By now you all know that you didn’t win last week’s Powerball lottery jackpot of nearly $1.6 billion dollars. Sorry. And if you were like most Americans you were probably off by 5 or 6 numbers. I know how you feel. Because when I was 18 I had a lottery experience that forever shaped my perspective on this get-rich-instantly game.
It happened at my high school graduation. My classmates and I received our Hanover High School diplomas from our principal, the late, super-great Uwe Bagnato. As he handed us our diplomas we each handed him a lottery ticket. It was an exciting experiment. We all wondered how much he might win with 143 chances. (Don’t laugh. We scoured ten towns from two states to come up with 143 educatable kids). Anyway, we imagined Uwe would become mega-rich, and we would be the last class to graduate under his principality. But when we discovered that he only won a couple of bucks, and would be back at work again after Labor Day, the lottery was forever dead to me.
Since graduation I’ve been betting on myself. I have made my career as an advertising creative. And we make our money through an ideation lottery, where ideas bounce around in our head like lottery balls, randomized for fairness. And when our mental machinery cues those idea-balls to drop into our consciousness we either have winning ideas or losing ideas.
I love the odds in this game. I stack them in my favor by absorbing the world around me through interesting experiences, reading, human interactions and sweet tea. What I like even better is that you can play the idea lottery non-stop. And I do. For some it is nerve-racking to make your living in this manner. That’s why so many creative thinkers burn out or switch professions. But the ones that stick with it are often well rewarded.
The value of the creative lottery is summed up beautifully in one of my favorite quotes:
“More gold had been mined from the mind of men than the earth itself.” -Napoleon Hill from Think and Grow Rich.
Napoleon, that is some powerful stuff. But it’s a strange reality. Because I really don’t know where the ideas come from. Sure, sometimes the thoughts are mashups of two things I’ve considered recently. And sometimes there is a strong logic chain the leads me to an idea. But a healthy percentage of the time God just drops gold nuggets in between my ears, and for all I know I had nothing to do with it. I’m just smart enough to watch for them, recognize them when I see them and polish them enough to enable others to recognize their value.
So the next time you watch those lottery balls mixing, think of all the great creative ideas formed in the minds of men and women that have turned them into millionaires and billionaires. I hope it encourages you to bet on your own ideas. And take it from me and Uwe, the chances of winning the lottery are far better in your head.