Becoming A-wear: A Story of Small Moves and Big Impacts

Becoming A-wear: A Story of Small Moves and Big Impacts

Create November 23, 2021 / By Larry Robertson
Becoming A-wear: A Story of Small Moves and Big Impacts

How the smallest of acts and the habit of making them brings us to the creative breakthroughs we seek.

The other day, I found myself doing what far too many of us far too often find ourselves absentmindedly doing these days – scrolling through social media. A small, largely unconscious act without much impact. Oh, I’m sure I believed I went there with some purpose. But soon my thumb was skimming the surface of my phone like a rhythmic metronome, and I am quite sure that, despite what I may have convinced myself would be the value when I started, I was not capturing it. And then something unanticipated caught my eye. I stopped, and quickly scrolled back through a stream of the expected, until I saw a familiar face … wearing the unexpected. Atop the head of a colleague sat a veritable monument of bright orange pipe cleaners.

The familiar face I saw belonged to a person for whose smarts and professionalism I have deep respect. So, rather than just take an added glance, chuckle, and return to scrolling, I lingered. Then I began to read his accompanying post. I read about the hat, slash crown, slash sculpture he wore, and about the person who created it for him. And as I did, one of the most important and potent lessons of creativity came shining back to me:

It is the small acts of curiosity and creativity, not the grand plans and gestures, that lead to the breakthroughs we hope creativity will bring.

A Hat by Any Other Name

Turns out that wiry siren of crafting supplies calling out from atop his head wasn’t purely accidental. Indeed, it was intentional. More, it had a name. That colorful catalyst reminding me of what truly catalyzes creative genius is known as a “wearable Tracy.” There are hundreds out there in the world, no two exactly alike. They were named by Community Designer (love that professional title) Lee Kim for her close friend Tracy Brandenburg – Tracy, whose birthday Lee forgot one year and then, upon realizing her lapse, and in a seemingly inconsequential act of spontaneity, zipped into a nearby store, grabbed a pack of pipe cleaners, fashioned the very first wearable Tracy, snapped a photo, and sent it to her friend. It was a simple and small act. In that moment, it was impossible for Lee to know the impact her act would have, or to fully sense the power she was about to set in motion by allowing that first simple act to be followed by more.

As Lee Kim told the story to the New Yorker, it wasn’t just that she wanted to acknowledge Tracy’s birthday. Lee wanted Tracy to know how important she was to Lee, that day and every day. She could have sent Tracy an e-card, posted on Facebook, or texted her and been done with it – no harm, no foul, no breakthrough unfolding. “Instead, she wanted to do something grand, an effortful gesture that would tell (Tracy) that she was not only remembered but cherished.” So, rather than just make the “birthday crown,” snap a selfie, and send it to Tracy, Lee chose to wear the crown around that day. And through that simple yet grand gesture, something unexpected happened. “For the first time in a long time,” Lee described, “she felt sensitive and exposed, hyper-visible on the street and on the subway” – all of it in a good way. In the years prior to that moment, her life had become routine. She had become invisible, not in the literal sense, but in the creative sense. “In the Wearable Tracy, however, she defied anonymity.”

Small act number one was making the crown and gifting it to Tracy. But with small act number two of wearing the crown, she began gifting it to others, and herself, drawing smiles, odd glances, and most valuable of all, connection. It was just two small acts, but it was enough to catalyze a creative habit. Small act number three came next: Keep making small acts.

Forming a “Wearable” Habit

Something about it all drew her in, and soon Lee made a plan, one she decided to pursue every day for a year. The plan had three simply rules:

  • Rule One: Create something new every day.
  • Rule Two: Wear it 9-to-5.
  • Rule Three: If somebody talks to me, I have to engage them in conversation.

Turns out her simple rules offered not just Lee but all of us an unpretentious, uncomplicated, and ingenuous plan for tapping the power of our creative capacity, and making a habit of doing so.

Rule One: Create something new every day. The first tenet of her plan was less a rule than an invitation, an enticement, a commitment. There was no grand complicated scheme. The plan was simply to engage in the act of creating. Think about that for a moment. How rare it is that we do that for ourselves? – not only allow, but invite ourselves to be creative. We – the only species we know of that can actively think about the future and are naturally equipped with the capacity to proactively shape it, most often let that superpower go untapped. We marvel at the few who seem rarified in their ability to form creative ideas and break through the monotony to better our world, while allowing our own equal powers to lay dormant, untested, and unused. Not Lee Kim. She makes pipe cleaner hats. And then she wears them all day long.

