The great perspectives from creative and innovative thinkers I’ve met on Twitter continues this week with this post on breaking creative blocks from Robert Alan Black, Ph.D. Known as “wanderingalan” on Twitter, he’s the founder and president of Cre8ng People, Places and Possibilities and author of “Broken Crayons, Break Your Crayons and Draw Outside the Lines.” He can be reached online at alan@cre8ng.com

It’s a real honor to have
Alan share his perspective on a random thinking technique that’s a twist on the “Change Your Character” approach that’s been shared here previously:

Oh no! I’m blocked again. No ideas. I just sit and sit and no ideas come. 

Where is my muse when I need her?

I have to have ideas and a basic proposal in 90 minutes, and I feel stale, blank, dry, like a void in space. No ideas are coming, especially creative ones.

This blocked, frustrated feeling often happens when we are under pressure. One process I find helpful is to Alphabetize Sources.

Simply take a sheet of paper and write down the left side of the page the letters a, b, c, through z. Then think of the name of a famous/infamous person whose name fits, i.e., Abe Lincoln for A, Benjamin Franklin for B, Charles Manson for C. You can use first names or last names or a mix. It is up to you.

Then proceed to randomly pick a series of letters from a to z and write them on separate cards or pieces of paper. Now look up the names that match on your list.

You may have chosen D, X, M, T, U, O, H and the names from your list were:

D – Walt Disney
X – Xavier Cougat
M – Mickey Mantle
T – Teddy Roosevelt
U – U. S. Grant
O – Oscar Wilde
H – Henry Fonda

The next step is to imagine how each of these people might approach your challenge. Walt Disney might focus on amusement or entertainment while Xavier Cougat would orchestrate the problem using a large group of players and Mickey Mantle might swing for the home run, and so forth.

Often the ideas will appear farfetched at first. That is when you need to use your always available logically creative thinking skills. Take the “wild idea” and ask yourself: How might I alter this to make it more workable (using any appropriate criteria or limitation)?

This process helps “break mindset,” “shift paradigms,” and forces me to explore approaches I might never consider otherwise, especially under pressure of a time restraint.

This method can be used in many different ways. Instead of famous people’s names you could use:

  • Cartoon characters
  • Characters from literature
  • Super Heroes (Steve Grossman developed this version)
  • Occupations
  • Animals
  • Objects
  • Randomly chosen nouns from a dictionary

The possibilities are endless. The key is to force your thoughts into new patterns, to “Break Your Crayons,” change your mindset quickly, and effectively find creative directions even when your muse is off on vacation in Barbados. By breaking your crayons you will cause your brain to make leaps when you need it to and not have to wait until it is in a creative mood.

This is just one method to help ourselves be more creative on the spot, on demand, and off-the-wall. What ideas do you use to stimulate your muse? Share your ideas in the comments section for other innovators to learn. - Robert Alan Black, Ph.D., CSP

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Before this fellow passenger on a recent flight started reading his book on Shoeless Joe Jackson, he pulled out a cigar and stuck it in his mouth. It stayed there (unlit) the entire time he was reading. It was quite clear the cigar was his crutch – an aid to more productive reading (and probably productivity in lots of his other activities too).

We all have crutches; some are creativity crutches. Mine include big glasses of Diet Dr. Pepper heaped with crushed ice, plus Sharpie markers and many varieties of paper. All these help me be more creative.

What are your crutches? Importantly, think about ones that work well for you. But also consider crutches that aren’t really providing much help anymore. It’s always good to know what’s working and what isn’t when you need assistance easing into creative periods. Mike Brown

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My wife told me about a home staging TV show where they have $500 to get a home ready to sell. In one episode, the homeowner had already moved their furniture, so the show’s designer created cardboard furniture before the open house.

Since cardboard furniture obviously isn’t functional, why would they do that?

When trying to sell a house, furniture isn’t there for function. Its presence helps prospective buyers visualize the possibilities the house offers, and move them from cursory interest, to motivation, and to purchase.

That’s a great example when trying to sell early-stage ideas.

In communicating a relatively new idea, many people limit their options because they assume without a relatively fully-designed and functional concept they’ll undermine the sales effort. On the contrary, something merely suggestive of your full concept can be the difference in helping decision makers VISUALIZE the idea you’re pitching.

Think how ad agencies pitch ideas. Invariably there’s some type of visual – a storyboard, a relevant video snippet, sounds, role playing, etc. Again, none of them are functional, but they are all great at helping depict and sell-in a concept.

So don’t let a lack of time, creativity, or initiative thwart your success at pitching ideas. Instead, figure out what your best equivalent of cardboard furniture is and improve your odds of creating a motivated buyer for your idea! - Mike Brown  

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Here are five things strategic thinking approaches, any one of which you can work on this week to improve your performance:

  1. Take time to perform long-term actions even when near-term pressures are very distracting.
  2. Don’t overreact in the face of incomplete information. Ask questions & allow others the opportunity to answer.
  3. Ask questions of smart, well-informed people outside the mainstream. You’ll learn a lot.
  4. Be willing to ask, “How could this be different?” particularly if you’re a black & white type thinker.
  5. Work on developing more decisiveness, tenacity & patience. You need them even more these days.

BTW – Based on reader feedback, the summer Brainzenning videos are moving to Fridays starting this week. - Mike Brown

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Listening to The Beatles Abbey Road show provides a sense of the incredible talent they brought to the recording studio. The impact of George Martin, their producer, is also clear in how he shaped the group’s artistic sensibilities and vision, crafting them into a coherent whole.

Considering the benefits a producer can provide, do you have one (or more) producers in your creative life? Your “producer” could be a mentor or a creative instigator who’s there to:

  • Expand and shape your creative perspective
  • Bring in other talents to help realize your vision
  • Challenge and edit your work from a less invested perspective than you have

Maybe you self-produce your own creative efforts. That’s a viable approach, and some people do it well. But if you don’t have a producer for your major projects, think seriously about working with someone in that role who can be the catalyst for new creative success. – Mike Brown


Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative ideas! For an organizational creativity boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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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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