What’s in Your Lost Parts Drawer?


Whatever the weather, every morning while driving past the corner bank, I see an armed guard in the parking lot. The security he provides stands as a quaint relic from the days before cybercrime. Then one day, the guard was gone. Was he sick, or on vacation, or repurposed to the pasture of a cubical farm? It was only three days without a sighting when while approaching the bank through an unusually thick patch of traffic, I saw vehicles with flashing lights and a small army of police investigating a crime where the absent guard once stood. Some missing elements, even if not obviously useful, over time can show their purpose.

When you notice something is missing do you see opportunity, not in the robbing sort of way, but for creativity? By adding the right people, the right processes, or the right parts we fill vacuums to create value. An empty storefront begs the question: What’s needed here? Extend your offerings by asking, what do your customers find themselves doing immediately after they buy your product? Or, improve your dinner by adding the missing spice to your jambalaya? Tiny incremental improvements using the smallest hint of liquid smoke can have gigantic impacts.

These small droplets used in the right way can matter. Our lives are full of stray jigsaw pieces and unidentified shards of plastic that are somehow essential, although their purposes won’t reveal themselves until the next time you try to start your lawn mower or turn on your ceiling fan. Without the dream of a 3d printer, these parts would be nearly impossible to replace and make cherished objects useless.

Henry Ford said “I always had a pocket full of trinkets—nuts, washers, and odds and ends of machinery.” And continued, “There is an immense amount to be learned simply by tinkering with things.”

Tinkering or not, when strays are found, theses nuts and bolts, sketches, lyrics, photos, phrases on post-it notes, color swatches, torn magazine articles, domain names, business cards, and rhymes can be herded and horded into a lost parts drawer. This is a special place where many bits of metal enter but few ever leave – but the ones that do leave shinning like gold.

Creativity doesn’t have to be useful today. Some of our remnants gather until they reach saturation and then rain down in a lightening storm of aha moments. Some ideas are before there time, others can be used as a stepping-stone for you or someone else to leap for greater places. What do you do with your incomplete starts? Do you keep a lost parts drawer to draw from?