When Jake’s Cafe started nearly 7 years ago, we were fortunate enough to have on campus a young, budding industrial designer named Russell Meschler.  While he’s moved on to do bigger and better things, his openness, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit never left.   He had a way of making people feel safe….so they would open up and share their ideas without the fear of criticism.

Russell was a great artist, meticulous engineer, unusually creative young man, but what differentiated Russ from most people was his ability to quietly connect and collaborate with others.  He was what I refer to as the 1 + 1 = 3 kind of guy.  It was because of his friendliness and approachability, a lot of good ideas were generated around the cafe.  One of my favorites was Russ’s french fry box which actually originated with another friend of mine, Brian Free.

Brian liked to have ketchup with his fries…even while driving his car.  While I can’t condone the latter, he did have a good point.  It’s very difficult to eat french fries with ketchup when you’re trying to juggle two containers and still keep your hands on the steering wheel.  His idea was to build the ketchup container right into the french fry box!  I shared the idea with Russ in passing.  A few hours later, Russ came back with a prototype box. A fast food french fry box with a small ketchup container build “inside” the box…making it clean and easy to eat french fries with ketchup.

A simple idea, but nevertheless, a big idea.

We never really tried to market the concept, but there is a funny place within us that still feels that if we took the concept to McDonalds, we could a few billion of them.  And what if we did…and the royalty was even a a half a cent per box?  We’ll, we may never really know, but the point is this….

Creativity, invention and entrepreneurship can come from a variety of places, but most often the creativity that comes from collaboration in a safe,  community where everybody matters..  A place where everybody feels as though they can make a difference.  Russell, in his quiet friendly manner, had a way of making people feel that way.

Are you a Russell?  Do people feel safe enough around you to express their ideas, and are you open to listening…and maybe even build upon their ideas as a way of validation?  Who knows how far a “funny little idea” might go…and what it might do to build a funny little relationship you’ll never forget.  Like Russ.  The guy who nurtured the creativity in others…by making the feel safe enough to share their ideas.