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So what do you think? Brainzenning started as a summer feature, and it’s now Labor Day weekend. Would you like to see more Brainzenning videos? Let me know via email or in the comment section.


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We’ve spent time on Brainzooming talking about recycling ideas, yet haven’t touched on recycling physical materials. That changes with today’s guest post from Nancy Martini. She’s an Art Director and EcoArtist (as she’s known on Twitter), working with reclaimed materials.

Nancy’s currently working on a collection called, “Lessons from the Dinner Table.” All the pieces contain environmental messages translated from simple lessons learned at the table. Her work consists of 95% upcycled materials: plastic bags, soda cans, coat hangers, plastic bottles, bottle caps, foil, wire, cereal boxes, egg cartons, tin cans, and gift wrap tissue. You can see her process through videos on her YouTube channel.

Today, Nancy provides her view on the need for creativity as the concept of upcycling expands:

Reduce, reuse and recycle are three words that haunt me everyday. How can I use less? What can I do to reuse what I already have? And, what more can be recycled? Now, the latest environmentally conscious word “upcycle” has proven to be even more of a challenge. It is easy to understand the process of recycling by means of breaking down a material then using that material to make something new. However, the idea of creating a second life for a package or product from its inception is a complex concept that needs more explaining and exploring.

Ten years ago, you didn’t see many people bringing cloth totes to the grocery store. I remember having to explain my totes repeatedly to cashiers. Sometimes they would even pack my groceries in a paper sack and then put it in my cloth tote. Change does happen, but it takes time and education.

When I see people bringing their own totes to the grocery store now, I can’t help but wonder if they think about all the plastic in their purchases. What happens to the packaging after we use its contents? Recycling should be the last resort, not a justification to buy whatever we want because we can always toss it in the recycle bin.

Recently at the grocery store, the early morning staff was stocking shelves. Each worker had a few garbage bags filled with plastic shrink-wrap and cardboard from unpacking merchandise off wheeled crates. “All the shipping packaging is going to be thrown away,” I was told. Disheartened by this obvious disregard for the environment behind the backs of the consumer, I thought about products and their packaging and pondered:

  • What if containers were designed with an upcycled second life for the packaging so it wouldn’t go to the recycle plant or landfills?
  • What could we build or create with discarded packaging?
  • And, what if we could then change the way food companies produce packaging?

As I continue on my quest to upcycle packaging to create art, I encourage you to think of the possibilities that upcycling brings. I would love to hear your comments – the more creative collaboration, the greener the path. – Nancy Martini

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The past few weeks, I’ve been schlepping around fabric stores since Cyndi wants to recover several pieces of furniture. This is unfamiliar territory for me, which usually means an opportunity to hunt for different takes on Brainzooming-related ideas.

One can imagine the most asked question in a fabric store is, “How much material is it going to take to reupholster __________?” With many ways to fill in the blank, store staff must spend a lot of time answering the question, especially since customers could likely struggle to accurately describe (from memory) items they’re looking to recover.

That’s where this photo shows such an innovative services marketing idea: a poster depicting 60 pieces of furniture with the approximate square yardage needed to recover them.

With the poster in place, the exchange on “How much material is it going to take to reupholster __________?” becomes a smile and a finger point to the nearest poster where a customer can find the item and the answer with much greater speed and certainty.

The poster creates higher performing customers which turns into time savings for customers and staff, which leads to better service and lower staffing costs. That’s a strategic idea put into practice.

So what stumbling blocks to efficient customer-employee interaction exist in your business? What simple ideas might be lurking to address these issues as effectively as this poster does?
Spend a few minutes thinking about it and see what you can do to improve how you cover the situations you face. - Mike Brown

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Not sure where I learned this originally, but it’s a great, simple strategy for business meetings where you’re voicing a position contrary to someone else’s: never sit across from them.

Try sitting next to, or at least on the same side of the table as, whoever might be an adversary. The arrangement makes it so much harder to employ confrontational body language. Instead, you’re likely forced to discuss your differences strategically rather than posturing about them.

And while we’re at it, here’s one more strategy for arranging seating: if there are going to be two or more distinct “teams” represented in a meeting, consciously keep them from sitting in groups. Forcing group members to intermingle helps break up confrontational group body language.

These two strategies may sound silly, but I’ve seen them work too many times to not try and carry them out in every situation where they’re appropriate.

So come sit over here by me! – Mike Brown

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“Forecasters who extrapolate from today inevitably get tomorrow wrong…(but) by pitting multiple scenarios of the future against one another and leaving many different doors open, you can prepare yourself for a future that is inherently unpredictable. Brainstorming pays off. And the more possibilities you can entertain, the less likely you are to be blindsided.” - Peter Coy and Neil Gross, Business Week, August 30, 1999

I use this quote often in presentations because it has so dramatically shaped my thinking. It’s at the heart of the philosophies, disciplines, and tools I’ve sought to learn, compile, and develop in the past 10 years.

And when nothing is getting more certain, there’s even greater value in bringing smart, multi-disciplined people together to expand your view of the future, work through possibilities, and act on them.

Ideally, you’re finding that’s what Brainzooming is all about. - Mike Brown

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It’s become clear over time that my strategic mentors tend to be visionaries who are actively pushing boundaries and seeing beyond what others anticipate. I match up well with these personalities because they stretch me also, and I help translate their visions into implementable steps necessary to realize new and big ideas.

So in keeping with the focus so far this week on Bill McDonald and Kansas City Infobank, Paula White’s guest column on renegades is right on the mark. As Paula describes herself on her blog, she’s a “grandma, an educator, a teacher, and a thinker.” She has numerous educational distinctions, and she’s on the forefront of actually applying social media in an educational setting (quick partial translation: I met her on Twitter!).

In today’s guest post, she shares her experience in encouraging students that it’s okay to think boldly and unusually because that thinking leads to great new things:

Think about people you know who have been considered renegades. WHY were they considered that? Did they do something different? Did they do something no one else would? Did they do something unexpected or unusual? Were they just out of the mainstream?

As a gifted resource teacher, I often see students who think there is something wrong with them because they ARE different. They recognize that they have thoughts others don’t—that they think more deeply about common things and that they look at the world differently than their peers. I sometimes have to work to help students accept who they are because they, too, are often out of the mainstream. They think differently, learn differently and may even try to lead or teach differently. That doesn’t mean that they are better or worse than others. They are just different. And all of us have to, at some point in our lives, learn to respect and honor differences to co-exist on this planet.

One way I begin the conversation with students is to show a film Apple produced in the 90s, called “Think Different.”

Misfits. . . rebels. . . troublemakers. . . and you can’t ignore them, because they push the human race forward. Students identify with these traits and by looking at the creative geniuses Apple chose to highlight, they begin to understand that learning differently, thinking differently, acting differently is okay.

Rebels, renegades, thinkers, doers, pushers, sometimes troublemakers. . . Does that describe anyone you know? Have you ever thought about how lonely that path might be?

Remember the renegades. . . and be their friend. Their creativity, their thinking, their pushing the envelope just may change the world. - Paula White

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