The Buddhist Gift: Trading Focus for Serendipity, and The Story of Our Logo
It was the strong end of the day. The conference room was caught up in contemplating the conventional concerns of crafting a brand. Chairs, the illustrious, mostly quiet attendees of all discussions were waiting for a standard signal.
A weary click of the door knob that had preceded the entry of our design team. In the weeks that had passed, the members of the team had been on a motoring trip, a mental one.
Seeking road signs that pointed to the lessons they had learned by studying the works of design greats, Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, and others, and also the secret one-lane road to bring them back into their own work, a quest to create a symbol that stood for things that we cared about.
The discussions – constructed with the recurring back and forth of ideas with founders and other teams, the dissection of biases, the luncheon of patterns, the resulting sketches and colors, and the geometric deliberations – had been rigorous enough to equip even the inanimate (whiteboard, chairs, walls) with the dos and don’ts of conducting a rebranding exercise.
This particular discussion had the air of conclusion, as most people in the team had agreed to go ahead with the 74th rendering of the logo.
For those who’re interested in the ancestry, here’s an assemblage of the fallen ones –
Little did the 74th know, about the sudden arrival of a heartless opponent.
Post the sweet semblance of agreement, when people began to leave the conference room, something happened. KPS, our CTO, gave away a random glance to a squarish window opened in our Design Lead, Praveen’s laptop.
An orange shape devoured KPS’ glance in a second. It was a version lying on Praveen’s virtual cutting room floor, a version that couldn’t make the list.
“Hey. That looks promising. If we add something at the center, won’t we have what we’ve been looking for all long? What do you think?” KPS wondered.
They looked at each other and nodded. Their nods shared a syntax of consensus and possibility. Within minutes, our logo was found. Say hello.
When Praveen shared this story with us, one could sense some happy discomfort in his words, as to why this had happened. Why did he abandon the product of hours and hours of work for something that came about in minutes?
The ensuing inquiry led me to a homeless, amazing mad hatter, former Professor of Medieval History, a fictional character named Parry.
There’s three things in this world that you need: Respect for all kinds of life, a nice bowel movement on a regular basis, and a navy blazer.
Only one man could be entrusted with committing such a character to the screen. Robin Williams, of course.
Robin’s performance was a perfect display of the inner mindmeld that takes place as one attempts to stick with the script, at the same time scout moments that require improvisation.
Knowing that the universe can snatch a line from you after 8 hours of rehearsing, and then, sneak in another one that had nothing to do with the original, can be terrifying.
This dynamic also led Robin to an enduring lesson on the sets of the Fisher King, from fellow actor, Jeff Bridges. An essential lesson for those who make things –
He said, when there’s a mistake, go with it, because it’s a Buddhist gift, especially on film because film is all about creating moments for that moment. Literally. There are great moments when people have rehearsed and gone over and gone over and gone over again. But literally, when the stuff really hits you, it’s usually something that happened. It happened then. And that’s what a film is about, capturing ‘a’ moment.
Our logo was a tiny Buddhist gift.
Discoveries of celestial might, like Penicillin, were Buddhist gifts.
Four words in a speech that changed a nation, and the world, were Buddhist gifts.
The phrase, “I have a dream,” didn’t make it to the original draft of Martin Luther King’s speech, it lingered in the notes provided by someone in his group. His eyes picked it up at the stage, and thus began a historic riff.
The business of riffing doesn’t get much credit for producing certain stairways to certain heavens, and even more so for producing accurate escape routes.
Escape from what?
Well, somewhere between our desire to go deep into our work, and our fear of getting nothing wrong, we slip into a mental cage. Precisely the kind of cage that discoveries have come to abhor.
Many of the most interesting and profound discoveries in science occur when the thinker is not concentrating directly on the problem but is about to drift off to sleep, or get on a bus, or hears a joke – moments of unstrained attention, when something unexpected enters the mental sphere and triggers a new and fertile connection.
It seems as if all creative breakthroughs bear birthmarks that say “Work, work, work. Walk. Look out the window. Get astonished. Get back to work.”
If you find yourself answering the hum of thoughts that seem strange, pay attention, you might be onto something, a gremlin’s belly, or a Buddhist gift.