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How Ideas Spread
Prince William and Princess Kate have a copy of my book. Now what?
How do ideas spread?
How are jump rope rhymes passed from playground to playground?
How did every kid in the world start drawing that cool ‘S’ thing?
How did the Prince and Princess of Wales end up with a copy of my book?
This is a real question I’ve been actually asking over the last few days. For reals. Thanks to a simple Google alert set up by Kristi (my wife) we discovered this strange news. Her inbox was full of stories about royal hands holding The Circles All Around Us. We screamed.
Here’s what we know:
William and Kate visited the Madley Primary School last week. While there, students presented them with three books . . . .
William and Kate were given several books for their children to share. The Prince seemed particularly taken by one called The Last Tree, by Luke Adam Hawker. Others included The Circles All Around Us, by Brad Montague and Kindness Grows by Britta Teckentrup. (Hello! Magazine)
We’ve been searching the internet for photos. It seems only a few images and clips of this visit exist. We were able to locate a video of the moment they were handed the books, though. For a split second, you can actually see the spine! Here’s Prince William holding it:
I’m not sure exactly what happens next.
I mean, obviously, I will become a knight sometime soon. Duh.
Kate and William will probably invite us over for tea (a mere formality before becoming best friends). The greatest honor will be getting to meet Paddington Bear — which has been my plan all along.
Just last week I was lamenting the struggle it can be to get ideas out there. A recent post I made on Substack had some of the lowest engagement since I started sharing here. (this one) After a lot of trying to figure out what I could’ve done differently, I discovered it was many things. The biggest no-no? I used too many GIFs. Yep. I got too GIF happy! People’s inboxes flagged it as junk and some readers were unable to open the message or experienced too much lag time.
It’s confusing how some ideas hit and other’s don’t. I’ve had several projects that I thought would go far and wide, but ended up in junk folders. I have a few projects that went well beyond what I ever dreamed they could. Several of my dreams, though, are still tucked away in the Cave of Untold Stories. Why keep showing up?
There’s lots of people on a quest for other people’s attention.
We’ve seen battles between streaming services, social network platforms, and even chicken sandwiches. So much money has been spent to sell ideas. Smart people have tried studying and decoding the ways ideas spread. Sometimes I get to work with these smart people. Here’s an illustrative breakdown of what I learned about communities and ideas working in YouTube:
I love seeing ideas spread, but I really don’t know exactly how they spread. Something encouraging (and a little concerning) I’ve been learning is— nobody really knows. Sure, you can study virality, search engine optimization, and communication theories. Can you really know how to ensure an idea gets passed person to person, though?
Is it possible to create something and know with absolute certainty that one day a group of children will put it into the hands of the royal family an ocean away?
Look, I’ll share with you my secret. It’s the Paddington Way.
I know. It sounds ridiculous, but keep an open mind. (Also- have you seen Paddington 2? He transforms the prison-industrial complex from the inside! With kindness! Little bear knows what he’s doing.)
The Paddington Way
Be an odd bear.
If you were to ask yourself, “What would Paddington do right now?” The answer is most likely that he would eat a marmalade sandwich. Is that the trendiest thing to do? No. Is it what Paddington would do? Yes. Don’t worry about the trends. Be you. Bring your least trendiest self into whatever you’re doing. What’s your marmalade sandwich?
Make a mess.
His heart is in the right place, but things often go very wrong for the bear. He spills things. He breaks things. He upsets Mr. Brown. Even so, it often leads to the best thing. Be willing to jump in with all your heart and have it not work.
People are often either delighted by him, confused, or some combination of both. Still, he shows up. In the end, it’s always his consistent caring presence that changes everything around him. He just keeps showing up. Paws up, friend. Keep showing up.
The Circles All Around Us started as a poem spoken aloud to campers at a summer camp. I tried to include it in written form in the book Becoming Better Grownups, but the poem got cut. I then created a short animated version of the poem for a project with the Fred Rogers Institute. That project was cancelled. Finally, I just posted it on Instagram. I thought that would be the end of the idea, but it was just getting started.
Last week, it ended up in the hands of Prince William and Princess Kate.
Today, I’m working on the artwork for a new picture book. I’m also sending out this message to the world. Will these ideas come alive, too? Will these things find their way to you? Will any of this matter?
I’ve stopped trying to predict where an idea will end up. Sometimes it won’t work. Other times? “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come,” wrote Victor Hugo. The algorithm changes. The winds of trend shift. The need for goodness is always there, though.
We gotta keep showing up and things will happen. Or in the words of Paddington, “Things are always happening to me. I’m that sort of bear.”
To all the good still left to imagine in the world, .
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