Twitter continues to be a great source of new thinking to share on the blog via guest posts.

Today’s comes from Patrick Fitzgerald of Straight Face Productions. Using original sketch comedy as a way to engage audiences and further brand marketing objectives, Straight Face Productions creates original characters that are easier to relate to than the brands they represent. The approach, while nuanced, is aligned with the evolving viewing habits of online audiences.

Here’s Patrick’s view on the link between creativity and innovation and what it takes to actually deliver results from creativity.

What’s so funny about Creativity and Innovation? In my estimation, not much.

When I was invited to write a guest blog for Brainzooming, I was guided toward the topic of humor in relation to creative thought and innovation. I suppose this is because I lead a company using comedy as a method to engage audiences and further brand marketing objectives.
This is a common situation for me; when I make presentations to brand folks, there is an air of anticipation in the room as people wait for me to be funny.

Trouble is, I don’t do funny – not like that. Comedy is hard and best left to professionals. We all know the quote from the British vaudevillian on his death bed, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Try dying in front of a room of people expecting you to be funny – that’s really hard.

So, I revert to writing about the creative process and innovation, as people generally agree that Straight Face Productions is an innovative and creative company.

We all know creative people. We serve on committees with them because they “have a million ideas.” To varying degrees, everyone is creative. Innovation, though, is the ability to implement logical structure to creativity; to give it function and then value. Innovators distinguish themselves by recognizing opportunity where others may not, valuing the opportunity appropriately, and developing methods to realize the value in a timely manner.

Innovation necessarily begins with a creative thought process – thinking beyond what is known and creating a set of possibilities that extends beyond our experience.

Creativity is necessary in order to overcome the forces of status quo and cultural norm. These two forces, behind gravity alone, bind us to the earth and limit what is possible. Status quo and culture are damning forces to innovation. They are always felt, and never seen. They are evidence of the Laws of Inertia in the plane of ideas. Creativity provides the energy necessary to overcome culture and status quo.

The creative process begins with a set of questions of a more general nature. Start with “What if?” and “Can we do this?” Shape your solutions based in possibilities, not in fear and limitations. Innovation takes place when you evaluate the possibilities and begin solving problems in the gap between the possible and the real. Albert Einstein said, “Innovation is not the product of logical thought, although the result is tied to logical structure.”

Innovators are not primarily concerned with failure. Any real innovator, though, will have a good deal of experience with failure. Woody Allen said, “If you don’t fail now and again, you’re not doing anything very innovative.” In fact, the familiarity with failure provides motivation; knowing failure through experience provides a powerful avoidance mechanism. To be successful, innovators manage their relationship with fear; innovators find fear to be a useful in navigation but a terrible traveling companion.

For an innovation to be adapted, it must demonstrate value. The patent office is overflowing with all manner of creative ideas that have failed to demonstrate value. You have to accept that value is a relative term. Sure evidence of that is that marshmallow peeps are an innovation in sugar intake systems. Conversely, purple ketchup is no longer on the store shelves. To be too critical is to dampen your own creative ability. To recognize value where others may not is critical to being innovative in your thinking.

Finally, true innovation requires repeatable success. Warren Bennis warns, “Innovation, any new idea by definition, will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations and monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organization. This requires courageous patience.” - Patrick Fitzgerald

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I love hearing about the creative processes behind famous works of art. And in any creative process there are obviously first, second, third (maybe even thirtieth) versions potentially bearing little resemblance to the final product. Yet these versions reflect the trials, learnings, and flashes of inspiration necessary to advance the creative process.

If you don’t mind me asking, what do you do with the early versions of your creative efforts?

I know people who, for any number of reasons, immediately discard early creative incarnations. Others hang on to them for nostalgia or the possibility of later re-mining them for pieces, parts, or perhaps new inspiration.

Probably not surprisingly, I’m in the latter group. To me, you never know when an image, video clip, or written passage could take on new life or provide needed inspiration in a different situation.

Want an example?

For months, I’ve had a half-completed draft of a piece similar to yesterday’s post on not naming things too soon. It was centered on the Flip Mino name, talking about how nobody knew what a Mino was, so the name provided a tremendous amount of flexibility for what Flip wanted the product to become. I never finished the post, but it’s stayed in my online file of blogging scraps. Keeping it top of mind allowed it to be combined with The Beatles piece and become a more compelling treatment of a similar idea.

Here’s my advice: maintain an inspiration file full of unfinished work and exploit it for scraps you can mash up into something distinctive and cool at the appointed time. - Mike Brown

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Though The Beatles “Abbey Road” album was recorded 40 years ago, I recently heard a program called “Pop Go the Beatles” about its creation. Told through stories and alternative takes of the album’s classic songs, it was so inspiring it spawned posts for today, Wednesday, and Friday this week.

During an early recording of “Something,” George Harrison hadn’t finished the lyrics. John Lennon advised him to sing nonsense words until figuring out what the actual lyrics should be. One specific suggestion was “attracts me like a cauliflower” during the passage that eventually became “attracts me like no other lover.”

