In last Wednesday’s USA TODAY, there was an article titled, “Funeral homes discover new life.” It described a new trend across the country where traditional funeral homes are marketing their centers “not just as a place to mourn the dead, but as sites for events celebrating the living, including weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, holiday parties and proms.” The article explains that funeral homes can be less expensive than other venues, there’s greater availability, and they’re often quite beautiful. Most importantly, while the economy has caused many traditional wedding venues to shutter, James Olson, the spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association explains that, “funeral homes aren’t going away.”
Carla Fletcher, the special events coordinator of Flanner & Buchanan Funeral Centers in Indianapolis, said no one had thought of marketing her facility for other events “because people had tunnel vision…they thought since it was a funeral home they (couldn’t) sell it. But I don’t see a funeral home; I see an events center.”
Now a cynic could dismiss Fletcher’s theory with a snide “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and again” but ever since Fletcher saw things differently, her Community Life Center “holds a dozen events each month and has nearly every Friday, Saturday and Sunday booked this year, including 99 weddings.”
Talk about thinking outside the pine box. Imagine how many other businesses could take advantage of Fletcher’s thinking. Sushi bars could open fishing shops and advertise “today’s plate, tomorrow’s bait.” Struggling music stores could market unsold CDs as flying disks or skeet shooting targets. The ideas are as endless as the lists of bad puns that show up in my email every few days.
But all kidding aside, repurposing old concepts in very new directions is one of the ways we can harness the power of our ideas. As we discussed last week, ideas are both worthless and priceless at the same time. So when new ideas are analyzed and respected, they can often produce useful and profitable results such as repurposing funeral homes into community life centers.
One of the reasons new ideas are so hard to come up with in the first place is that whole business of creating “new concepts” is so intimidating. Creating concepts is hard – and you have to be creative to do it. But truth be told, there aren’t that many new ideas around anyway. Love is a concept. Democracy too. God is a concept, and so is peace. Gravity isn’t a concept; it’s the law.
Many other new ideas are just a variation on a theme, a riff on the expected, a clever turn of a phrase, a new way of looking at the same old thing. Picasso combined a bicycle seat and a set of handlebars and created a bull’s head. Warhol traced a Cambell’s Soup can onto canvas and created pop art. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta channeled Madonna and created Lady Gaga. (For more on this, please see my September 27th, 2010 post Small Opportunities Get Bigger. Big Opportunities Get Smaller.)
Besides Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, Louie Armstrong and very few others, most of us who spend our lives coming up with new ideas are building up our thoughts on the foundation of the ideas that came before and therefore standing on the shoulders of giants. Which is another reason why our new thoughts shouldn’t be so intimidating – they’re firmly rooted in the successful ideas of the past.
So when you look for new ways to guide your business or your life into the future, take inspiration from special events coordinator Carla Fletcher who looked at funerals and saw weddings. Because as Carla proved, the real trick is not to think outside the box but to think like there’s no box at all.