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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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Never underestimate predictability as an innovative and very attractive brand benefit.

For example, I stay at a particular hotel regularly where I have gold status. Frequently an upgrade’s offered for the stay. Often it’s a “preferred guest” floor room with slightly more plentiful amenities and free in-room bottles of water. As an all-suites property, there’s a microwave, a small fridge, and two place settings – all great for fixing a 5 a.m. breakfast.

During slow periods, I’ve been upgraded to a multi-level room on the top floor with a wonderful view, meeting space, and a full kitchen. Many times though, even with gold status, I’m in a regular room with few amenities and $4 bottled water.

Rather than gold status, I feel as if I have “Forrest Gump” status in their rewards program because I never know what I’m going to get.

While the preferred guest rooms have better amenities, the hotel remodeled those rooms last. So for nearly two years, the non-preferred rooms were much nicer, with better work space and lighting. The large multi-level room (considered the upgrade pinnacle) was the worst in the property, with water stains, peeling wallpaper, and a full flight of stairs to drag your luggage up once in the room. And invariably, when the room has great meeting space, I’m not traveling with a co-worker where our project would benefit from a place to work after hours.

During one stay the upgrade was to a lower floor multi-level room. This alleviated hauling luggage up the stairs. The meeting space was great with a huge TV, but it went completely unused. The water was still $4 and for the first time, there were no plates, silverware, or napkins. So eating an early breakfast required going outside to buy plastic utensils and paper towels!

Thus while appreciating the upgrade effort, the impact generally creates more challenges or wasted benefits than positives. If they ever asked about my brand experience, I’d say it’s “nice but unpredictable,” since there’s no opportunity to plan ahead to take advantage of a potential upgrade.

What could they do? Three simple steps:

    1. Ask upfront about my particular situation and what would be of greatest benefit.

    More room? Better work space? A nicer view? A particular room location? All of these are available, but depending on the trip, which upgrade provides real benefit changes.

    2. Realize that an upgrade can be about the experience and not the actual room.

    Why not be creative and have upgrade kits with amenities and free water no matter what room I’m offered.

    3. Ask specifically at the end of the stay about how things were and consider the comments.

    This is something they never do.

      Three simple steps. If they did them, they’d discover an opportunity to do less for me (either in actual expense or opportunity cost) and get credit for greater value, simply by asking first and delivering a predictable experience that reflects an understanding of my needs.


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      Riding the Waves

      One night, based on my wife’s question about if and when George C. Scott had died, I followed Wikipedia links to Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, Gene Rayburn, Bert Convy, Bobby Van, and Elaine Joyce – Bobby Van’s widow. (If you’re wondering, the clear theme was my rabid viewership of mid 1970s CBS game shows.)

      Amazingly, it said Elaine Joyce dated J.D. Salinger for several years before marrying Neil Simon – who knew? I really have abandoned my earlier passion for pop culture trivia!

      That revelation led to more clicks and discovering this 1951 Salinger quote on literary influences:

      “A writer, when he’s asked to discuss his craft, ought to get up and call out in a loud voice just the names of the writers he loves.”

      2 Creative Quickies

      • Need a little quirky inspiration? Take a period of your life, pick a starting point, and do some Wikipedia surfing as source for semi-random inputs. You never know what cool places Wikiwaves will take you.
      • Expand on Salinger’s idea and “call out in a loud voice” the creative influences you love. You choose where to do it – maybe it’s a blog, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. Gosh, maybe it’s actually really speaking them aloud. Simply pick the venue and have fun doing it! - Mike Brown

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      Don’t underestimate the tremendous motivational force of challenging someone to produce facts to try and prove you wrong. Most people like to be right and will expend at least some effort to support their point.

      If you can get someone to do this, you’ll benefit in multiple ways:

      • You’ll better understand counter arguments against your point of view.
      • There’s the opportunity to learn more about your topic from a different perspective.
      • You might discover you are actually wrong and be able to correct your own misunderstanding of the issue in a lower risk situation.

      So go ahead and issue the challenge to try and prove you wrong. In so doing, you’ll set your challenger up to make your day. - Mike Brown


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