Sometimes, try as you might, it’s impossible to focus on the task at hand. When you can’t focus, one alternative is to accept the mental roadblock and actively look for another time (perhaps an unconventional one) where you can shift the activity and your creative energy.

At dinner recently, we had a very specific business topic (that had been hanging for a while) we were supposed to address. With little opportunity to prepare that day, I offered an idea intended to fit within the various strategic constraints we faced. While it sort of worked amid the constraints, I woke up that night realizing it wouldn’t work in practice for a whole variety of reasons.

Next morning, I alerted the person looking for input that more work needed to be done. Yet, I still didn’t have any better alternatives.

Lo and behold, enduring a flight delay one day later when the pressure to “think” about this specific issue wasn’t top of mind, a very innovative solution came to me in about 5 minutes.

Why hadn’t I been able to come up with a creative answer at dinner two nights earlier? I have no idea.

But I do know at times our mental capabilities aren’t up to the specific demands we might need to place on them. Much of what’s on Brainzooming is intended to help you function more innovatively in these situations. These techniques aren’t always going to work though.

For these other instances when your brain isn’t zooming, often the best thing you can do is manage time expectations and pray for creative inspiration to hit you ASAP, or at least when you least expect it. – Mike Brown

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I had a disastrous presentation last week. The webex was ready and working when right before the presentation was to begin, the computer completely froze. Next steps involved restarting by yanking the laptop battery, yanking my other laptop from its docking station, and trying to get one of three computers back on the webex. We ultimately had to email a file to all participants, delivering an originally designed interactive presentation on using Twitter from a 4-to-a-slide pdf, after a 20 minute late start.


Venting my frustration that evening, my niece, who signed up for Brainzooming via email last year, reminded me of the recent column about envisioning potential problems and being ready to wing it.

Great point Valerie! Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

The presentation failure scenarios I had imagined focused on webex problems, so I got there early to ensure people could to see the computer desktop on the webex. What I hadn’t anticipated was the computer freezing. While there was a nearly-current version of the presentation on a USB drive, anticipating the computer failing would have led to sending the presentation upfront with another computer ready to go.

Under stress, there wasn’t time for problem diagnosis; the only alternative was implementing multiple potential solutions. Not until afterward did the problem’s source occur to me: the LCD projector had a long ago history of jamming computers with USB-based clickers. The problem hadn’t occurred in years, and I’d forgotten about it.

So let me amend the first bullet in the previous post’s advice:

  • Invest a little effort ahead of time imagining what complete system failure scenarios could develop. Really go for it – if Armageddon were taking place before a presentation, could you still get things up and running on time? And what’s the backup to the alternative?

There, that feels better. Maybe I’ll be better prepared next time. – Mike Brown

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Want to be more critical to your business in one easy step? Here it is:

Step 1: Create recommendations instead of reporting problems.

It’s that simple.

You can stand so far away from the crowd by simply not bothering your boss and co-workers with long descriptions of what you perceive to be broken, failing, aggravating, or insufferable in your workplace.

Instead, create some well thought out, innovative options to address the issue at hand. Deliver your recommendation, sans the soap opera, to your boss.

It’s a little harder than it sounds, but it’s well worth the effort to become the person your boss will turn to for creative answers in challenging times. - Mike Brown

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This is the view outside the hotel in the “Predictable” post about consistent service experiences.

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This week’s guest post is by Marissa Levin, an award-winning and well-recognized entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of Information Experts. The company creates technology-based integrated communications solutions, human capital strategies, and learning strategies for government agencies and firms in a wide range of vertical markets.

Marissa shares her perspectives here on tapping the incredible creative and innovative talents existing among the diverse group of people inside her company:

How well do you really know your co-workers and employees?

Sure, you see them on a daily basis and know just enough about their personal lives to be dangerous. You may even know what they like for lunch. There’s probably a “comfort level” you’ve established. You’ve identified some personal boundaries, designating topics acceptable for discussion and those off the table.

But have you ever stopped to consider what defines your co-workers outside their jobs? More importantly, have you ever thought about how these aspects influence our jobs, and what they add to the workplace?

