Randall Kenneth Jones: Never underestimate the power of imagination

If there is one casualty of our increasingly frenetic business lives, it’s the decline in time devoted to simply think, listen, inspire and create. After all, can any business thrive without a healthy infusion of fresh ideas and creative thinking?

In the late 1980s, friends, beach enthusiasts and retail-industry veterans Bob Emfield and Tony Margolis took the aforementioned time to embrace their love of Florida’s Gulf Coast — going so far as to fashion a fictional, luxuriously clothed character symbolizing their appreciation for the idyllic tropical lifestyle. They created Tommy Bahama. 

Emfield and Margolis understood what their creation ate and drank as well as how he spent his free time as part of a quest to live life as one long weekend. Their lives and the lifestyles of countless consumers changed when the following idea surfaced: “Why don’t we dress this guy?” 

A chance meeting between Margolis and fashion designer Lucio Dalla Gasperina resulted in a newly formed management trio ready to introduce Tommy Bahama to the national retail landscape.

Though the three founders shared leadership responsibilities, another man stood virtually above the rest.

“At every meeting, we always added a fourth chair for Tommy,” Emsfield says. The invisible presence reinforced the notion that all business decisions had to be based on the question, “What would Tommy do?” — a brand marketing play absolutely brilliant in its ingenuity and simplicity. 

Take the first step

Emfield says there is always a window of opportunity, but Emfield’s own window may never have opened if he and Margolis hadn’t taken the time to be creative visionaries on a grand scale. 

Of course, isn’t creativity ultimately the cornerstone of any successful business? Creative thinking has been responsible for many of the images, brands and cultural icons we take for granted today.

The publishing industry gave us Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler; the food and beverage industry gave us Coca-Cola; the health care industry gave us penicillin; and the entertainment industry gave us Mickey Mouse.

Ask yourself if you are doing enough

Menswear’s Tommy Bahama has certainly earned its place on this list of truly inspired accomplishments. This also raises a very important question: As a business leader, are you doing everything possible to create environments where your teams can think creatively and speak openly? Absolutely no organization can afford to miss out on an inspired thought or imaginative concept that may revolutionize its business.

Though all three founders retired in 2008, Emfield’s ongoing passion for the brand is apparent — and, metaphorically or not, Tommy himself is never far from his side. As Emfield puts it, “There’s a little bit of Tommy in all of us.” 

If a “beachcomber” is defined as somebody who looks for valuable things at the seashore, then Tommy Bahama founders Emfield, Margolis and Dalla Gasperina are arguably the three most imaginative beachcombers of all time — finding extraordinary value in the coastline by cleverly looking beyond the sea shells and spare change. 

So is Tommy Bahama real or imagined? Just ask the millions who have bought into his ongoing search for the endless weekend, and the answer is clear. Like Virginia and Santa Claus — I dare say, there too is a Tommy Bahama. ●

Speaker, writer and professional storyteller Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm. For more information, visit randallkennethjones.com. 

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