By Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne
Don Frantz produces great shows. As a Broadway producer, he helped bring to the stage such Tony Award-winning musicals as The Lion Kingand Beauty & The Beast.As a producer of special events, he led the creation of such multimedia extravaganzas as the long-running SpectroMagic parade at Walt Disney World and the Dynamite Nights Stunt Spectacular at Universal Studios Florida. Super Bowl half-time shows? Been there. World’s Fair exhibitions? Done that.
But perhaps none of these shows represents Mr. Frantz’s most unique and successful contribution to popular culture. For you see, Don Frantz is also the Father of the Corn Maze.
That’s right, you heard us. The corn maze—that now-classic, down-home tourist attraction that seems to appear every autumn in every community across America. The one that consistently lures your neighbors and their loved ones to spend a couple of hours trying to find their collective way through miles of twisting trails carved into acres and acres of 10-foot-tall stalks of corn.
Now, don’t underestimate corn mazes. As an art form, they’ve been cut to resemble everything from the Seattle skyline to a portrait of Albert Einstein. And as a successful business idea...well, let’s do the math. More than 600 corn mazes now appear each autumn across the landscape of the United States and Canada alone (not to mention such exotic places as China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Germany, and even—sacre bleu!—France). What’s more, they attract an average of about 10,000 visitors apiece (and sometimes as many as 80,000). That translates to more than 6 million visitors per year—which, for perspective, is nearly twice as many as the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty, nearly three times as many as Mt. Rushmore, and six times as many as New Orleans’ famed Mardi Gras celebration. In fact, it’s about half the number of attendees as all the shows on Broadway... combined. And they can all be traced back to Mr. Frantz.
So, how did a Broadway producer get the idea for a corn maze? He asked himself a question. One night in 1991, he read a four-sentence press summary describing an upcoming festival of historic hedgerow mazes to be held at various English castles, and he asked himself, “What would it take to create one of these massive mazes in the United States?” The answer was far from obvious, because hedgerow mazes take many years—and are exorbitantly expensive—to grow.
Fortunately, two days later, Mr. Frantz took a whole new perspective on his question—literally. While flying cross-country on a business trip, he looked out the window...and suddenly the answer was perfectly clear. For underneath those spacious skies was mile after mile of cornfields, with row after row of tall green stalks blowing gently in the wind.
In 1993—after he and a small army of helpers spent two years asking and answering many more questions—Mr. Frantz opened the world’s first corn maze on a farm in Annville, PA. That three-acre maze—cut in the shape of an enormous dinosaur and officially designated by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest—attracted 11,000 visitors in just three days; raised $55,000 for farmers who had been victimized by floods earlier that year; and launched what has become a worldwide phenomenon.
We all need good ideas. Breakthrough ideas. All day, every day.
In the business world, the entrepreneur or CEO needs brilliant ideas for new companies or divisions. The product manager or head of R&D needs innovative ideas for new products and services. The manufacturing manager needs practical ideas for new processes that will save time or labor and reduce costs—year after year—to keep up with the competition.
In the nonprofit arena, the professor or teacher needs fresh ideas for her lesson plan. The student needs original ideas for his term paper. The government employee needs politically acceptable ideas for programs that will better meet the needs of her community.
And in our personal lives, we all need compelling ideas for this year’s church fundraiser, or to make our twins’ birthday party memorable, or to create that blockbuster movie script we’ve always dreamed of writing.
Some people need hundreds, or thousands, of ideas. That’s the case for the TV producers behind those talking heads whose shows you surf past every night on cable. Every day, week after week, month after month, year after year, they have to come up with a steady stream of new and interesting story ideas that will rivet your attention and enable them to charge big bucks to their advertisers. The same dilemma faces radio talk show hosts, Web developers, advertising executives, catalog publishers, and dozens of other types of idea workers.
So, how do you come up with new and better ideas all day, every day? Or even “on demand”? Is it really just a matter of “being creative”? Do some people simply “have it” while others don’t?
No. We believe anyone can be creative. Better yet, based on 14 years of research and consulting projects involving individuals and organizations of all shapes and sizes, we know anyone can be creative.
Our experience shows that creative insight doesn’t have to be a “flash from beyond.” In fact, there is a specific approach, based on proven principles and easily understood practices, that can dramatically raise your odds of consistently developing more and better ideas of almost any kind. We call this approach Brainsteering.
Brainsteering found its beginnings in a large-scale research effort that one of us led while serving as a worldwide leader of the strategy practice at consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The principles and practices discovered in that research effort were used successfully in more than 200 McKinsey client projects over the next few years. We have subsequently expanded upon them and applied the Brainsteering approach at a wide range of for-profit and not-for-profit clients in workshops with such diverse goals as inventing new products and services, attracting more customers, designing more efficient business processes, and reducing costs, to name just a few.
Brainsteering succeeds in virtually any setting by taking all the creative energy normally associated with traditional brainstorming and steering it in a more productive direction, better leveraging the way human beings actually think and work in creative problem-solving situations. It will help you tackle any kind of ideation challenge with an entirely different mindset and a whole new level of energy and curiosity. It will help you look at things from an entirely different perspective. And best of all, it will help you develop ideas you could never previously have imagined.
Excerpted from “BRAINSTEERING: A Better Approach to Breakthrough Ideas,” by Kevin P. Coyne and Shawn T. Coyne. (HarperBusiness; Copyright 2011).
Kevin P. Coyne is a senior teaching professor at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University and a former senior partner at McKinsey & Company, where he led the firm’s Worldwide Strategy Practice. Shawn T. Coyne is a management consultant with 25 years of experience in marketing, strategy, and organizational leadership at Procter & Gamble, McKinsey & Company, and other leading firms. Based in Atlanta, they are each managing directors of The Coyne Partnership. For more information on the book, visit www.brainsteering.com.