Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 191 – page 191

Creativity has been the theme here the past week, and it carried over to an appearance on Intrepid Radio hosted by my good friend, Todd Schnick. During the show (dubbed “The Brainzooming Episode” by Todd), we talked about a variety of creativity-related topics, including:

  • Why certain people are unwilling to share creative ideas as they’re being formed
  • Differences in triggering organizational vs. personal creative awakenings in business
  • How “Sgt. Pepper’s” by The Beatles was innovative while The Who’s “Lifehouse” was creative

This last discussion about the difference between “creativity” and “innovation” that Todd raised prompted the chart at the right.

In our discussion, Todd shared his view that something is innovative only when it’s successfully implemented. While I’ve certainly considered “deviation from the status quo” as a common characteristic of “creativity” and “innovation,” I’ve not considered successful execution as a dimension to separate the two. It’s an intriguing idea though, and one, as I told Todd, I’ll be thinking about for a while. Visit Todd’s website to download the “The Brainzooming Episode,” or you can also find Intrepid Radio on iTunes. – Mike Brown

To tap into your own extreme creativity, download the free Brainzooming ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to enhance your creative perspective! 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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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Last summer on a drive from Minneapolis to Denver* I encountered 3 striking visual examples of creative ways to make making something new and different, all in South Dakota.

A Different Creative Combination

The picture at right shows what can only be described as a college boy’s fondest dream come true–a place where you can gamble, drink beer and get a clean shirt all at the same time. Two thoughts spring to mind: 1) the definition of “casino” in South Dakota is slightly less grand than it is in Las Vegas, and 2) a laundromat is not the most natural companion business to a bar and a casino. But remember, at one time we believed the most natural place for a gas station was as part of an auto repair facility, not in the front yard of a small grocery store.

A Different Creative Material

“Sudz” is in Mitchell, SD, which is also the location of the Corn Palace. It is not only a figurative tribute to corn, but a literal one as well. The sides of the building are covered with ears of corn and stover. While not the most typical of building/artistic materials, they are certainly appropriate to the place and purpose. And it gives you a great reason to get off of I-80 and drive into downtown Mitchell.

A Different Creative Perspective

Like you, I have seen the traditional image of Mt. Rushmore my entire life. Four presidents, full-face, huge and seemingly viewable from miles away—like a huge billboard.

On that trip I expereinced it in person and it showed me a different creative perspective. You catch only a distant glimpse of the figures on the drive up the mountain. You can only begin to see them well when you are really quite near, less than one mile away–after you have parked your car and left it.

But that doesn’t make it any less impressive, in fact it makes it more striking. You have to make an effort to even get that good a view and then you need to walk a good deal further to see those fantastic carvings up close.

And finally there was one additional gift of a different perspective. As you begin the drive down the mountain there is a small pull off area where you can see the profile view of Washington alone. It is not a view I had seen before or was even aware existed. As you stand there it seems as if this giant (and I mean that both historically and in size) is walking along and is about to emerge full-figure from the other side of the mountain.Barrett Sydnor

*It is a running joke around The Brainzooming Group that if business travel destination is more than 100 miles away, Mike automatically looks at a flight schedule, while if it is closer than 1,500 miles I look at a road map.

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A big creative talent coupled with a comparable big vision leads to extreme creativity. Performers who can conceive an audacious, outlandish creative vision that jolts the status quo and can successfully realize it are incredible. I’ve been blessed to work with a couple of people gifted with the ability to envision and realize extreme creativity. Even in a business setting where you can only get so extreme, it’s amazing how exciting it is to be around them. In entertainment, however, the boundaries for how extreme a big creative vision can be are exponentially bigger. And that my friends brings us to “Lady Gaga Presents the Monster Ball Tour: Madison Square Garden” on HBO. The Saturday debut of the HBO special from the five-night run Lady Gaga had at Madison Square Garden not only confirmed her big creative talent, but demonstrated a performer who marries it with the strategic focus of a big creative vision as well.

