Do you have an eight-inch frying pan?

John Foust

Nov 1, 2021


There’s a story about an old man who was fishing from a pier. He was catching more fish than anyone else, so a crowd gathered to learn his secret. His behavior was unlike anything they had ever seen. Each time he caught a fish, he pulled a tape measure out of his pocket and took a measurement. He put the small fish into his cooler and tossed the big ones back into the ocean.

When one of the onlookers asked about his strange technique, he explained that he kept only the fish that were under eight inches long. “Why are you doing that?” he was asked. He said, “Because my frying pan is eight inches wide.”

Imagine that. The old fellow was throwing away the fish that didn’t fit his eight-inch frying pan. It didn’t occur to him that he could get a bigger frying pan or cut large fish into smaller pieces.

We may laugh at this silly example, but there’s a bit of that old fisherman in all of us. It’s human nature to resist change. It’s no surprise that we have a tendency to discard ideas that don’t fit the way we’ve always done things. We all have eight-inch frying pans in our minds, and sometimes it takes discipline to break down those barriers.

Pablo Picasso once said, “Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.” While there is some debate about what this famous artist actually meant, I think it’s safe to say he was talking about the need to let go of former — often stubborn — inclinations to do things in certain ways.

Eight-inch frying pans have no place in a creative profession like advertising. If we discard the ideas that don’t fit the way we’ve always done things, we restrict our thinking and limit our potential. When that happens, we end up in a creative rut, and our advertisers get short-changed.

Abraham Maslow, the noted psychologist and philosopher, said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” That’s another way of saying, “Stop throwing away the big ideas. Instead, get rid of that old, eight-inch frying pan.”

To refocus our thinking, it helps to recognize negative reactions we might have toward new ideas. When a new concept comes to mind — and our initial reaction is to measure it and throw it back — we should stop ourselves in our tracks. That’s it. Just stop.

This reminds me of the old saying, “The mind is like a parachute. It only works when it’s open.” Once we open the door to possibilities, new ideas — big ideas — will be more welcome.

There is a lot to gain. In the right environment, the seeds of unrestricted creative thinking can blossom into great advertising.

If you want to measure something, measure campaign results. When you have great advertising, you’ll have great results. And when you have great results, you’ll create loyal advertisers. © Copyright 2021 by John Foust. All rights reserved.

John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. Email for information: