to be) an important part of nearly every meal. In fact, bread was often the chief staple of those meals, sometimes complimented only by a small piece of fish or cheese. Hence, bread had value far beyond its price, eventually leading to the slang usage of the words dough and bread to signify money: “He’s rolling in the dough”; or “If you want me to go shopping for you, I’ll need some bread.”

Biscuits, bagels, and buns; crackers, cornbread, and cakes; Matzah and melba toast. Whether it’s unleavened or yeasty, whole grain or gluten free, made from wheat, barley or rye, baked as rolls, flatbread or flakes, every nationality and people group seems to have a favorite. Visit your local supermarket and you’ll find many specialty breads: high-fiber and specialty grain products such as Ezekiel bread; artisan breads, Hawaiian rolls, and English muffins. Around Easter and Chanukah you’ll find Challah bread. And Pepperidge Farms markets seasonal breads such as Pumpkin Spice and Apple Cinnamon.

We’re fortunate to have all this variety. We were making sandwiches recently, and started pondering the diversity and utility of various breads. We like ham on rye, pastrami on Italian, and peanut butter on double-fiber. By the way, sandwiches were invented by a chef looking for a way to serve meats and cheeses to his employer, who insisted on eating with his fingers while playing cards — but who didn’t want the playing cards to get greasy. The chef soon hit upon the idea that he could serve the Earl of Sandwich a layer of cold meat wrapped within two pieces of bread. People have been eating cards and playing sandwiches ever since — or something like that.

We use Arnold’s thick-sliced Dutch Country Potato Bread when we’re making French toast, because it’s slightly denser and comes in thicker slices than regular bread. Hence it soaks up more of the egg and cinnamon mixture. And there’s nothing like a slice of Wonder Bread lightly toasted with butter and jam! Wonder Bread is plain old ultra-refined white bread. We’re not sure this after-school favorite of kids still enjoys the same popularity it did 50 years ago. Sometime around the 1980s, refined bread fell out of fashion. Health-conscious people started buying whole wheat, which was more expensive at the supermarket. People who couldn’t afford whole wheat were stuck with the cheap white bread which, considering the history of commercial baking, is indeed ironic.

Prior to the late 20th century, bleached and ultra-refined white bread was more expensive than its unrefined sibling, wheat bread. As a matter of fact, only “poor” people ate wheat bread. To quote a line from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, white bread or “‘baker’s bread’—[is] what the quality eat; none of your low-down corn-pone.” Thanks to Wonder Bread and other companies, however, by 1950 practically everybody was serving sliced white bread at meals. Which brings us back to our opening question: What could be better than bread?

Answer: sliced bread! Don’t snicker, because we’ve all learned it’s the gold standard against which everything else is measured. When we think something is truly innovative, we proclaim, “It’s the best thing since sliced bread!” And just imagine, what if before you could make yourself a sandwich you had to first slice the bread. TV commercials would need to be longer to give us more time in the kitchen! Plus, you’d need one of those special bread knives or the loaf just squishes.

Thank goodness, someone had the brilliant idea of … um … cutting out the extra work. In 1930, Wonder Bread was the first nationally-marketed bread that came pre-sliced. No wonder Wonder took off in popularity.

So many types of bread from which to choose, and yet there’s another. A bread far more essential, far more beneficial, and far far the greatest thing since sliced bread! It’s the spiritual Bread of Life, represented by Jesus Christ and the Word of God. Jesus said, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 NLT)

We may need baked bread to sustain our physical bodies. But we’re also spiritual beings created in God’s own image. Hence, we also need spiritual bread: Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life! …Anyone who eats the bread will live forever….” (John 6:48-51 NLT) And just as we find baked breads everywhere in life, there’s nowhere we can go where God is not present. “…Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, [can] separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NIV)

Have you partaken of God’s Bread of Life? If not, don’t continue to avoid Him. Join Him at His spiritual table. And once you’ve received Him, remember to consume some of His spiritual Wonder Bread each day: the Word of God — it’s the best thing since sliced bread!

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