I like the “muddy moment” as much as the “aha moment.”
Craig Bramscher, 50
IN THE ’70S, Craig Bramscher’s father had a recurring reaction to his young son’s regular fountain-like gushes of ideas. “He has his palms up facing me, then flat to the floor, like, ‘My God, could you please stop,’” Bramscher recalls.
The founder of Brammo Inc, the Ashland-based company Bramscher says is the first in the country to roll out a production line of electric-powered motorcycles with enough guts to be speed-freak fun (and freeway?worthy), began building his ideas at an early age. A clay-pigeon launcher became a trailer-top newspaper launcher for his bicycle-powered delivery business. He fitted small, plywood boats with big engines to go fast. By high school, he had contracted what he calls “machine lust,” buying basket-case motorcycles that had more problems than working parts, just so he could tear them apart and put them back together.
Although trained as an architect, Bramscher found his strong suit was putting business ideas into language engineers could understand. “I had a very strong opinion about the design,” he says, “but that wasn’t probably my forte.” His creative juices run most freely where others’ bog down in what he calls “the muddy moment”—when a problem’s solution is clearly visible but the path to it is not. It’s a feeling Bramscher says he enjoys as much as the “aha!” moment. What some people call dumb ideas, he contends, are just part of his arsenal for the future.
For example, when Bramscher sold his first company—an Internet start-up in the go-go ’90s—on “a really lucky day in the stock market,” he went shopping for a sports car. At the dealership, he found that his tall frame didn’t fold very well into the low-slung seats. The experience sparked an idea to start a company to build sports cars for “American-sized guys”—what became Brammo. The first design, a fully built 12-cylinder supercar prototype, still sits in a garage. Yet his pursuit of ever-lighter construction materials and methods led him onto a wildly different path: a motorcycle—the Empulse—so light it could be powered to 100 mph by lithium-ion battery packs where the engine would otherwise be.
Now 50, Bramscher says his teenage machine lust is giving way to other modes of inspiration: going to bed purposely pondering a problem, then “seeing what comes out in the morning,” he says, noting the dadlike reaction from his employees that often follows. “When I walk in [to Brammo] and I say, ‘You know, I had this dream,’ they’re like, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’” —Kristen Hall-Geisler