Creative Problem Solving 101

We think we invented creative problem solving. Listen to this. Four thousand years ago Princess Dido of Phoenicia got bounced off her throne by her rotten brother.

According to legend she sailed to Africa to try and build another palace. But the local king would only sell her the amount of land that an ox hide would cover.

This is an architect’s nightmare, a palace thirty stories high and one ox hide wide. A grand banquet room that seats 400– two at a time.

But Princes Dido is a sharp cookie, and a natural born real estate developer. She signs the contract and thinks, “There is more than one way to skin an ox.” And she does.

Sharp mind, also sharp knife. She slices the hide into very narrow strips and lays them end to end in a circle. Now she owns the outside of a piece of property about seven tenths of a mile in area. Nobody can cross her property line, so she can do what she wants inside. It’s enough for a modest palace or should she call it her “Ox Hide Out” (sorry, couldn’t resist.) There is even space for her “Ox Skin Acre” condominium development.

Clever huh? Imagine what she could have done with today’s technology. Get the gismo that prepares specimens for microscope slides and slice her ox hide one molecule thick. She could have circled the whole Mediterranean Ocean including her ugly brother and starved him out.

She could have cloned the ox a few thousand times, proved with the DNA it was the same hide, and ruled the world.

The moral of the story is, of course, when you need a creative solution to your problem, think outside the ox.

Stories about the Song ‘Follow the Prophet’

As we mentioned during the last post, we were recently at RootsTech and met a number of people, many of whom remembered the Three D’s and many who asked, are you the one who wrote ‘Follow the Prophet’? Many wanted to take pictures with Duane and told him that one of the primary songs for March is ‘Follow the Prophet’.  So I asked him if he would share some of the stories that he’s heard about this song and we could send it out in a post. This is from his book Live Long*, Learn a little, Laugh a Lot.

“Would you compose a song about the Old Testament Prophets? We want it to sound like a Jewish folk song, and be fun for the children to sing.” That was the request to me from the Church music committee as they planned a new song book for the Primary in 1987.

“Hmm, these are three significant challenges,” I thought.  “First, what should be the message of the song, and how can I distill the great words and stirring deeds of the Old Testament prophets into a few verses and a chorus?  Second, how can I make it sound like a Jewish folk song, when I don’t know any Jewish folk songs? And third, how can I write a fun song?” This was the biggest challenge of all. My beloved wife Diane, mother of our 15 children, had died just two weeks before. This was not a fun time in our family.

“What to do?” I have asked children in many places when I tell them this story. Always they respond with the right answer, “Pray.”  I prayed. The Lord answered by reminding me of Stillman Pond, a man I had written about in a script years before. Stillman Pond was a noble pioneer who buried nine of his 11 children and then his wife Maria as they crossed the plains. Later he himself became so sick he could not sit up in his wagon, but he continued his trek. How did he see to drive? He peered through a knot hole in the dashboard of his wagon. Through it he could make out the tracks of those who had gone before him, including President Brigham Young.

I believe thoughts such as these filled his mind. “I have a testimony of the gospel. But I am so sad, so sick, how can I go on? I will keep my eyes on the tracks in front of me. Step by step I will follow the prophet.”

“That is the message,” I said to myself. As always, the song took much work and many rewrites before I felt I had fulfilled their request. It is about the Old Testament prophets plus one verse to bring the message up to date. The children tell me it is fun to sing, and several Jewish people over the years have said it reminds them of their heritage. I believe the Lord heard and answered my prayer.

I sent the little song in, and the music committee called me back and said, “We like this song. We would like some more verses.”

So I wrote more verses.

They said, “We like these verses. Send us some more.

I sent some more.

They said, “Send more.”

I said, “Look primary only lasts for two hours. Enough with the verses.” Actually I just said, “Thank you.” I was glad they liked the verses.

Maybe nine verses is about the right number. Leslee Ewell Lundgren from Orem Utah was an adult leader at a Young Woman conference where I told them the story of writing the song. I joked about the many verses. She said to me after the show, “I’m glad you wrote more verses. When I was a little girl none of my family went to Church. Once I went by myself to primary because my friends talked about primary and I wanted to know what went on there. During the singing time the music leader held up a big Hershey bar and told us, ‘We are going to learn the song Follow the Prophet. We are going to learn one verse each week. At the end of nine weeks those of you who have learned all nine verses will win a big candy bar like this.”

“I really wanted a big Hershey bar, so I went to primary every week and learned all the verses. At the end of nine weeks I got a Hershey bar. More importantly, I’ve been going to Church ever since.”

I said, “Thanks for telling me your story. I’m glad I didn’t stop at six or seven.”

I have received many stories from many places indicating the little song has traveled widely and with people in all walks of life. Truman Madsen told me his granddaughter Molly was shopping with her mother in a grocery store in their town near San Francisco. Molly was following her mother singing “Follow the Prophet” at the top of her voice. Her mother tried to get her daughter to tone it down a few decibels. But the store manager happened to be behind them. He said, “No, you let that little girl sing. She’s got a good business sense. You follow the profit; you’ll be successful in retail.”

Kia Heaton a little girl about five, was hiking with her mother and little sister and littler brother. She kept running ahead saying, “I am the prophet. I’m the prophet.” Her mother said, “What does that mean?”

She answered, “You are supposed to follow me.”

My sister Diane told me of a little family in Kansas who sang Follow the Prophet often for their home evenings etc. One day their little son was looking through a copy of the Friend, the Church magazine for children. He saw a picture of Gordon B. Hinckley, the prophet and president of the Church at the time. He got excited and said, “Look. It’s Follow. The prophet.” When I tell the children this story, I remind them that follow is a verb, something we do, not a name like Smokey the Bear and Kermit the Frog.

I got a note saying Lyndee Bauman was teaching her best friend Claire Sherman verses of Follow the Prophet. They are both four years old. Claire is Jewish. Great. Claire, your ancestors spent 40 years learning to follow their prophet Moses. That’s even harder than learning nine verses.

Phil Carmack’s son who just started Sunbeams (three years old) in primary came home singing. Phil wrote me from Redwood City California, “I heard him singing a new Primary song. He was belting out ‘Follow the Prophet you won’t go straight.’” A few weeks later he learned the correct words.

After a presentation I gave in 2003 a woman told me her friend’s little son was learning Baa Baa Black Sheep and follow the prophet at same time period. In Church he sang, “Follow the black sheep.” His mother got a note from the primary president.

Joseph Walker called me from Sacramento California. He had his primary class write verses to “Follow the Prophet.” One little guy wrote, “Abinidi was a prophet… and then you hum the rest.”

Our daughter Katy told me about a little boy in their neighborhood who adapted the song to instruct his younger brother in character development. He sings to him, “Follow the Prophet. Don’t be a jerk.”

Apparently the song crosses national borders fairly well. Ferron and Linda Leavett told me in Edmonton Canada a few years ago, “We just returned from a mission to Kenya, Africa. ‘Follow the Prophet’ was a favorite song of the children there in primary.” They said the African children were asked to each learn a verse in English. But the children insisted on learning all the verses in English. They sang them with great rhythm and enthusiasm.

Considering the number of verses, they should get college credit for that.

In Wales the branch primary sang in sacrament meeting. The primary consisted of  one child. He sang “Follow the Prophet.” An older man in the congregation picked up the chorus, then others joined in. The whole congregation was singing by the end of the song.

A young man in Vancouver Canada told me on his mission in Eastern Europe (Romania as I recall) the children sang it with gusto and with a heavy accent. Travis Woolsey, institute president at Vancouver, told me on his mission to Bulgaria their primary children loved to sing “Follow the Prophet.” “They rocked out with Bulgarian accents,” he said.

That would be interesting to hear. Sometimes in those Eastern European languages, “Follow the Prophet” could sound more like a command than an invitation.

If you speak Spanish you will enjoy our little friend Jorjito Alvarado in Puerto Rico who sang “Sigue al profeta, deja el arroz,” which translates, “Follow the prophet. Don’t eat the rice.” His mother corrected him that it was “deja el error” which means “don’t go astray.” I assume she also said “Coma el arroz.” “Eat your rice.”

The song was written for Primary children, but apparently the age range starts earlier. At a primary leadership meeting in Riverton Utah, Shirley Jolley, about 6 months pregnant, said her baby began to kick to the rhythm when we began to sing “Follow the Prophet.”

Christmas time at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City families can arrange to dress up and appear in the nativity scene. Kim Wadsworth said Howard W. Hunter, the president and prophet of the Church at the time was in the audience. Kim wrote me, “As he was leaving in his wheel chair, a little child, 2-3 years old ran after him singing “Follow the Prophet, follow the prophet…”

“It was a most beautiful experience,” Kim said.

Young adults enjoy their own version. The students at BYU Idaho University particularly liked the verse about Jonah and the whale. They would follow it with their own version of the chorus, “Swallow the prophet.”

Apparently there is an appeal for the more mature also. Al Payne, a high school music teacher by career told me his high priests quartet features it in their programs, and they “jazz it up a little.” Way to go brethren, turn up those heart pacers and as they used to say in the big band era, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

My sister Jeanie sent me a video of an adult Sunday school class in Moscow starting their lesson with the song in their language. It sounded as though you could turn the metronome up a few notches and make a pretty good Cossack boot stomping dance.

One of my favorite stories includes a mature gentleman, a young man and a child. The gentleman was a stake president from Logan Utah who told me the story. A young man with problems in his stake had paid for a six pack of beer at a grocery store checkout stand. He started to leave when the voice of a child floated from another part of the store, “Follow the Prophet… he knows the way.”

The young man paused a moment then started for the door. The clerk called to him, “Hey, you forgot your beer. You paid for it.”

The youth called back as he walked out. “I know I forgot the beer, but I remembered something else.”

Michael Moody, head of Church music told me when the song came out it was a favorite of the general primary board and their children and grandchildren. That may have been a relief to Michael. I got word through the grapevine years after the song was written that some of the music committee members were a little nervous when they heard I was asked to write it. One said, “You mean Duane Hiatt of the Three D’s? He’s the funniest man I know. How will we ever get it through correlation?”

Actually the correlation committee was very encouraging, and their suggestions improved the song I think.

To develop and be guided by a long perspective, I know of no better counsel than to “Follow the Prophet.”

The happy song turned out to be a prelude to happier days to come.

(If you want to see a video where Duane tells about writing the song, click here, to buy the book, click here or check Amazon. Thanks!)