While listening to an NPR story on a couple in New York City who had "gone green"  (that is, living outside our normal consumer society, at least a bit) I was struck by a thought. If you want to get famous, gimmicks can get you some serious attention. Given the dire economic times and forthcoming radical changes (at least here in the U.S.), I thought some get-famous-quick ideas might come in handy if you're considering a rapid job change ;-)
However, some seemingly trivial gimmicks of the past have evolved into useful, permanent features.
So my definition is "novel, quirky, and useful."
IMPORTANT NOTE: You must be the first on the block because the novelty factor is king. First some examples of successful ones, then a few of my ideas for new ones. Have fun!
Gimmicks that rock
Clearly almost anything goes. My test of a good gimmick: One that gives you a unique helpful perspective on the world, and that keeps on giving (i.e., "has legs"). For example, anyone practicing a personal system like GTD will probably tell you they can't look at work the same way again. Or take my "life as a scientific experiment" approach - I now see courage, fear, and risk much differently.
Here are some good ones I know of, starting with the "thing." Care to share your favorites?
- Toilet paper: The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur. They have a thing (toilet paper) with a marketing spin (so to speak). Fun variation: Dick Cheney Toilet Paper. On sale, I notice. Much like our banks ;-)
- Paper clip: one red paperclip. This one is a double win, because he has a thing (a paper clip) plus a unique use beyond simply riffing off the thing: trading it up to a house. Brilliant!
- Post card: PostSecret.
- Nametag: HELLO, my name is Scott! I interviewed Scott a while back. Smart guy, great idea, great use of it.
- Tattoo: Like the paper clip, this is more what you do with it (put it on your forehead for $10,000) than the thing itself. (Interestingly, my favorite end-of-the-world peak oil financial market dude Jim Kunstler doesn't like tattoos. Made me think!)
- Pixels: The granddaddy of novel ideas turned into income, The Million Dollar Homepage - Own a piece of internet history!
- Napkin: Back of the Napkin. A lovely idea of turning quick problem sketches into solutions. (Of course the NASA engineer in me loves this one. It reminds us that numbers are secondary to ideas, a point that Lewis Thomas makes in his sublime Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony).
- Duct Tape: A general-purpose thing, it applies both to construction (wallets, say) and marketing (Guerrilla Marketing). Quasi-related: Guerrilla Marketing. Opportunity: Guerrilla's carrying duct tape who teach marketing? Nah.
- To Do List: Waaaaaay overdone, but I liked this twist, in the "found objects" category - Handwritten lists: To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. It's also a blogs-to-books example (original blog here).
- Buccaneer: Talk Like A Pirate Day. This one cleverly capitalized on an affectation that's common here in the states. You can certainly see how to spin this for business - "Pirate Productivity" or "Innovate like a Pirate," for example.
- Business card: Cards are cool, and I have a thing for them. Witness my Personal Productivity Playing Cards and my on-going love for MOO's MiniCards, for example. I even played with turning a cube of them into a workflow tool (A GTD WorkFlow Tool: The Five Stages On A Business Card Cube. A couple of twists come to mind, with my favorite being cartoons drawn on the back of them. The trend may be rising - see The Gentleman's Guide to the Calling Card and May I Offer You My Calling Card?.
Gimmicks that could rock
Given these successes, what's waiting to be tapped for the Next Thing? Here are a few ideas - what are yours?
- 2x2 Matrix: Surely you didn't think I'd let this post go without mentioning my long-standing infatuation with the lowly foursquare matrix, did you? Taking a cue from the brilliant Demetri Martin, who has a genius for hilarious business-style presentations (videos here), how about an entire lecture based on them? I've already pointed out the pricey The Power of the 2 x 2 Matrix: Using 2x2 Thinking to Solve Business Problems and Make Better Decisions (arriving, it turns out, as a birthday present from a reader :-) but I don't think the gimmick has been really nailed.
- Favorite tool or web site: This idea is general, and has been done for plenty of sites, but why not turn your fanatacism for a particular tool, game, or web site into your thing? The recipe: Make yourself the world expert in this thing (undying love for it is required), then start writing about it. As you gain momentum your influence will grow, drawing in more readers, industry experts, and, soon enough, Bob's your uncle. Examples abound: Google Blogoscoped, AppleInsider, iLounge, and Twitterforum.com. Or how about a site about whether a site is working or not (Twitter Status - though granted it's an official one). Question: What to do when there's an official one, e.g., Official Gmail Blog or GTDtimes? If you're good enough and well established enough, it probably won't matter. Heck, you might even be invited to participate or work for them (How I Got to Google, for example).
- Go without: Like the NPR story mentioned above, make a public show of going without something common and fundamental for a year. For example, go on a radical media diet (Tim Ferriss has played this a bit) or stop shopping at big box stores. There's a lot of opportunity here - got any good ones?
- Go overboard: At the extreme other end of the spectrum is adding an excessive amount of something to your life. Super Size Me (junk food) is a terrific example - loved it! Another is Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!). Nice!
- Sticky notes: While there's been a ton of books on these ubiquitous wonders - Origami and Problem Solving) I have the sense that a productivity-based shtick could work. (Related: In One Way To Enjoy The Ride - Celebrate Surprise! I mentioned Twenty-Five Years of Post-it Notes - fun read).
- Self experimentation: Here's one I considered: Read a book a day for a year, write up what you learned, then write a book about that! Another example is go a year always saying yes to anything put at you: Danny Wallace's Yes Man (via On Saying Yes - 3 Possibilities: Always Yes, Always No, Or Only When You Really Want To).
- Same name: Here's something has to have been done, but I can't find it: Spend a year travelling around the world meeting people with your exact same name. There are tools on the net to make this straightforward (the ones I found required registration - samename.com - or only gave a count - How Many of Me), so it's only a matter of time, determination, and money. Again, if it's not been done already. Side note: When I created my web site (matthewcornell.org) I naturally first tried matthewcornell.com, but it was taken. So I thought I'd take a little chance with an experiment: I called the guy! Turns out we had a nice conversation, so you never know!
- One-page hot-topic sites: My final idea is a pattern that can be applied to any short-term hot topic. An obvious one would have been http://tinafeyforveep.com (I considered it!), given Tina Fey's recent spot-on imitations of Governer Palin (I mentioned Couric/Palin Open in last week's A Late Adopter's Productivity Experiment With Twitter, Plus Some 140 Word Humor). Again, key to this is being first. The ultimate classic is in politics: Bush/Zombie Reagan 2004. Don't forget to vote!
What do you think?
-  I'm sorry I couldn't find it. The closest one I came across was Life Without Goods Made in China. You get the picture, I hope.
-  In addition to the tips I gave last week (How To Stay Balanced And Productive During Uncertainty And Crisis) injecting some good news and little surprises into your life can give you hope. For me it might be catching up on things working well for friends, downloading a $0.99 iPhone app, receiving a book order (via local library or Amazon), or seeing a good movie. In the latter category I really enjoyed seeing Bill Maher's just-released Religulous (official site here). Maher is one of my heros. His show (Real Time with Bill Maher) almost makes me wish we had cable ;-) His blog is here.