Astronauts, Animation and Originality: Thoughts on Firsts and Why They Impact Us More Than Lasts
In light of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the finale of NASA's Apollo space program, Villing was recently given the opportunity to work with a real-life astronaut. Purdue Federal Credit Union has had a longstanding relationship with Purdue University, which has produced more bona fide astronauts than any other single institution. As a result, a recent TV commercial we produced for Purdue Federal featured Gene Cernan, Purdue grad and the last person to walk on the surface of the moon.
Being lucky enough to direct the shoot, I had several opportunities to speak with Gene one-on-one. One thing that struck me was Gene's humble insistence in downplaying his own fame and shifting the message of the story to the future of human innovation. Gene even prefers to recast his personal title as "Eugene Cernan, the most recent person to walk on the moon" in an effort to keep the book open and nod to the next chapter.
There is a sense of melancholy about lasts, isn't there? It implies finality—the last page of a story that began so beautifully. Gene reflected on this while we traveled between shooting locations. He said it broke his heart that the headlines of newspapers earlier that week were about a delivery of supplies to the International Space Station, while nearly a half-century previous the whole world was talking about Neil and Buzz. He lamented that it was hard for him to understand why we hadn't been back to the Moon once in four decades. After all, when Apollo 17 safely returned to Earth, Gene and many others predicted that Mars would soon be next and moon colonies would be commonplace by now. But it's 2012, and Mars is still unmarked by human bootprints, and as far as I know there's no plans for a lunar Hilton anytime soon.
Whenever Pixar releases a new animated feature, they often include a short film that plays just before. This summer’s "Brave" was no different, proceeded by an amazing short called "La Luna" (The Moon). If you haven’t caught it yet, I'm not going to ruin it for you, but the whole time I was watching, I kept thinking, "Jeez, this is so original!" It struck me: originality is still real. Newness still exists. But haven't we been told that everything is just a reinvention of something previous? That all the good ideas are somehow already used up? That's the comfortable consensus until the moment a new idea finally arrives. New things may be harder to come by, but they're certainly out there.
Christopher Columbus and Neil Armstrong are household names. Pioneers are natural heroes for us because firsts open our eyes to brand new possibilities. They announce that something can be done that was previously thought impossible. They exchange old patterns of thought for exciting new ones.
It's easier to adopt the "me too" mentality when approaching design trends, strategies and messages in marketing communications. It exhausts far less effort. And we're all guilty of this from time to time. But true leaders in the realm of ideas seldom say "me too"; they say "us first". Me too doesn't change the world. If we want to succeed in the marketplace of new ideas, our ideas have to be just that: new. As the world gets smaller and the word local loses it's meaning, even small companies have no choice anymore but to step up to the plate and choose to do the heavy lifting needed to be original.
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