As a CEO focused on company culture, I’m always thinking of ways to maintain a connection with my employees and protect the valuable connections among everyone working here. As organizations grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve this. Employees become more scattered (thanks to telecommuting), are assigned to client sites, and work amid additional layers that develop to ensure adequate management structure.

Adding to these challenges, I am out of the office for appointments, meetings, and networking events. Despite email exchanges and conference calls, it is far too easy to lose the human touch. When I am working “on” the business, it is often difficult to work “in” the business.

I’ve always known we have incredibly creative, passionate, intelligent, and highly individualized people. We are not a typical organization. We have many out-of-the-box thinkers who display individuality throughout their lives. This uniqueness gives us an edge with our culture and customers.

To find a way to understand and bring all this creativity into the company, I surveyed our employees about what defines them outside work. The results were unbelievable.

Beyond having top-quality instructional designers, project managers, strategists, writers, graphic designers, developers, & human capital experts, we also have scuba divers, college-level volleyball players, swing and belly dancers, scrabble professionals, marathoners, environmentalists, a competitive U.S. Master’s swimmer, competitive soccer players, classical pianists, wine enthusiasts, equestrian experts, poker players, gardeners, and chefs.

That’s not all – our staff also includes:

  • A certified “High Power Rocketeer” who has launched rockets to 6,000 feet at 550mph
  • Someone who taught welding at a vocational school
  • A four-time Outward Bound participant
  • A Special Operations Sergeant whose unit’s experience was the basis for “Blackhawk Down”
  • A two-time patent holder for educational technology who served on Barrack Obama’s Education Policy Committee
  • A published physique photographer and bodybuilder known at WOLVERINE

Think about the creative & innovative power of that incredible diversity of skills, interests, and passions. The question now is how to integrate these interests and skills into the company. I hope to celebrate their individuality in some sort of event or create an internal online tool that brings people together based on their interests.

Here’s your question: What creativity & individuality is beneath the surface inside your company? Ask around, and you may be in for some surprises of your own! - Marissa Levin
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One objective emerging for the Brainzooming blog is to create a place for cool creative and strategic thinkers to share perspectives. It’s always great to have new and different voices on Brainzooming, and it’s very humbling to see the number of great guest authors regularly grow!

If you’re interested in writing a guest blog, let me know your subject idea via email at Brainzooming@gmail.com. Be sure to include “Brainzooming Guest Blog” in the subject line.

Writing & Publishing Overview

As you think about a topic and approach, here’s background info I use for doing Brainzooming:

  • The broad topic areas for Brainzooming include innovation, strategic thinking, and creativity. Anything within and around those areas that isn’t a commercial is potential fair game for an article.
  • Articles are typically 300 – 500 words. Please include links to other relevant sources of interest to readers. Similarly, include image ideas that will help convey the article’s message.
  • The material should be new content or, at minimum, a new variation (updated, freshened, modified) on something you’ve personally written and published previously.
  • You can forward your article in Word or the body of an email. Also include a brief bio.
  • I edit the article so its style fits with the blog and includes links to related topics. Should there be a need for significant editing, you’ll receive a copy in advance to ensure you’re okay with the changes.
  • There’s no particular deadline for submissions. I’m usually able to give you a sense ahead of time about what approaching date your article will run.
  • You’ll get a link to your guest post early on the day it publishes to share with your network on Twitter, your blog, via email, etc.

Please consider sharing your expert perspective and joining the Brainzooming creative team! - Mike Brown

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Face it: there are a bunch of expectations placed on each of us that, quite frankly, are completely arbitrary.

Oh sure, someone (maybe even someone very important) thinks they’re absolutes. Yet relative to what’s really important (i.e., strategic), there’s more whimsy than criticality in the request.

What can you do when presented with tasks, duties, or expectations that fall into this category?

  • Ask the fundamental question: “What are we trying to achieve?” Invite the other party to participate in answering it to develop a more refined sense of what’s strategic.
  • Suggest more innovative or workable alternatives that still deliver on what you are trying to achieve.
  • Be prepared to creatively negotiate and develop a mutually-agreeable approach.
  • Don’t discount that doing nothing could be the best answer for whoever is requesting you do something that doesn’t really matter.

Give this approach a try to better expend your efforts on things that will legitimately make a difference. - Mike Brown

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