    Rule Two: Wear it 9-to-5. At first glance, the second rule could appear a head scratcher. Really? Wear your creativity for all to see? Every day, all day? In public? Yes, says Lee. “Because the idea is to make me uncomfortable.” Consider that simple, yet commanding insight. What Lee realized was that rather than the burden or punishment we might assume, the discomfort of sharing her creation was in fact the source of the true power and potential in the act. It was not knowing for sure what would come back at her each time she donned a wearable Tracy – a giggle, a smirk, curiosity, dismissiveness – yet innately sensing it would be exhilarating that drew her to absorb the less-than-advertised brief discomfort to get to the good stuff. Discomfort was simply the ticket to ride and encounter something fresh and new. It was a step off a curb, not the feared cliff of what exposing herself might bring. In the end, discomfort became simply an artifact of the creative dynamic.

    Rule Three: If somebody talks to me, I have to engage them in conversation. This story, seemingly about one person acting on their own creative capacity, is in truth a story about cocreation. On the surface, the rule of creating something new every day, for example, may sound like a rule for one, but it only takes a moment to see that it’s really a rule about giving to and engaging others. Likewise, when you add the 9-to-5 rule, suddenly the ‘engaging others’ aspect becomes the dominant force. Cocreation makes it a connection. Which is precisely why rule number three and its engagement principle is the most precious and powerful act of all. Turns out a wearable Tracy takes just 40 minutes to create – the exact time Lee has on a subway ride to work. From there, the entire 9-to-5 is about the larger act of inviting others into the creating. “Even when I don’t want to,” Lee says, “I ask their name,” instantly making it real, human, and an interaction in which, as Lee learnedly points out, others feel seen. In short, it becomes a cocreation, no matter what happens next. Simple. Mighty. And deeply human.

    An Impact that Ripples

    The impact, joy, and the wonder of Lee Kim’s story is far greater, and by way of the smallest act (clicking a link), you can look deeper into it in the New Yorker piece about her and in this wonderful short film. In the end, however, the lesson remains the same – and it isn’t about Lee Kim. It’s about you. It’s about all of us.

    As humans, we relish the promise of creativity. The hard truth however, is that most often we pursue the creative breakthrough in an entirely antithetical way to how breakthroughs in fact occur – if we pursue it at all. We focus on the end of the creative cycle, that is to say, the output, the thing that we hope creativity will deliver – the very thing that looms so large at the finish, that we often chose not to create at all, or worse, to conclude we lack the capacity. When we do, we fail to see that the mighty breakthrough isn’t large at all, but instead an accumulation of small acts. What Lee’s story reminds us, is that it takes very little to change that.

    When I saw my friend’s post of him wearing one of Lee’s gifts (she in fact regularly gifts wearable Tracys to others), rather than just move on, I commented. “Love it,” I wrote. Simple. Seemingly insignificant. A small act of stepping out of the ordinary and into the possible if only to let someone know they’ve been seen and matter. Then Lee Kim wrote back. “Would you like to wear one too?” Who wouldn’t? And now I do. And now you know why – all from Lee’s simple habit of small acts – you should consider making your own. And then make it a habit.

    You can learn more in Larry Robertson's newest book Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times.

    Rebel Leadership: How to Thrive in Uncertain Times

    We are two decades into this new century, and now live in a world more uncertain than certain. In this new “abnormal,” our ability to sustain far into the future, to realize our dreams and our potentialities, and to progress, depends on seeing leadership in a whole new way. Rebel leadership is that new way.

    There’s a growing pattern of not just individual leaders, but entire cultures rebelling against old and ineffectual ways that have long defined what it means to lead. At the heart of rebel leadership is the emergence of five patterns seen in leading organizations across sectors. Together, these patterns outline a framework for how to successfully meet this turbulent new century and thrive. Rebel Leadership will not only reveal these patterns, but will teach the reader how to tap into the power of this framework and make it their own.

    More precisely, Rebel Leadership will teach readers:
    • What lies at the heart of success, no matter how much the environmental conditions might change
    • How leadership is counterintuitively at its most powerful when it moves across individuals and cultures
    • That, inevitably, there is only one truly sustainable competitive advantage in uncertain times
    • Where leaders can find the best source for lowering risk in a changing world
    • Why a long-term view has less to do with the long-term and far more to do with this moment than you’d ever imagine

    comments powered by Disqus