Nick Webb


We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents – Bob Ross

Not everyone who innovates—and makes a difference to peoples’ lives—is an entrepreneur or chief innovation officer of a high-tech company. Here’s a true story that showed me just one of the many aspects of human innovation.

Once I was on vacation with my beautiful wife on the amazing island of Maui. Michelle was getting ready for our busy day that we had planned for some time. While waiting for her to get ready, I turned on the television and there he was… Bob Ross, the host of a TV show on PBS called The Joy of Painting. As I watched this show, I listen to his Zen-like voice making weird but beautiful comments as he painted these amazing paintings. It was as if I were listening to an angel’s voice as he created these beautiful landscapes.

Michelle entered the room and I said, “You have got to watch this guy!”

Four hours later, which seemed like only about ten minutes, the series of shows ended, and my wife and I looked at each other and said, “Oh my God, we missed our whale watching cruise!”

Bob Ross had drawn us in because of his authenticity, his amazing passion, and his love for his mission of teaching others how to paint. You might think he was born with a paintbrush in his hand, but his interest in art didn’t come until he was an adult. As a kid he worked as a carpenter with his father, and in 1961 at the age of eighteen he enlisted in the United States Air Force. He served as a medical records technician and rose to the rank of master sergeant, and served as the first sergeant of the U.S. Air Force Clinic at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, which is where he saw the majestic mountains that would appear so often in his paintings. After twenty years in the Air Force, Ross retired, and that’s when his television career began.

Little did my wife and I know at the time, but Bob’s casual, improvisational style was actually the result of careful preparation. As PBS reported, for each episode of his show Ross created three versions of each painting. The first was completed prior to taping, and sat on an easel, off-camera. During taping, Ross used it as a template to create the second copy, the one viewers actually watched him paint. After taping the episode, Ross painted a third, more detailed version for inclusion in his instructional books.

Bob’s quotes are now famous; in fact, recently a board game was released based on his words and his passion. Here are a few examples of how Bob Ross used language to communicate his love, vision, and passion:

Famous Quotes by Bob Ross

“It’s life. It’s interesting. It’s fun.”
“You, too, can paint almighty pictures.”
“The secret of doing anything is believing you can do it. Anything. That you believe you can do strong enough, you can do anything. As long as you believe.”
“No pressure. Just relax and watch it happen.”
“Make love to the canvas.”
“Every day is a good day when you paint.”
“You need the dark in order to show the light.”
“Any time you learn, you gain.”
“Didn’t know you had that much power? You can move mountains. You can do anything.”
“It’s so important to do something every day that will make you happy.”

In his own way, Bob was an innovator, both as a media personality and a teacher. On July 4, 1995, he died of lymphoma at the age of fifty-two, but for those of us who followed him he will always be part of our inner artist. Think about the power of being able to touch so many lives in such a beautiful way!
How to Innovate Like Bob Ross

In your practice as an innovation leader, do you have a clear vision that’s well known by everyone around you? Bob Ross had a very clear and crisp vision: To help reveal the imaginative artist that’s inside every one of us. Seems like a little thing, but when we see beautiful pictures in a museum or gallery, we assume that we could never paint them. Bob Ross showed us that we’re self-limiting, and that we do, in fact, each have an artist within us.

Can you show the artist within each and every one of your team members? Can you inspire them with a clear and crisp vision that is valuable and that is real? Bob did, and so can you, and when you do, your team will become super innovators.