From the opening night showing, here are 4 extreme creativity lessons for those of us with much humbler creative talents and visions than Lady Gaga possesses:

1. Make it clear to your audience you have real talent to realize your vision.

I’ve not been a huge Lady Gaga fan. But I have been tremendously impressed when she sits alone at the piano and sings. In these moments, it’s quite clear Lady Gaga isn’t a “produced” talent (think TAYLOR SWIFT), but truly possesses great musical chops. She sprinkled such unaccompanied moments throughout The Monster Ball, making it clear to her audience they were getting her, sans lip-syncing. This acapella version of “Born this Way” which ran during the shows credits is great evidence for her talents. At our house, there was complete silence during the credits because of this chilling performance. With Gaga’s big talent, she has the platform to bring her big vision to life.  

Creative Lesson: For those of us with lesser talents, make sure we surround ourselves with an array of talented people to carry out a bigger vision.

2. It’s fine for a big vision to be derivative, so derive it from the biggies.

I’ve been carrying around this Entertainment Weekly quote from Lady Gaga for more than two years waiting for the right place to run it: “Nothing I say is really that new. I mean, it’s Andy Warhol. I’m not claiming to be the newest innovative thinker. But I do think the execution is very different.” Gaga speaks the truth. She grabs symbols and creative elements from ubiquitous sources (the Catholic Church, The Wizard of Oz, Madonna, comic books), but she definitely executes it with a flair that can obscure her original sources.

Creative Lesson: For all of us feeling like we have to come up with everything on our own, start getting on with deriving from your influences – the more well-known, the better.

3. Giving credit to your strategic influences doesn’t diminish you. You’ll get the credit back.

Lady Gaga was comfortable in sharing her influences, calling out concert-goers Liza Minnelli and Marisa Tomei among the attendees. Both women were touch points for Lady Gaga when she was still Stefani Germanotta at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Gaga said she typically wouldn’t have called attention to who was there, but made an exception given how important both performers were for her. It would be easy to think that was a line of BS, and that she pointed to the big stars at the concert to feed her own ego. Those thoughts were blown away later when the camera cut to an unannounced Paul McCartney dancing at his seat.

Creative Lesson: Celebrating your influences empowers you when you do it with a spirit of respect, gratitude, and humility. When you do it to blow smoke up somebody’s you-know-where, you just come off as pathetic.

4. Your vision may form your own world, but everybody can know you there – if you let them in on all the wonder and secrets of it.

Even with the ego’s big talents have, it still has to be unsettling to create your own world. Lady Gaga hinted at some of those insecurities during her spoken segments of the concert. But part of creating your own world is inviting others to join you there. Lady Gaga truly embraces this concept, casting her “little monsters” as characters in her world. And part of being a character is being given direction so that you can perform your parts well. In that regard, Lady Gaga is more than happy to provide direction: scream, dance, put your paws up, etc.

Creative Lesson: Don’t leave your creative team in the dark. Give them the direction they need to perform.

Wrap-up – I have to let you know that there are a whole bunch of things about the Lady Gaga concert I don’t support, including her language and some of her points of view. But the depth of her talent (and especially the video clip) prompted me to share these thoughts about her concert performance despite those issues. Lady Gaga’s performance was truly riveting!Mike Brown

To tap into your own extreme creativity, download the free Brainzooming ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to enhance your creative perspective! 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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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Is the Brainzooming mission to make everybody comfortable with their personal creativity?

I’ll admit this generalization of my favorite CreativeBloc question is in my words, not the attendee’s. His questions (“How do you make Becky more comfortable? Should we try to make a Mike Brown out of a Becky?”) relate to a story about a person (not her real name) frequently shared in my innovation presentations (you can click to read the full story).

