Marketplace Scratch Pad

I vote for some imagination

Scott Jagow May 5, 2009

I was just thinking what the economy really needs is a little creative spark. More original thinking. Maybe even some crazy ideas. There’s too much listening to the same old talking heads say the same old boring things. And lo and behold, there’s a column in the New York Times that gets at exactly what I’m talking about.

Writer Allison Arieff points to the brilliant, goofy, visionary work of inventor/cartoonist Stephen M. Johnson. Arieff says we could learn a thing or two from the way Johnson, a former urban planner, thinks:

As the 70-year-old told me last week, “America has been falling into a depression, a psychological depression, for many years. Yet this is a land of pioneer inventors. It annoys me that an untrained person like myself can think up products easily… and yet the nation seems to sit helplessly passive and wait to be saved somehow.”

Johnson does drawings of his inventions. Among the ones I like — there’s the Nod Office, a desk that turns into a bed. Or, for seniors who can’t retire, the “sleep-in cubicle” that doubles as a place for nap time:

A couple decades ago, Johnson predicted shopping malls would become mega-thrift malls. Considering what’s happened in commercial real estate, that vision seems like it might just come true:

Here’s one I really, really wish existed — Automobile Abandonment Zones. Stuck in gridlock? Just pull over, hand your keys to an Abandonment Officer and hop on the train, or go take a walk in the park to calm yourself down. Brilliant!

As Arieff says, it “would be ridiculous to suggest that the powers that be should do nothing but give in to their wild imaginations.”

But instead of “playing it safe” policies driven by fear, I’d love to see some problem-solvers with a more little imagination step forward. Stephen M. Johnson for Treasury Secretary!

Thanks to Marketplace Money producer Eve Troeh for pointing out Afieff’s column.

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