Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 196 – page 196

Tanner Christensen has been making regular comments on Brainzooming this year, and when he reached out recently to go a guest post, I was excited to have him share longer-form content. Tanner Christensen is a leading creative thinker, entrepreneur, and founder of the creative digital publishing company A Spindle. He frequently writes on creativity and innovation and believes that your ideas can help change the world.

Here’s Tanner on what has set Apple apart from other organizations that also  have great ideas, but stall out in their growth.


In June of 2007 Apple Inc. made a bold move into a market they had never touched.

To nearly everyone’s surprise, one of the top — but, notably, not the top — computer manufacturers had created a mobile phone. Of course, it was more than just a phone, but the move was unexpected and entirely different than what most people had come to imagine was possible from a computer company.  The creation of the iPhone proved to be valuable for Apple as, near the middle of the year 2011, the company owned roughly 19% of the entire U.S. mobile market.

Rare is a tech company the size of Apple who can report annual growth of 125% year over year. So how did they do it?

What It Takes for Real Growth

The truth is that growth comes from change. But even that’s an understatement. Real growth comes from paddling.

Businesses that have succeeded in the past — Myspace, Yahoo!, Nokia — grew to a comfortable place and then stopped innovating. The process of growing was, as they saw it, a natural one that follows any business which reaches a certain size. These were businesses that had worked hard to reach a point where they felt confident in moving forward without having to try anything new. Why would you continue to worry about producing new products or services when your existing products had sold so well to-date? When you’re floating down a river in a canoe and suddenly find yourself in the most beautiful spot along the entire river, what reason do you have to paddle forward and explore further territory?

Unfortunately in business, as in a real life canoe trip down the river, storms are to be expected.

One day you’re safe and comfortable, floating gently down the stream of success, and then suddenly there’s a competitor, a better or cheaper product, a new innovation you never saw coming. For Nokia and Microsoft the storm was the iPhone. For Myspace it was Facebook and now Google+. If you’re in business then a storm is coming, you can count on it, you just don’t know what shape that storm will be.

So what should you do? Paddle. Keep moving forward.

A Dedicated Creative Team’s Role

Investing in a dedicated creative team is the best way to keep moving forward. Whether you’re a large corporation or a freelancer, you have to focus on exploring uncharted territory, otherwise you’re sitting in a river under a darkening sky.

For Apple there isn’t any hesitation, they have an entire team of leaders who are focused on moving the business forward every single day. Steve Jobs isn’t a product designer or marketing executive, he’s a thinker. For the rest of us the choice remains: hire someone to help move ideas forward (not just keep existing structures going), find the flexibility to make your current team dedicate part of their work hours to doing so, or face the impending storm and find yourself dead in the water. Sure, focusing on innovation can be risky, but without it you’re already dead.

Even if you’re a new business just starting out, focus on exploring new territories, as success is surely around one of the river bends.

A dedicated creative team can help paddle your corporate boat upstream, pursuing ideas and making them a reality. As a creative thinker the job description isn’t to just show up and do the necessary work; it’s to come up with ideas and see them through. To physically take action and move the whole boat of business forward. Sometimes that means failure. Sometimes an idea will sink into the abyss, and sometimes things will break, but as long as you’re continuously moving, there is no way your boat will be swallowed by the storm.

Keep Moving

As a business or even in your career, look at ways you’re sitting in the water now. Understand that the longer you simply sit there the longer you risk drowning. You should be paddling your way up the river and discovering what’s new. That’s where the real adventure lies. Just ahead. Keep moving. – Tanner Christensen 

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Since its introduction in October 2010, I’ve participated in nearly all the monthly #Ideachat sessions. These monthly Twitter interactions originated and curated by Angela Dunn (@BlogBrevity on Twitter) bring together a global group of creative thinkers for an hour-long, intimate conversation about an intriguing topic Angela identifies for us. #Ideachat is always an opportunity to think and realize, once again, that when it comes to creative thinking, there’s never just one answer.

Angela proposed that for the August #Ideachat the moderation duties she usually handles be shared among several individuals who have been active in the #Ideachat community. I’m pleased to be one of the tweeters chosen to serve as a co-host, along with Jon Mertz  (@thindifference) from Dallas and Jose Baldaia (@jabaldaia) from Portugal.

What’s the Brainzooming creative thinking topic?

The creative thinking topic during my segment will focus on what inspires creativity for participants.

This question has been a particular focus area recently since I’ve been working to compile all the Brainzooming content on getting around creative blocks into a book format. When Angela requested specific creative thinking topics, an #Ideachat discussion about what inspires a group as creative and intriguing as the #Ideachat participants was an incredibly exciting opportunity.

