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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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I was followed recently on Twitter by @FollowMikeBrown who is carving out “a place to follow all the Mike Browns in the World.”

Talk about a focused niche.

Based on the website How Many of Me, there are 32,000 Mike and Michael Browns in the US, with another 1,050 Miguel Brown/Morenos, and 4,000 Michelle Browns. The day he followed me, there were more than 250 Mike Brown’s on the list. I’m not sure if any prizes are involved, but I’m definitely intrigued by how things will progress.

So here’s a question: How many focused niches can you strategically subdivide your business into successfully & cost-effectively? And can you start an innovative community for your niche that feels as personalized and comfortable as @FollowMikeBrown does for me? – Mike Brown

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We have another international guest post this week. Andrew Tilling, from Surrey, UK, is a consultant specialising in creative thinking techniques, team dynamics and leadership. He heads Preseli Partnerships Ltd. which provides providing training, coaching and consultancy to help organisations make a difference.

Andrew is also a founding partner in The Nutshell Project, recognizing the value to be found in personal professional development time away from the demands of the day to day. Based on connecting on Twitter and visiting Andrew’s blog, I asked him to share his perspective on the importance of place on creativity:

I have the luckiest job in the world. I am given the freedom to work with people to help them find new ideas, develop those ideas, and get on and make a change in their world. Plus, I get to do this in some beautiful places. It strikes me how much more creative people can be with a change of environment.

And as tempting as it is to write a detailed report on why all businesses should send employees to areas of outstanding natural beauty in order to boost creativity, it’s more beneficial to explore what we can do to our own environment to help become more productive – and especially more creative.

The unconscious mind is our creative powerhouse. To help it along we need to understand it’s capable of processing a lot more than our conscious mind. A natural, stimulating environment adds fuel to the creative fire. We are fortunate that simple objects can remind us of those environments. Objects help our unconscious access old memories in incredible detail, allowing us to draw on new connections and shifting our state into a more resourceful one.

Here are a few things you can add to your workspace to help you become more creative.

  • Have something natural – Innovators constantly draw on nature for ideas. We are part of nature and only our artificial environments disconnect us from that. Office policy or not on potted plants, you’ll want something that grows (or at least grew) in nature to allow you to reconnect.
  • Make time work for you– Have a stop watch or countdown clock you can set for 10 minute bursts of concentration or bookmark a site with a countdown-clock.
  • Something from somewhere special – Remember a time when you felt free from the pressures of daily life? I have a notebook used while travelling that’s never far from my desk. It helps unlock creative potential just thinking about it.
  • A picture of a creative genius – We all need a circle of inspiration – alive or dead. Find a picture of someone whose work blows you away. Learn about and talk with them often (in your head, of course, or people will think you are nuts).
  • A picture of a business genius – Someone else for your circle of inspiration. If you can keep in mind the demands of the market place while being creative, you have more chance of your ideas becoming a genuine innovation.
  • Blank paper and 4 color pen – These ‘click’ pens are awesome for mind-mapping. Shut your laptop lid and find somewhere comfy to sit and doodle.
  • Composition & presentation space – Recognize that finding and presenting an idea are two very different mindsets. Make different spaces for different kinds of work. Even if you can’t move from your desk, you change your space internally through listening to different music styles.
  • Water – Drink it, walk by it, have it flowing nearby. Take holidays by it, swim in it, and study it. You are 90% water. A dear writer friend of mine swears by toilet breaks for getting over writers block. Water helps you get into the creative flow on so many levels. Without it, there is not much of you left.
  • An excuse to walk the scenic route – Whether it is walking a dog or feeding stale bread to ducks, get out into nature at least once daily. Walking will allow you to let off steam and clear your head. That beats playing “spot the idea amid all the clutter” and will make you rapidly more productive.
  • A crowded square – People-watching is a great for finding new associations to help your ideas grow. J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter in a coffee shop. Snatched snippets of conversations and chance encounters make all the difference – SO LONG AS YOU STOP TO LOOK AND LISTEN. Invest the time, and you will reap rewards.
  • Join the conversation – Social media is a constant source of inspiration nowadays. Just keep your objective in mind as you set your countdown clock and do a 10 minute resource harvest. Later, make sure you post something you learned in return to keep the flow going both ways.

I hope you find these tips to be as much value as I have. I love interaction, so if you have any questions, feel free to comment, get in touch on twitter (@andrewtilling) or check out The Nutshell Project blog. – Andrew Tilling

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