Jim Henson’s Lessons for Success

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I just checked out the “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” exhibit at NYC’s Museum of the Moving Image (which I highly recommend – it’s there through January 16, 2012). As part of the first Sesame Street generation, the Muppets are near and dear to me. So first I had to gush over the actual Kermit, Bert and Ernie, and Miss Piggy puppets. But I finally I was able to tear my attention to the actual exhibit on the walls, and was fascinated by Henson’s process – Kermit, Big Bird, Ernie, Rowlf, and even Bunsen and Beaker had lived as sketches and in other characters and ideas for many, many years before they became the beloved characters we know today.

This has had me mulling over the nature of creativity and success. First, this reminded me of Thomas Edison’s quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration, 99% perspiration.” But it also occurred to me that adaptability is such a critical function. Henson adapted his ideas for characters over time, from adult-oriented entertainment to advertising spots to live performance. He did not seem too tightly wedded to one notion of how these characters could express themselves. Further, over time, he was willing to hand over his preliminary sketches to others to build into muppets, and let someone else bring them to life.

I’m also thinking about how to apply this approach. What ideas do you have on the scrap heap that you need to take out and play with? Or maybe turn over to others to see what they can do with them? Is there a concept you are holding too tightly to one framework that wants to evolve into something else?

Check out an early Kermit from 1965 on Johnny Carson:

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