When my daughter was young all she wanted to do was watch TV.
She’d sit in front of it hypnotised.
This didn’t work for me.
I wanted her to use her imagination, develop her mind.
In short, I wanted her to be learning.
But I didn’t want to force her to learn.
I wanted her to have what she wanted.
But I also wanted what I wanted.
This seemed to me just like an advertising problem.
How can we set it up so that everyone gets what they want?
What’s a creative way to approach that?
Mainly she loved cartoons.
So I looked everywhere for interesting cartoons that I thought she’d like.
Eventually I found a series of all Shakespeare’s plays.
They’d been made by different east European animation companies.
Some were drawn animation, some were 3D stop-frame.
In each case the play had been reduced from several hours down to half hour.
They kept the main plot lines, and the most important speeches.
Just what I wanted.
It wasn’t enough to bore her, just enough to stay interested.
She would watch anything that was animation on TV.
And without knowing it, she was getting a good grounding in the works of Shakespeare.
Stories of love, and honour, confusion and betrayal.
All told in fancy costumes and elegant language.
Just the sort of thing to interest a little girl.
I knew it was working when I found her and her little brother in the kitchen one day.
There was a large puddle of milk on the floor and they looked guilty.
I said, “Who’s spilt this all over the floor?”
She stood up straight, looked me in the eye, and said, “Thou canst not say I did it. Shake not thy gory locks at me.”
How can you get angry with a very little Lady Macbeth?
She was two years older than her little brother.
And little boys are different to little girls.
So several years later, he needed a different solution.
Because I was at work, he would come home from school and plonk himself in front of the TV.
So no homework would get done.
The most obvious solution was to take the TV sets away.
But what happens when the grownups want to watch it?
We needed a more creative approach to the problem.
How to get what we both wanted?
He wanted TV, I wanted him to do his homework.
So, start with researching the market, and come up with a brief.
Two things we know about boys: they love to play games, and they’re very competitive.
So how could I make that work for both of us?
Eventually, I thought let’s change all the TV plugs to French plugs.
They’ve only got 2 prongs and won’t fit into UK 3 prong sockets.
So that’s what I did.
I bought several French 2 prong plugs, and several 3 prong converter plugs.
You could only use the TV if you also used the UK converter plug.
So, every evening before I went to bed, I hid the converter plug in a different place.
I’d tell him he couldn’t have it until he’d done his homework.
Of course, at first, he’d spend an hour looking for it.
Then eventually, he realised he was just wasting TV time and he’d be better off doing his homework.
So he’d do it, then call me at the office, and I’d tell him where the plug was.
Then, before I went to bed the next night, I’d find a different place to hide the plug.
This worked well, and gradually the homework began getting done with as little disruption as possible.
Like all the best creative solutions, we each got what we wanted.
But there’s a sequel to this.
Recently on holiday we were talking about this and my son, now a grownup, told me that actually he knew where the hiding places were.
But he didn’t want me to know he knew.
So he’d come home, watch some TV, then do some homework and call me up to ask where the plug was.
Pretending he didn’t know.
I was really pleased with this.
Because instead of just getting his homework done, what had actually been happening was developing his mind.
He worked out how to give me what I wanted while still making sure he got what he wanted.
He was working out how to out-think me.
In short, he was learning how to be creative.