Don’t Throw Out That Napkin!

This Sunday, the longest-running cable television event in history started for the 26th year in a row. That’s right. It’s officially Shark Week! Despite the fact the same content is more or less regurgitated under new titles every year, there’s no arguing that Shark Week is one of Discovery Channel’s best ideas ever.

For the next week it will be nearly impossible to escape Shark Week across all forms of social media. But, being in the business of ideas, let’s backtrack to before there ever was a “Shark Week” to temporarily dominate multimedia platforms.

When it comes to brainstorming, the ideas go where you go, they are where you are, and they come from where you’ve been. When the Discovery Channel team went out for a post-work brainstorming session, thankfully there were some cocktail napkins around, because that one big idea scribbled down on a napkin has now become a global phenomenon.

At one point or another, every creative professional has had this experience. Something was said, inspiration hit, and someone frantically reached for the partially used napkin to jot down an idea. As if Shark Week isn’t enough, here are some more, well-known, ideas that got their start on the humble napkin.

  • JK Rowling wrote down her initial Harry Potter ideas on a cocktail napkin when delayed on a train
  • Southwest Airlines was initially mapped out on a cocktail napkin
  • Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin wrote the script to “A Few Good Men” on cocktail napkins

Perhaps it’s the limited amount of space on a napkin that forces our brain to craft a well-polished idea. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s just a napkin and if our idea sucks, we can throw it out with more vigor than simply pressing delete. Perhaps it has a little something to do with the cocktail that’s on top of it. There are many factors that contributed to the success of these ideas, but the napkin is certainly a common thread.

Sure we all have iPhones, iPads, and company notebooks, but there’s just something about the ubiquitous and resourceful napkin that makes it the perfect canvas for creativity. To think what we’d be missing out on if that napkin got thrown out…