By Steven Johnson
In 1974, while serving as the monthly editorial cartoonist for SIERRA magazine, I was assigned the topic of creating ridiculous, never-before-imagined, future recreational vehicles. The Sierra Club hated them! When the editor asked for 16 illustrations, I came up with more than 100 concept sketches, having suddenly discovered a latent ability to think up products as if they already existed in the future. No one had asked me to invent anything before.
Thirty-nine years later, I continue to think them up. I have a sideline art business where I specialize in the creation of unique, humorous or prophetic future inventions and scenarios.
Inside my mind I follow a method that mirrors the process by which new inventions are created all over the world, in all cultures, all through history. Just as systems and technologies are shared between inventors and between cultures, so the same process can be put to work inside one’s own mind.
The trick is to imagine that existing products evolve or mate, even if they are from a different product “species.” Young children, usually before they reach puberty, have no problem mixing a toaster with a parrot — it’s a Parrot Toaster that repeats whatever you just said — “Dad, that was REALLY stupid,” — or a car with a couch — it’s obviously a comfortable Couch Car! As children feel free to do, I have a similar willingness to suspend the rules for “what should be!”
If you want to get away from everyone to write a novel while you are in the woods you will want to take Portable Office, which combines tent, table, Coleman stove, chair and backpack.
If you are extremely bored with the traditional game of baseball, you may wish to be a spectator at a Bonus Baseball stadium, which combines the features of pinball with baseball.
And if you are committed to a daily practice of intense meditation and yoga, you will want the Yogamobile for sure.
In the TEDxIndianapolis talk I will share my mental process and methods.
Inventor/cartoonist Steven M. Johnson, born 1938, has created a “line” of alternative products and systems, including cars with closets and chaise lounge lawn mowers, that will benefit or at least amuse his fellow consumer-citizens. His drawings have been featured in publications everywhere. His books: What the World Needs Now; Public Therapy Buses, Information Specialty Bums, Solar Cook-A-Mats and Other Visions of the 21st Century; and Have Fun Inventing. His talk centers on his unplanned foray into futurism and his accidental inclination to mix-n-match. His talk at TEDxIndianapolis is called “Mental Mixers for Imagining Future Products and Scenarios.”