For the last seven summers, some members of the Life is good team have traveled to Manchester, Tennessee for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. I never miss it. It’s a great place for marketing activations, but our primary reason to be there is to have fun together and get inspired. We’ve noticed that festivalgoers are very selective about what T-shirts they bring and wear: they want the messages to express something core to their true selves. So we’ll grab some chairs and some beers and find a spot where we can watch folks flow by, their hearts on their chests.
This year, my colleague Tyler Wakstein and I came up with an idea for a fun project at the festival. We would ask random people the question, “What superpower would you like to have and why?” and film their responses. Superpowers are an important theme at Life is good: that’s what we call our core values. We have 10 of them--things like courage, compassion, gratitude, humor, and creativity that are accessible even to those people not bitten by radioactive spiders. For our film, we left the nature of the powers completely open-ended.
Over four days, Tyler and I talked to around 45 people, whose responses ranged from the frivolous to the profound. We encountered a lot of tele-porters and multiple invisibility fans, including one man who said he wanted that power so he could shove his roommate’s hand while he was brushing his teeth, making him smear toothpaste on his face. Others were more creative and ambitious. A young woman wanted to be a mermaid so she could act as humankind’s liaison with the vast ecosystem under the sea. One guy asked for the superpower of healing. Another gentleman with a long white beard said he didn’t need a superpower because he already had the greatest one of all: love.
A man wielding a trash blower turned it off long enough to proclaim loudly and enthusiastically that he wanted the superpower of immortality “so I can live forever!” Then he switched the blower back on and resumed his war on debris as though he were doing the most fulfilling thing in the world and would happily continue for all eternity.
Back in Boston, I took a cab from the airport to my house. About 10 feet from my stoop I ran into a couple of neighbors who were out for a walk with their 8-year-old daughter, Ania. Exhausted as I was, I posed my superpower question to the adults, who produced the usual sorts of answers. Then I noticed that Ania, hiding shyly behind her mother, looked as though she had something to contribute. I asked her if she had a superpower, and she said she did. I inquired what is was, and she replied “the power of plus and minus.”
Curious, I got down on one knee to make conversation easier. “Can you tell me what that means?” I asked her. She nodded. “When something is good you can plus it,” she said. “And when something is bad you can minus it.”
Adults talk constantly about having a vision and thinking big. But we don’t think as big as we might because we put constraints on ourselves. We instantly rule things out on the basis of practicality, and we layer on complexity because we’re more accustomed to grappling with lots and lots of little solutions than with one overarching one. We prefer to start with what is real instead of with what is beautiful.
Kids don’t do that. Kids go straight to the dream. Invisibility and healing and immortality and mermaids are all just fine. But with the Superpower of Plus and Minus, you could fix every problem in the world and have plenty of time left to ride your bike.
At Life is good, I want us to be as open-minded and as optimistic as Ania--to dream wildly and pursue the magnificent. We all face bumps in execution, and we all work hard at our jobs, so let’s make sure we’re working hard at the most important things. Every day now, I ask myself “What should we minus from our business and what should we plus?” Simple. Clear. Powerful.