These are the specific #Ideachat questions we’ll cover during the Brainzooming segment:

  • What provides the most dependable creative inspiration for you – whether a person, place, or thing – and why?
  • How do you share this creative inspiration with others?
Since it will be a fast-paced 10-15 minutes  on my segment, we’ll see if we get both questions included.

Join us for #Ideachat this Saturday

#Ideachat will take place on Twitter, Saturday, August 13 at 8 am CDT. If you aren’t on Twitter but would like to monitor the conversation, you can do so right here. If you’d like to actively participate in #Ideachat, which I encourage you to do, the best place to participate is to login to your Twitter account on By entering the #Ideachat hashtag on Tweetchat, you can track the conversation and participate throughout the hour to share your ideas on creative inspiration and the other #Ideachat creative thinking topics. – Mike Brown

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” for help on how to be more creative!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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If you’re having trouble seeing the video of the world’s largest Van Gogh sunflowers, click here to go directly to YouTube for it. On the way back from the wedding in Goodland, KS I wrote about last week, we drove by this roadside attraction that is a poster child for extreme creativity – one of the world’s largest Van Gogh sunflower paintings. Western Kansas seem to be a bastion of larger-than-life roadside attractions, although we’ve never stopped to see the world’s largest squirrel in Oakley, KS!

Enjoy the video and this western Kansas extreme creativity, along with the background information on a plaque at the world’s largest Van Gogh painting! – Mike Brown



























Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” for help on how to be more creative! For an organizational 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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One of my wise strategic mentors, Greg Reid, instructed us on the “dinner table analogy” when it comes to project management and project team member interactions:

  • When you’re with your family eating around the kitchen table, you can argue, squabble, and be a little unruly with few concerns about it.
  • When you have friends over to eat, you need to be on better behavior, mind your manners, and say “please” and “thank you” even if things aren’t as formal as they could be.
  • When guests are over for a formal supper in the dining room, however, you have to be on your best behavior and make sure you don’t do anything to embarrass the family in front of your guests.

He likened the family, the guests, and the different dining situations to project management interactions we encounter at work.

What Type of Dinner Table Are You At?

Family Dinner around the Kitchen Table

The first situation is when you have project team members working actively and closely together. You owe it to each other to introduce, build on, modify, and vet ideas while recognizing not every idea will be fully developed (so you need to go easy at this early stage). The opinions and ideas aren’t yet ready to share with others, which is completely appropriate. It’s the time from a project management standpoint to ask tough questions and challenge ideas in a productive way as the project team then moves forward with a unified strategic approach.

Having Friends over for Dinner

The second dinner table situation applies to introducing more prepared ideas or a plan to a broader audience, but not yet the ultimate one. You’re looking to introduce what you’ve done, be ready for questions and handling suggested modifications from your audience. The key among family members (i.e., the project team) is not using the opportunity to ask fellow team members challenging, damaging, and embarrassing questions. Those need to have been handled before the presentation or afterward in a future “family dinner” setting.

Formal Dinner

The last situation is when you present a final project deliverable, often to a senior management team or client group. By this point, things are very choreographed, all the project team members knows their parts, no strategic or even tactical side discussions are raised, and everybody uses their best manners while presenting the final project deliverable. It is definitely not the time to voice intra-project team disputes, grievances, or objections. It’s all about making sure the guests come away with the best possible experience.

Putting the Dinner Table Analogy  into Action

The dinner table analogy all sounds pretty straight forward, but it was surprising how often you’d see project team members put  fellow team members on the spot in a “formal dinner” setting. Bad move and completely unnecessary.

When you’re on a project team or in charge of project management, think about what type of situation you’re in and make sure you’re using the appropriate manners and behavior for whoever is coming to “dinner.”  – Mike Brown


The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help enhance your marketing strategy, project management, and implementation efforts.

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In the midst of interviewing people about Google+ and Facebook for an article in the next issue of The Social Media Monthly magazine, it’s helped me better articulate what’s important to me in social networking platforms when it comes to enhancing creative thinking. It’s now a lot clearer to me why I:

  • Am so oriented toward Twitter
  • Have only begrudgingly embraced Facebook
  • Don’t spend nearly as much time on LinkedIn as it seems I should
  • Am more than a little fascinated with using Google+ more effectively

6 Ways Social Networking Platforms Can Enhance Creative Thinking

From this exploration, here are six important things for me when evaluating a new social network for its creative thinking potential:

1. How easy is it to find new, diverse people and prioritize them based on their content’s creative thinking impact?

Identifying people and opinions within your social graph is all the rage, but finding people and ideas I don’t know about is much more interesting to me.  There’s great value in having multiples ways to find people beyond the platform-generated suggestions of people I might know. I REALLY appreciate being pointed to people I should know that nobody I know knows. Being able to continually increase platform-appropriate diversity in my network helps enrich the creative value of online interactions.

