idea machine

When people see my Fun Idea Machine (a vending machine I’ve filled with plastic bubbles, each containing an idea for having fun) they usually ask me the following questions:

1. Where did the idea for the Fun Idea Machine come from?

I consult for ad agencies developing fun ideas to market products. So the idea of a vending machine that could sit behind my desk and “sell ideas” seemed like the kind of thing executives visiting my office would enjoy.

2. How did you build the machine?

Toy dispensers are pretty cheap: $80 brand new on eBay. From there, all I had to do was make the signs to stick to the inside glass. Originally it read, “Fun ideas: $1,000 and up. Consumer engagement: Priceless!”

3. So what’s in the machine?

At first, nothing — it was just a prop. Clients would come in and ask if they could use it, and I would chuckle, “Sure … it runs on quarters … you’re going to need 4,000.” Everything changed when I brought it out to the street to take some pictures for my business cards. People kept stopping me, asking if they could use it.

4. So there’s nothing in it?

Au contraire. I realized I was onto something. I rushed back to my office, ordered a box of toys and the eggs to put them in, and went to work filling it up. Obviously I had to change the price — the machine requires two quarters — but even that seemed excessive. So in addition to putting a fun idea in with each toy, I put in a quarter, and a penny that you could leave heads-up for someone else to find (nothing is more fun than making someone’s day). Put in 50 cents, and you get back a toy, a fun idea, and 26 cents. Fun, right?

5. What are your favorite ideas?

Having taken the machine out now about 30 times, made more than 400 ideas to put inside, and sold almost 4,000 “Funballs,” I can tell you my favorites come in two categories. The first are things people can do right now, things that if they try, their friends will see and say, “I wanna do that.” Like the “shaky face” or “high jump” (search for these terms at to see what they are).

The second are things they might not do, but they remember a time when they would have, a time when they knew that fun was just something you do, regardless of the time or place. Somehow adults forget — they “make fun of,” which is taking the fun out of, instead of “having fun with.”

6. Are you going to start a Fun Idea Machine business?

I got a call from a vending machine business owner. He wanted to know how much it would cost to franchise the idea. I told him it’d be cool to have 10 machines out there and make a couple bucks … but it’d be cooler to have 1,000 machines even if it meant people were stealing the idea. I don’t have the patent on fun. The machine is just a fun thing for me and the people who use it. The funnest idea of all is to make one of your own. I promise you won’t regret it.