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)