2. In what ways can you organize both homogenous and diverse groups of individuals?

Homogenous groups, comprised of similar people or individuals focused on a common topic, are important when going deep on a subject and exploring multiple dimensions of it creatively. Homogenous groups can also helpful as a virtual creative team. Diverse groups, though, are equally important since they can introduce randomness and new creative thinking.

3. Can you listen to people, including those you don’t even know, in a variety of ways?

There’s a theme running through here for me: It’s not who you know, it’s who you don’t know. I prize the opportunity to listen and see how people are talking about topics irrespective of who they are or where they’re from. It’s helpful for me creatively to see how people talk about creative blocks or share insights from informative webinars. Without this capability, you’re always listening and talking with the same people.

4. How readily can the platform allow you to discuss, build upon, and adapt creative ideas?

As I’ve written previously, there are individuals I know exclusively through social networks who are very vital in sharing thought starters, ideas, and creative thinking inputs which shape my content. It’s really important for a social network platform to facilitate introducing and collaborating on ideas, even if a lot of the communication has to be in short form. The more ways it supports richer, back-and-forth dialog, however, the better.

5. Can people you don’t know reach out and share valuable information (while it’s still difficult or impossible for those sharing crap to do the same)?

As I’m writing this, someone from Paris I hadn’t previously followed online just recommended a new blog article on Google and its innovation successes and failures. The blog article is tremendously pertinent for the magazine article I’m writing. This incoming serendipity online is always appreciated. Keeping the incoming spam and junk to a minimum is important though, too.

6. How much crap to do I have to duplicate or go through to participate?

We all know there isn’t enough time to spend on additional social networking platforms. Yet, new social networking platforms emerge, we sign up for them, and first movers talk about them for a few weeks until moving on to the next platform. So if I want to get in for an early look on whether a new one has anything to add to creative thinking capabilities, my big questions are:

  • How much redundancy do I have to endure relative to other networks I’m already on?
  • How much information and permission to further bug me or collect data on me do I have to consent to?

If the answer to either of these is “a lot,” it’s a lot less likely I’ll spend much time early on nosing around on a new platform.

What Do You Look for to Enhance Creative Thinking in Social Networking Platforms?

That’s my list. What things are you looking for in a social networking platform when you want to enhance your creative thinking?  – Mike Brown

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” for help on how to be more creative!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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I admit using the word “brand” (and its derivatives) frequently. To me, branding is a very rich business term encompassing so much more than an organization’s logo, color, and typeface. Yet talking with business people from across industries, it’s clear a logo, color, and typeface are all that branding means for many of their organizations. Often brand expectations and brand experience don’t surface in the conversations.

What Branding Should Mean for Your Organization

If your definition of brand is comparably narrow, you’re missing the full range and impact of branding. Broadly viewed, branding encompasses a promise made by an organization to its customers (really any audience) about the experience they can expect when using the organization’s products and/or services. Rather than originating from an ad agency creative session, a brand is the intersection of:

  • An organization’s aspirations for its products/services, people, touchpoints, AND all its communications channels and
  • What its audiences expect, will accept, and reward from the experience the organization provides.

What brand elements are important is especially top-of-mind because while visiting my parents in Hays, KS, I had an opportunity to test what defines a brand experience.

Comparing a New Brand Experience to an Old Brand Experience

A popular, long-time Hays, KS restaurant, Al’s Chickenette, had closed in October 2010, only to be re-opened in spring 2011 by a new owner. I hadn’t eaten there in years, in part, based on perceptions the quality had declined dramatically. On my first visit to Hays since the re-opening, Al’s Chickenette was high on my “we have to eat there list.”

Having not had a brand experience with Al’s Chickenette for 20 years, my brand expectations were rooted in youthful experiences with the restaurant.

Specifically, my brand expectations checklist included a variety of elements to judge the new Al’s against the previous brand experience:

  • Décor – Did the neon lights, booths, and counter area look comparable?
  • Chipped Ice & Bottled Pop – I loved chipped ice in soft drinks. Al’s had some of the best. As a kid, Al’s used to serve is soda pop in bottles, which you don’t see much anymore.
  • The Menu & the Chicken – At Al’s it’s all about the chicken. I don’t remember if Al’s had anything else. The fried chicken was always crunchy on the outside and very moist inside.
  • French Fries – Hand cut French Fries, dripping with grease or oil or whatever they were cooked in.
  • Homemade French Dressing & the Salads – Al’s was known for its special homemade French dressing, with just a bit of tangy flavor. The lettuce was wet from having been torn and washed onsite.

