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What your business really needs is more butterfly nets

By guest columnist Tom Hayes

“Time to get out your butterfly net!” the project manager would shout over the walls of my cubicle. And I knew the adventure was about to begin.

But it wasn’t always that way. I started in the ad biz as a copywriter at a world class agency, which, of course, made me a world class copywriter. Aping my peers, I was too cool for school, wore lots of black and did my best to appear sullen. It was a personal effrontery whenever my work was challenged. I would clutch my pearls and begin nursing a deep wound to my tender sensibilities. POWs on the Bataan Death March showed more pluck and spirit than me.

So much hubris. So much foolishness. Essentially, I was given a chance to be creative, to sit in a comfortable chair, protected from the weather with the only heavy lifting being propping up a No. 2 Ticonderoga Pencil and dragging it across the page. 

Over time, I tossed my black wardrobe, realized I wasn’t particularly special and quit stifling my smiles. That’s when the fun began. That’s when I got out my butterfly net.

With my butterfly net in hand, I charged out into the world of imagination hunting down ideas, letting some go and bringing others back to be honed and perfected. Like good fishing guides, my coworkers and clients helped me by pointing out where the best ideas might be caught. I also studied what the greats had caught with their butterfly nets, everything from old VW ads to Ira Gerschwin’s lyrics. Over time I became a skilled hunter. But no matter how many ideas I caught, every new one still made my socks go up and down.

Being creative is too often treated as a private country club for navel gazers. I believe, whether you are painting on canvas, or painting on drywall, creativity can be put to good use everywhere. No matter what your job is, when you find a new, novel solution that better serves others, you are being creative. Creativity is like an endorphin pump that has no pharmaceutical rival. Joy is the byproduct of creating.

It is a shame that creativity can’t be valued on a balance sheet. Because, if it was, companies would cherish it, nurture it and make certain it is constantly growing. It makes the small mighty. And, in its absence, can make the mighty small.

Think of the great companies you admire. They have a great culture, innovative products and services and an envious financial performance. Odds are, their people are driven to discover new possibilities and scoff at, so called, impossibilities. Everyone in the company is armed with a butterfly net. Adventure is in the air and a shot of joy is the prize. 

The Tom Hayes Butterfly Net Implementation Strategy

  1. Value Creativity
    Before you stuff your supply closet with butterfly nets, you have to truly value creativity. It must become part of your operating system. It must be rewarded. It must be celebrated.
  2. Let People Play
    The creative genius and purveyor of silly walks, John Cleese, said, “If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.” Most companies believe they pay people to work, not play.  To them I say, “Good Luck.” The future of every company depends on allowing people to play now, so that, in their future, the next great idea comes from their shop. 
  3. Accept that there will be more duds than rockets
    A man with a poor understanding of Six Sigma once criticized my methodology of coming up with a good headline by writing 50 that weren’t good–a mere 2% success rate. “Why don't you just write the good headline right away?” he suggested. We all need to remember that the foundation of creativity: the more gravel you pan, the more gold you will find.
  4. Avail yourself to change
    Where’s the wisdom in continuing to do things in the same old way when there’s an opportunity to do something better?  We all need to approach every creative spark with openness, curiosity and hope that the new thinking may be a better way.

Join me in the Royal Order of Butterfly Netters. Experience the adventure. Experience the joy. Experience the growth new ideas can bring. 



About Tom Hayes
Tom and his team at Riley Hayes have been Creating with Joy since 1991. Tom is also a speaker and coauthor of Relevance: Matter More. Connect with Tom at


Views expressed by guest columnist reflect those of the author and not the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.