The abbreviated version is Becky worked with our large corporation (having been at another large corporation before) and was very uncomfortable sharing her perspectives in a creative session we conducted. The reason? Her self-perceived lack of experience and the pressure of not being able to plan her creative contributions ahead of time. She wanted a creative situation that was the antithesis of how we apply the Brainzooming process. She isn’t unique in her fear of sharing her unscrubbed points of view, however, so how to deal with those like her is a great topic. Let’s tackle the two questions the audience member posed:

Question 1 – How do you make Becky (and those like her) more comfortable?

Becky would be most comfortable and perfectly happy taking orders from someone and squelching her perspective because she grew up in an environment where that was rewarded. And the corporation where she got her experience is certainly not the only one which values that from its people.  Given that, there are lots of places she could have gone and been a lot more comfortable than working with us.

Question 2 – Should we try to make a Mike Brown out of Becky?

I definitely don’t want everyone to be like me! But I do think people should be open about sharing their diverse perspectives, entertaining new ideas, and contributing to a team being more successful in new and innovative ways. If you share that perspective and have someone like her working for you who genuinely wants to expand her horizons, several things could help her grow:

Getting her involved in every creative situation possible.

This will expose her to a less hierarchical structure and a more interactive style. Seeing others share ideas – some good and some not so good – and realizing ideas which don’t get picked don’t get you in trouble would be beneficial for her.

Arming her with tools such as those which frustrated her in the creative session.

What types of tools? The ones shared here on the Brainzooming blog to aid in strategic and creative thinking. The tools here are intended to help people for whom strategic and creative thinking don’t come easily to flourish while reducing the stress they feel in these situations.

Giving her assignments in unfamiliar areas.

This would both frustrate and stretch her. But helping her understand upfront how her experience translates to and helps her in unfamiliar situations will make her a much stronger contributor.

If your Becky really wants to change, this developmental strategy should create a much more fulfilled and successful Becky!


I sincerely hope you’ve benefited from these posts answering CreativeBloc questions. I’m looking forward to doing more of this based on questions from future presentations.  – Mike Brown

If you’d like to add an interactive, educationally-stimulating presentation on strategy, innovation, branding, social media or a variety of other topics to your event, Mike Brown is the answer. Email us at or call 816-509-5320 to learn how Mike can get your audience members Brainzooming!

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I witnessed my first in-person flash mob last night as Eric “Mean” Melin (@SceneStealrEric on Twitter) led this creative group of Richie Sambora and Eddie Van Halen wannabes in what is rumored to be the world’s largest air guitar flash mob – right here on the streets of Kansas City.

The air guitar flash mob was in support of the 2011 US Air Guitar Championships Regional Competition coming to Kansas City on May 19, 2011. In a Kansas City First Friday filled with lots of strolling and looking at works of art, Eric’s air guitar flash mob was definitely a creative highlight! – Mike Brown

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What can you do in managing clients who love their own creative ideas?

My comment on sometimes working toward a creative objective without letting others know what’s happening, triggered this more specific CreativeBloc question about successfully managing a client (and the client’s ego) when they love their own creative ideas.

While the question isn’t specific, I’m figuring it’s referencing when there are issues with an idea’s quality, efficacy, implementation, etc. Absent fundamental issues, don’t rule out a creative idea simply because it originated with a client who loves it. (Trust me, as a client, I had agencies do this. It’s infuriating when they don’t come to the table with creative ideas that are any stronger.)

Here’s how I go about challenging an idea when somebody loves it a little too much:

Step 1 – Diagnose the Situation

Start by understanding the client’s opinions, motivations, and foundation for loving the idea. Do this through:

  • Making sure you’re completely clear on what the client thinks the primary objective is the creative idea needs to successfully address.
  • Asking questions (or simply letting the client talk) about what works with the idea. Carefully and strategically probe to see both what personal preferences AND potential concerns exist (if any) about the idea for the client.
  • Discussing how and how well the client’s idea meets the primary objective. This will provide a sense of potential areas you’ll need to support and where you can counter an idea.
  • Reaching out to others who understand the client’s thinking patterns, what’s important to them personally and organizationally, and when they will and won’t be open to compromise.