How did the new Al’s Chickenette brand experience do?

Quite honestly, the most important thing for me in determining whether the current brand was true to the old brand was the French dressing. It was the one unique element of the original brand. And despite the waitress telling us that some people were saying the dressing didn’t match up, it was, to my taste, right on the money.

So I walked away with a positive brand experience as a result of one thing – the French dressing – even though the rest of the brand elements I’d identified as important were a mixed bag:

  • The fries looked the same and were less greasy (a positive), and the décor was the same.
  • There was no chipped ice or bottled pop. 
  • The menu was unnecessarily expanded (it even included a couple of breakfast items – eek!).
  • The chicken was dry and unremarkable – along with not being served the right order.
  • The salad wasn’t freshly prepared, so the lettuce in it was very dry.

But because the French dressing was true to my brand expectations, the entire brand was true for me – even though the restaurant name is centered around chicken, not salad dressing.

What Your Brand Means to Your Customers

All of this is to say your brand isn’t COMPLETELY out of your organization’s hands (as some contend), but it’s important to realize customers will likely see and experience your  brand with subtleties you wouldn’t naturally expect.

If you take  a narrow typographically-oriented view of your brand, you run the risk of diminishing consumer loyalty by not paying attention to apparently subtle brand experience elements that may define your brand for consumers.  – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us or call us at 816-509-5320 to see how we can help you devise a successful innovation strategy for your organization.

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Checking out at Wal-Mart last week, I saw the current People Magazine special issue on “The Top 100 Celebrities Who Define Our Time.” Intriguing magazine topic, but looking at the celebrities on the People Magazine cover (including Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Beyonce), my reaction was, “Heaven help us if these are the people who DEFINE us.”

Creating a Top 100 List of People Who Personally Define You

The People Magazine cover made me realize the benefit from identifying the top 100 individuals who have defined your own life. That evening I created my top 100 list to see what I’d learn. Creating your personal list not only makes for a healthy dose of personal reflection, it also will make you consider whether you’ve sufficiently recognized, thanked, and passed along what you’ve learned from your top 100 personal influencers.

For me, the first 10 names came rapidly, and the first 25 were pretty obvious. By the time I made it through half the list, the rate of names being added slowed dramatically. I had to remind myself the personal top 100 did not have to be in any particular order. The objective was simply to create the list and evaluate it later. Near the end, numbers 93 through 100 seemed to take as much time to write down as the first 50 names.

My Top 100 List

Despite my challenges, it was tremendously worthwhile to create the personal top 100 list. Here’s how it broke down:

  • Co-workers – 19 (from college jobs through now)
  • Celebrities  – 16 (included religious figures, musicians, comedians, cartoonists/designers – basically anyone who influenced me on the list that I haven’t met personally)
  • Family – 15 (parents, my wife, grandparents, etc.)
  • Educators – 14 (teachers and staff at schools I attended, although  priests who were high school instructors are in the religious category below)
  • Students –  11 (people I went to school with from grade school through college)
  • Religious – 10 (mainly priests from high school and at our parishes in Kansas City)
  • Bosses – 10 (includes direct bosses and those above them)
  • Professional – 3 (people I have known, but not worked with directly on an on-going basis)
  • Other – 2 (1 of these was Max the Cat, who got me to like cats again)

I was surprised that celebrities were the second largest category instead of showing up further down the list. Before creating the list, I’d have thought  educators would be at the top along with my family.

More Observations about the List

  • Nearly 40 individuals have been featured by name or anonymously in Brainzooming blog posts so far, which is reassuring, but also prompts me to grow the list.
  • My hometown – Hays, KS – was the site of the  first meeting with 46 people on the list.
  • As far as I know, 12 people on the list are dead. Of the remaining ones, I’ve been in contact with 34 in the past year.
  • Riding around my hometown with my parents last week, we saw one of my middle school teachers (#58 on the list, but again, it’s not in order) who now pretty much just walks around town all day. That’s neither good nor bad, but was surprising to find out.
I look forward to going back through the top 100 later and seeing if there are other names that should replace some of those included in the first draft.

Give Creating Your Top 100 List a Try

It was definitely worth the relatively short time it took to put together a personal version of the People Magazine  list. I’d encourage you to make the same time investment and see what you learn from thinking about the people that have defined you.  – 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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