The Legend of Flying Boy

The Legend of Flying Boy

Daring You to Take Flight in 2020

My very first brilliant idea, which I’m lucky was not my last, materialized when I was 9-years old. It came to me while watching a plastic bag blow around the yard and eventually get caught in the branches of a tree. It occurred to me that the aerodynamic principles of a plastic shopping bag are exactly similar to those of a parachute. And thus my dream was born.

I would design a parachute for kids.  

Yes, it would be considerably smaller than those used by actual skydivers … I knew this from GI Joe cartoons. But my plan was not to jump out of a plane. That would be crazy — not to mention the logistical problems of acquiring a plane, a pilot, and an airport. No, I would limit the altitude to the rooftop of my house. 

I couldn’t believe it had never been done. I had a glorious vision of kids around the world jumping off their rooftops, floating blissfully to their backyards — and then hurrying up the ladder for another jump. And for me, the money would be rolling in.

But I wasn’t in it for the money. It was more about the glory. 

Now, I don’t want you to think I rushed into this without doing some research. I didn’t just grab a bag and jump off the roof (thank goodness… because if I’m honest I really did consider it). No. I worked on developing a prototype. 

A child's drawing of a boy holding a shopping bag next to an actual parachutist. Drawing is "Not to scale".

And… this was my design.

This perfectly reasonable, intricately detailed, scientifically sound design was my ticket to the skies. It’s funny how, even as a child, I knew that a dream doesn’t become reality on its own. You need to take action — and write it down. Suddenly, prototype design in hand, my dream was palpable. Alive. Real.

There was one problem.

I have an uncle who knows about inventions. He had once told me that if you want to invent something, you need a patent. And to get one, you had to test your design. You know… make sure it works. An idea does not an invention make.

Easy to solve. I decided I would test my design, but do it at a lower altitude for the initial jumps, make whatever adjustments I’d need, then take to the roof. I planned my first jump out my bedroom window. (It was the 2nd story — what was the worst that could happen?)

But, thinking ahead (as visionaries do), I knew that eventually I would need to market my idea. Kids needed to know about this fabulous new product that would change their lives forever. So, I decided to combine my prototype test with a prototype demonstration.

A child drawn poster that reads "Come see the Amazing Flying Boy - he doesn't even care if he dies."

I made a poster.

And I became the Amazing Flying Boy.

Come to think of it, this was also my first marketing campaign. And it was a good one. I made copies of the poster and put them up all over the neighbourhood. I even charged $0.10 for admission (to get shopping bags you needed to buy something, and I was going to need a LOT of bags). And of course I knew that kids were not going to be interested unless there was some element of peril, so I added the line “he doesn’t even care if he dies!”

By now, you probably realize that this was a bad idea. Testing your product before a live audience is not a good marketing strategy. I had a backyard full of enthusiastic children waiting to watch the Amazing Flying Boy soar out his window like an idiot.

And honestly, as I stood in the window looking out at their excited faces, I believed, without any doubt, that it was going to work. I saw myself in that moment, completely free, in utter control of the elements. Gravity be damned. In my vision, I jumped into the air and floated gently, gracefully, to a soft, safe landing.

You’ve heard the mantra “fail fast”? I failed in less than a second. I woke up in an ambulance, and eventually faced two very angry parents. Thankfully, nothing was broken. Well, nothing physical. My spirit, like my dream, was crushed.

My parents even made me give all the money back. I went around the neighbourhood handing kids dimes and apologizing for making them have to explain what happened to the paramedics.

So I had nothing to show for it. The Amazing Flying Boy was grounded for good.

But, truth be told, there is something so valuable I learned from that experience (besides the obvious). It’s something that I have forgotten over the years, and something that so many of us leave behind amongst the ruins of our youth. On that day, I had no fear. An idea came. I embraced it. I built it. I sold it. And then I jumped out a window.

How many times have I been able to do that as an adult? Why, when I’ve learned so much about the world (including basic aerodynamics), am I so afraid to try something new, however crazy, for fear of failing?

I know I’m not alone. I think most adults experience this in some way or other. But perhaps if we remember that childhood fearlessness — that willingness to act upon an idea and work to see it become real — we can make things happen in ways we actually dreamt of.

I hope that this year ahead brings you many opportunities, and that your brilliant ideas inspire you to take action, take a leap, and take flight.

Just remember to test your prototype first.

Note: The drawings in this post are an artist’s rendition of the originals, and may not be exactly the same. However, they are really super close! 🙂