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Bad babies and the ‘magic handbag reveal’


You see, she knows something about creativity that most people miss, giving her the right to be up there in lights with Edison, Einstein and any other super brain beginning with the letter E. The theory of relativity by Albert was bright, the invention of the light bulb by Thomas was bright (even if he didn’t invent the thing), but the ‘magic handbag reveal’  by my mother is brighter still.

Let me explain why.

Take at least one bored child, one mother (or granny as she now is) and a handbag. Add in the absence of an ‘end time’ to the dreariness in the child’s eyes and it soon becomes clear the kids will run riot unless a way is found to keep them occupied. The location is irrelevant. I have seen this process work on a transatlantic plane, a car journey to Fraserburgh and during a showing of Jurassic Park in the cinema. The premise is deceptively simple. There are five stages:

  1. The Promise - a statement made to the kids from mum as they are just about to unleash their wails – ‘Look I have something special for you.’ Magic words that command the attention of any child. All eyes to mum please.
  2. The Hunt – the handbag is opened and my mum roots around for ‘something special’. To which any of the following is revealed – lipstick, hanky, compact, piece of paper, bunch of coins. More or less anything NOT classed as ‘something special’.
  3. The Confusion – children look on in bewilderment at the ‘something special’ not sure how to take this. Have they missed a vital part of the unfolding event or is that really a snotty hanky in mum’s hand? Uncertainty reigns.
  4. The Rejection – kids decide this is not ‘something special’ and return to the task of relieving their boredom.
  5. The Reveal – at the last possible second mother unfolds the hanky to reveal a ‘noughts and crosses’ grid with a clutch of Smarties in the centre to act as the pieces.

 Cue engrossed kids.

And this isn’t a one trick pony. I’ve seen her use lipstick as crayon on a copy of the Daily Record – ‘Colour in all the faces in the paper’, her purse becomes a hidden treasure chest – ‘Guess what the next object out of the chest will be?’ or a box of Mint Imperials become soldiers and her lap the battle ground. Sheer genius. And to this day it still works. She has a whole new generation of grandchildren who have grown up with the ‘magic handbag reveal’.

There are two lessons we can learn from my mother.

1. Ideas can grow from anywhere – even a handbag - and understanding that the small stuff is as important as the big stuff can change the way you look at business.

My mum can use a simple, everyday item to create a new, bigger idea. All too often in my role as a ‘Creativity Trainer’ at Brain Juice I see businesses around the world  fail to recognise that creativity is at its most powerful when answering the small day-to-day problems that every business faces. It is easy to slide the word creativity up against the big problems or opportunities. But the truth is that most, if not all ideas, start as small babies – and usually as bad babies who cry and poop a lot. Babies that no-one but a loving mother wants anything to do with. But bad babies can become good babies and with a bit of nurturing can transform into wonderful adults capable of all sorts of amazing things.

2. Give the ‘magic handbag reveal’ that lives in every business a good airing.

Think about it. A question facing the business is aired in a board meeting. You throw your ‘bad baby’, sorry idea, out on the boardroom table and the pack descend on you. ‘We’ve tried that before’ ‘You have to be kidding?’ ‘That’s a pile of…’ Why do they do this? It’s simple. What they are looking for is a fully formed idea. One with all the angles figured out. Yet it rarely happens. Ideas just don’t work that way. Ask any creative worker inside an agency. Sometimes you need to cuddle the ‘bad baby’ and give it time to breathe and grow.

Stifling creativity at birth is easy. Some businesses are masters at it and wonder why they are not ‘more innovative’.  It’s called destructive criticism and we all know people who wallow in its bowels. Being positive at the early stages of an idea does wonders.

So learn from my mum, she knows how to handle a ‘bad baby’. Because she’s dealing with children she will get just enough time to change something ordinary from her handbag into something wonderful and entertaining. Adults are too impatient (or just too negative). They resist the urge to help the baby along. They don’t want to change its nappy, wipe its nose or even feed it. 

In essence ban destructive criticism and be positive. Be a child for a while. Cuddle the bad baby. Take a deeper look at the snotty hanky.

And if you think you don’t have time to spare on nurturing bad babies think again. In the time it takes you to decide between a venti decaff latte or a grande skinny cappuccino in Starbucks your bad baby could be a very good baby and add a few seconds more effort and the good baby might just turn out to be a star.

Go on start cuddling the bad babies.

To learn more about un-tapping your business’s inner creativity, visit