Step 2 – Analyze What You Know

Once you’d done your homework, analyze and size up the situation. Understand what elements really need changing vs. those you’d simply like to change. Figure out whether a factual or emotional argument might be more successful. Develop a couple of hypotheses on how the conversation(s) might go with the client.

Step 3 – Plan Your Strategy

At Step 3, I usually map out what my options are to try and move this type of situation to the best one for the business. This mapping out usually involves blank sheets of paper, a marker, and some time to draw out the options I’ll pursue and what could happen at each stage.  To give you a feel for what that might be like, here’s how I’d map out my strategy for trying to move a client from their favorite idea to some alternative. Based on the situation, I might give up right away (if it’s just not that big a deal) or could develop a multi-tiered case that calls attention to what’s identical in the alternative I’m approaching and try to minimize the number of critical issues where the client’s opinion has to be swayed.

One caveat – I’ve found the intensity of my counter arguments has changed since leaving corporate life. Where I had to live with the outcome of bad decisions, I was much more likely to be strident in making my case. It’s been a source of personal development working with clients, however, to realize that ultimately they have to live with the implications of an idea – positive or negative. Because of that, I’ll pull up on counter arguments much sooner than I would have in the past.

Also, I didn’t go into waging an all-out battle to defeat an idea here. That’s certainly a strategy, but it’s one worth avoiding! It’s hardly ever productive for the client or anyone else involved in the situation.

On Monday, we’ll have the final post in this series, touching on whether everybody needs to be a creative thinker. – Mike Brown

If you’d like to add an interactive, educationally-stimulating presentation on strategy, innovation, branding, social media or a variety of other topics to your event, Mike Brown is the answer. Email us at or call 816-509-5320 to learn how Mike can get your audience members Brainzooming!

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How do you start enhancing innovation in a small organization?

The keynote training presentation I did for CreativeBloc was on “Taking the NO Out of Business InNOvation,” with its ideas on how to counteract ten innovation barriers. Each time I present this topic, the audience picks the barriers most relevant to their organizations for us to discuss. In that way, the presentation is never the same, covering a different five or six innovation barriers chosen by the audience.

One post-presentation evaluation thought the concepts were more suited to larger rather than small organizations, prompting today’s CreativeBloc question and blog post.

In reality, the strategies in for circumventing innovation barriers are applicable in a small organization too. If you’re in a smaller organization and want to improve innovation efforts, here are four specific steps you can take:

1. Do a self-assessment to figure out if you are personally creating NO’s to innovation.

This assessment involves examining your personal innovative approach and also asking others who would be confident (and feel safe) in telling you if the see issues with how you conduct yourself. It’s probably best to ask more general questions on where individuals in your small organization feel like they are and aren’t able to contribute new ideas.

2. Get someone outside your organization to ask questions about potential barriers.

The same questions you ask yourself and a small group about contributing and acting on new ideas in your small organization need to be asked of your entire team. Having someone external ask the questions and allowing people to respond anonymously provides the greatest likelihood of getting honest answers.

3. Assess the answers to identify your innovation barriers and ways to counteract them.

Interpret the responses openly and honestly to identify innovation barriers in your organization. Begin implementing changes by involving your organization’s people in sharing ideas. Be clear, however, about what role you’re asking them to play. Are they simply providing input which you’ll evaluate and prioritize? Or are you asking them to actually participate and own responsibility for implementing strategic fixes to the issues?

4. Watch what you say and do.

Throughout this process, display consistent daily behaviors to reinforce your words about truly wanting to create a more innovative culture. Matching what you say and do supports the individuals on your team in creating making innovative changes.

Try these 4 steps in a small or large organization when you want to experience a more innovative perspective and see better results.  – Mike Brown

If you’d like to add an interactive, educationally-stimulating presentation on strategy, innovation, branding, social media or a variety of other topics to your event, Mike Brown is the answer. Email us at or call 816-509-5320 to learn how Mike can get your audience members Brainzooming!

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