Below Deck in a Storm at Sea

Posted by on August 19, 2013

A Monday Morning Memo for the Clients and Friends of The Wizard of Ads

Ted pursued a Ph.D. in English literature at Oxford for awhile, but dropped out when he decided that his studies were “astonishingly irrelevant.” In 1950, Ted invented the word “nerd”. In 1984 he won a Pulitzer Prize.

After dropping out of Oxford, Ted worked 9 years for Standard Oil as a designer of brochures. In the summer of 1936, he found himself below deck on the MS Kungshold, listening to the rhythm of the ship’s engines in a focused attempt to distract himself from a terrifying scene. To further distract himself, Ted began writing a nonsensical poem to the motor’s pounding beat. “I was trying to keep my mind off the storm that was going on. This rhythm persisted in my head for about a week after I was off the ship and, probably as psycho-therapy, I began developing the theme.” When his nonsensical poem was finally complete, Ted decided that instead of signing it with his real name, Theodor S. Geisel, he would use only his middle name. And as long as he was writing nonsense, he would give himself an honorary doctorate. And in a singular, magical moment worthy of all the pixie dust of Tinker Bell, the world’s beloved “Dr. Seuss” was born.

“Although I knew nothing about children’s books it sounded pretty good, so I decided to get it published. It was rejected by twenty-eight publishing houses before the twenty-ninth, Vanguard Press, agreed to take a chance on bringing it out.” The main reason given by the other publishing houses for rejecting Ted’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was that it was too different from the other children’s books on the market.

By the time of his death in 1991, the 46 books written and illustrated by Ted Geisel had sold more than 200 million copies and had been translated into 20 languages. Former Random House president Bennett Cerf once remarked, “I’ve published any number of great writers, from William Faulkner to John O’Hara, but there’s only one genius on my authors list. His name is Ted Geisel.”

What keys did Ted use to unlock the vaults of wild success?

Key 1: Ted surprised Broca’s area of the brain by using unpredictable words in unusual combinations. In fact, Ted often made up his own words altogether.

Key 2: In mimicking the rhythm the ship’s engines, Ted created echoic retention in the phonological loop of working memory, located in the dorsolateral prefrontal association area of the brain. You can’t get Ted’s stories out of your head.

Key 3: Ted refused to pay attention to the established rules of his category: children’s books. He dared to do what had not yet been proven to work.

Key 4: Instead of writing about what was, Ted wrote about what was not. He knew the public was more willing to believe fiction than non- fiction.

Now that you have all four of Ted’s keys, why don’t you do what he did? I can assure you that the keys still work and the vaults are right where they’ve always been.

Roy H. Williams

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