Three Wacky Ideas That Turned Out Golden

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Continuing with posts from my old Insanely Interested blog, here’s another one that I still hadn’t moved to this blog. This post was originally published in November 2008.

2,932 Days Wearing a Name Tag… And Counting

Scott Ginsberg was seven years old when he decided he wanted to be an author. What he didn’t know back then was that the way to make that happen would be to put on a name tag – and wear it every day, for the rest of his life.

In 2003, Scott’s childhood dream came true and he started his career as an author with his first book, Hello, My Name is Scott.

These days, Scott divides his time between writing and speaking, always inspiring us to make the world a friendlier place.

He still wears his name tag.

Would You Trade a House to One Red Paper Clip?

This picture of “One Red Paper Clip” was the beginning of a great adventure. Little did Kyle MacDonald know of what was ahead of him when he posted the photo in his first blog post three years ago, in July 2005. Here’s what he said:

“I want to trade this paperclip with you for something bigger or better, maybe a pen, a spoon, or perhaps a boot.”

Today, Kyle owns a house. And he is ready to trade again. Kyle’s book, “One Red Paperclip” was published last year.

And yes, you can get his house.

Sometimes it’s the craziest ideas that get you the furthest.

If you were to make a joke on Scott Ginsberg by pulling off his name tag you’d probably be surprised to see him calmly pull a new one from his pocket. He always carries about ten spares with him, and he has never missed a day since he started back in 2003. This guy is serious. And he’s having a blast doing so.

Kyle MacDonald was always the kid who came up with the cleverest ideas — anything to keep him away from a regular 9 to 5. But even if his friends were used to him coming up with all these new things to try out, when he started trading his one red paper clip, no one would have guessed that only about a year later, he would be the proud owner of this house:

What does it take to decide to wear a name tag every day for the rest of your life or to start trading towards an impossible looking goal? And why is it that insane sounding ideas like these so often make the biggest difference?

That’s what we are going to try to figure out today.

I talked to Kyle and Scott, and dug into their blogs to find some answers.

Why?

Kyle MacDonald, according to his own words, was “someone who had nothing else going on and didn’t want to find a job.” He was determined to avoid getting a job, so he decided to try trading. “Trading things turned into a full time occupation, or obsession. It was lots of fun.” Kyle says.

At first, Kyle started trading items as an experiment. First there was the red paper clip. Then a fish pen. Then a doorknob. Followed by a coleman stove and one red generator. After a few trades, people started asking how far this was going to go.

Kyle had an answer in mind: “I said I was trying to trade up to a house, and then I had more of a fixed goal in mind. Having the goal really helped because I became the ‘guy who was trying to trade a red paper clip for a house’ instead of the guy just going around trading things.”

Scott first put on his name tag because he was attending to a seminar, and at events like that you wear a name tag. That’s hardly unique. But after the event, on a whim, Scott decided to try what would happen if he didn’t take off the name tag. The night, over 20 new people approached him and started chatting. Just because of the name tag.

That was eight years ago.

“I committed that night.” Scott says, and continues: “But when I got the tattoo, there was no turning back.”

Yep. He this guy really put all in. After wearing a name tag for five years, Scott decided to make sure he’d never stop, so in November 2005, he got himself a tattoo. With a name tag and the text, “Scott.”

How?

Scott Ginsberg started wearing a name tag to make the world friendlier. And Kyle MacDonald started trading — because it sounded more fun than working.

But how did they pull it off? And how did they turn these ideas into something bigger?

I asked Scott if I should start wearing a name tag too, or maybe a yellow helmet, to replicate his success.

Here’s what he answered:

“Name tags aren’t unique. They’re DIFFERENT. Making a career out of wearing a name tag, now THAT’S unique. I encourage people to find their own nametag, but remember that shtick will get you in the door, but only substance will keep you in the room.

Also if you wear a helmet people might think you have epilepsy.”

Scott is famous for his name tags. And that’s already something that requires a great deal of work. Scott attributes his success to “Commitment, consistency and the willingness to stick myself out there.”

But if that would be all, he wouldn’t be the star of the evening news. USA Today wouldn’t be writing about him. The joke would be old, and not even giant name tags (try googling that) could make Scott worth our time. He knows this, and realizes that it’s not the idea, but how he uses it, that matters. Scott takes his reputation as the “guy with the name tag” and uses it as a way of getting our attention.

What he does after that makes him remarkable.

How about Kyle, then? He had his share of doubts at the beginning: “I’m pretty sure everyone, including me, had complete doubts at first. When you have a red paperclip in your hand it’s kinda hard to ever imagine trading it all the way up to a house. But after things got going I had less doubts and I’m sure most other people began to see the idea take shape.”

But pretty soon pieces started to get together.

“Many other people have done this since, and will surely continue to do so. Anyone can do this, but it sure isn’t easy to do so. As for the idea being used, well, the likelihood of media outlets covering the story to help with exposure of the idea is probably a lot less, seing how some guy already did it before.” Kyle says.

But there is something more than a great idea or being the first at play here. Personality. It’s what got Kyle into trading in the first place, and it’s the very same thing that made people want to trade with him.

It’s the Kyle that says: “I have no idea what’s going to happen next and that’s what I find exciting!”

And the Scott that echoes: “I am excited about the prospect of (a) having no idea what I’m doing, and (b) having no idea what tomorrow will bring. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

It’s the kind of attitude that takes life seriously, but doesn’t get all serious. An attitude that turns life into the adventure that it was supposed to be.

And this is where we introduce the third wacky idea of the day.

No room for imitators

You can’t copy what Matt (from Where the Hell is Matt?) is doing.

You can dance all around the world, film your performance, and post it on the web. But that won’t make you Matt.

Which reminds me of something that Seth Godin once told me:

“I’m lucky in that I’ve figured out how to be the best in the world at being me… apparently, there’s a market for that!”

The same applies to Matt. It also applies to Kyle. And it applies to Scott.

And I’m willing to be that the same will apply to you as well. All you need to do is to figure out how to be you. The rest will follow. (I hope.)

What’s next?

I have no idea what will happen next. And just like Kyle and Scott, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I can’t wait to hear what Scott’s next book will be about (he told me he has already finished his next five and that the next one which comes out in January will be more like a symphony than a book). I can’t wait to hear what Kyle will trade his house for. And I can’t wait to hear what you will come up with next!

Use the comments to share your thoughts on what you think is behind the success of these three wacky ideas, other wacky ideas that I might not have heard of yet, or the ideas that are brewing inside your head.

Let your mind loose. You’ll be surprised to see how far that can get you!