This is great advice. Using nonsense words keeps a writer from becoming enchanted with work that’s “almost there,” but isn’t really on the mark. Nonsense words will get worked on and replaced; “almost there” work might make it all the way to the marketplace, however, if the creator is easily satisfied or downright lazy.

This lesson can extend to developing projects, programs, products, and services. There’s typically a rush to name any of these. Someone picks a rough description that’s close and all of a sudden, the name starts to influence decisions and development steps that should be addressed independently of an early, potentially limiting, and often haphazardly chosen moniker.

Here’s an alternative approach: Pick a code name or some combination of nonsense letters and numbers to describe your effort while it’s in development. Then when the time is appropriate to give it a real name, you won’t have constrained its creation unnecessarily or be challenged by walking away from a now familiar (read “comfortable”) name that might ultimately limit its true potential for success. - Mike Brown

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Here’s my annual advice for fireworks viewing: if you have a place to do it, watch fireworks from the highest vantage point you can. We discovered this one year at the top of the Kansas City Hyatt in its revolving restaurant. Forty some stories up, the downtown fireworks looked like Star Wars special effects; the bursts appeared to be coming right at us. Another benefit to really elevated viewing is seeing multiple fireworks displays at one time in various parts of the city.

Another really cool vantage point requiring a little more planning is to be in a plane the evening of July Fourth. Flying back from a NASCAR race in Daytona one year offered the opportunity to see fireworks from the Southeast to the Midwest.

Last year, however, we learned of a cool new vantage point. We were invited to a private party where they essentially shoot professional grade fireworks. While seeing them explode up high is cool, seeing fireworks of this caliber go off 100 feet away was unbelievable.

And even cooler, we’re planning to go to the party again this year with the hope of shooting Monday’s Brainzenning video!

All this is a great reminder – constantly seek out ways to change your vantage point to be able to see familiar things in new and exciting ways!

Have a safe Fourth!

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In the past few weeks, the guest Brainzooming bloggers have ranged half way around the world, from Australia, Chicago, and the UK. This week’s guest post comes from right here in Kansas City.

John Storey of bottlegreen* is an experienced designer I’ve known for several years. I tweeted him recently and asked if he’d like to contribute a designer’s perspective to Brainzooming. Happily, he agreed and shares his personal approach today on finding inspiration:

Where do you find your inspiration?

Much ado has been made on this subject. Supposedly tried and true methods (work, work more, and if still not enough…work harder) may get you there sometimes, but not likely, and definitely not every time. I’ve found that usually when I stop thinking about a solution, it happens. Weird? Nah, I’ve gotten used to it, and it really works! Ha, ha…I know…doesn’t everybody’s method “really work?”

After carefully reading/digesting all the available materials (e.g. creative brief, company manifesto, notes from the marketing director’s child), I usually go mow the lawn, take a walk, or go to my favorite coffee shop to people watch and find a way to relax. My brain then has a chance to catch up with all the information I’ve taken in and can really wrap around the content. I can then think holistically about the project versus only on how I’m going to make this 4-panel brochure different than all other 4-panel brochures I’ve worked on in the past.

If you’re thinking conceptually and allow yourself to “drift,” you can figure out the logistics later. Often you’ll also come up with an alternative production technique that will actually separate this piece from all of the others too. When you allow yourself to be in the consumer’s point-of-view (instead of your heady point-of-view), it can produce very results-oriented work.

It’s also handy to have access to pen and paper to quickly sketch or write an idea when it hits (although your partner might not fully appreciate your little notebooks all over the house, car, bedside, etc.). Sketch quickly, just jotting down the raw ideas…then revisit and explore/refine. When inspiration strikes, you’ll feel it in your bones. It’s quite a rush…and you’ll fill pages quickly so keep going as long as you can in one sitting.

So, go on…relax and do something for yourself or your family – cook dinner, smell the flowers, play with your children – and you’ll see…just when you least expect it…when you actually stop thinking of a solution…BAM! Flood gates will open, barriers will cease to exist, and the creativity will flow.

At least that’s how it works for me. Tried and true. - John Storey

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Times, standards, and expectations all change. As we near July Fourth, let’s use a Founding Father to illustrate. Here’s a Thomas Jefferson quote someone tweeted several weeks ago:

  • “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do” – Thomas Jefferson

Great quote, wonderful language, very true statement.

But way too long. If Jefferson were true to his words and writing for business today, he’d need to cut it by nearly 30 percent:

  • “The most valuable talent is never using two words when one works.” –”Edited” Thomas Jefferson

And on Twitter, even more editing and a twist would be expected:

  • “Most valued talent? Not using 140 char if 100 work.” –Thomas Jefferson Updated – 51 characters

Do you get the meaning from each version? Yes.

Is the Twitter version as elegant as Jefferson’s original? Absolutely not.

The key is understanding the setting, your audience, and their expectations to make sure you are using exactly the right number of words to get your point across.

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