Creativity | The Brainzooming Group - Part 4 – page 4

How are you boosting your creative thinking skills in dramatic ways for 2017 and beyond?

If you haven’t thought about it, fortunately for you, there is an opportunity coming up April 2 through April 9, 2017! It features forty-five creativity and innovation experts! And it’s available online and FREE!

The Innovation and Creativity Summit 2017 is a virtual event running from this coming Sunday through the following Sunday. Your FREE registration includes access to at least forty-five all-new interviews with global creativity and innovation experts.

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Nick Skillicorn, blogger and host of the Idea to Value podcast, is the host for each interview. The featured experts include several Twitter friends I’ve never had the opportunity to see share their ideas in person, including:

  • Alan Iny– Head of Creativity at Boston Consulting Group
  • Jorge Barba– President at Baja California Innovation Cluster
  • Paul Sloane– Author of Think like an Innovator
  • Gregg Fraley– Author of Jack’s Notebook
  • Holly Green– Founder ofThe Human Factor

Other interviewees include:

  • Karen Dillon– Former editor of Harvard Business Review, Co-Author of Competing Against Luck
  • David Burkus– Author of Under New Management & Myths of Creativity
  • Max McKeown– Author of The Innovation Book
  • Ralph-Christian Ohr– Founder of Integrative Innovation

I neglected to mention: I’ll also have a segment in the summit talking about the value of strategic detours for boosting creative thinking skills throughout strategic planning.

Register TODAY! FREE 2017 Innovation and Creativity Summit Virutal Event

Take advantage of this fantastic opportunity! Register in advance, and you’ll receive updates with the FREE video interviews released for that day of the 2017 Innovation and Creativity Summit.

We’re looking forward to you joining and learning new innovation and creative thinking skills from all these great experts! – Mike Brown

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Short story: If you want big ideas, ask the big questions, which is what extreme creativity is all about!

By Friday night, we’ll know the Elite Eight in NCAA college basketball. These eight teams that will vie Saturday and Sunday to play in the national championship basketball game the following week.

Keeping with the eight theme, here are eight new questions from the Brainzooming R&D Lab to boost your creative thinking skills.

There are two extreme creativity questions to stimulate breakthrough ideas from four perspectives: Aspiration, Authority, Disruption, and doing More.


  • What would our goals look like if we 10x’d all of them?
  • How will we solve everything that has seemed impossible for us to do previously?


  • What are the stupid unwritten rules in our industry we must upend right away?
  • What internal policies and procedures should we start ignoring immediately to innovate faster?


  • What can we purposely break to force cutting all ties to how we do things now?
  • What can we do to totally befuddle our competitors, creating chaos and inaction?


  • How can we double our innovation capacity by end of day tomorrow?
  • What can we do to be 10x faster than we are now doing __________? (Fill in whatever area you need greater speed)

Creative Thinking Skills and Breakthrough Ideas

To develop these questions, we revisited our original source for Brainzooming extreme creativity questions: Peter’s Laws. I saw these principles, subtitled the Creed of the Sociopathic Obsessive Compulsive, in a New Orleans poster shop.

I bought the poster because the rules closely match how the creative geniuses I’ve experienced approach business. For people struggling with working around these individuals, I thought the list would help them better understand their strategies.

After launching The Brainzooming Group, I revisited Peter’s Laws, turning them into questions to inspire extreme creativity. This exercise produced my biggest personal insight about creative thinking skills: When you need huge thinking, don’t ask for big ideas; instead, use big questions to cultivate extreme creativity and breakthrough ideas.

The strategy works tremendously well. That is why I share our original list of extreme creativity questions in nearly every Brainzooming strategic and creative thinking workshop. In a recent workshop, one attendee stated he didn’t have the creative thinking skills to produce wild ideas. He wondered how he could get them. I smiled and said, “Man, do I have a technique and the questions for you!” – Mike Brown


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This Brainzooming eBook will help identify additional possibilities for people, funding, and resources to jump start your innovation strategy. You can employ the strategic thinking exercises in Accelerate to:

  • Facilitate a collaborative approach to identifying innovation resources
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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Short Story: Look for specifics and things that people can actually do or perform to move creative thinking into action.

How do you move from creative thinking into action?

That was a persistent question during a recent Brainzooming strategic thinking workshop that also included a heavy dose of content on creative thinking. Two of the client’s senior staff members said this was a question they expected us to answer during the strategic thinking workshop. They also wanted a sense of when and why you should think creatively. Specifically, one wondered whether a problem is necessary as a precursor to creative thinking.

I loved the questions. They signaled these two guys had likely been through similar workshops touching on creative thinking that were big on creativity and light on applying the ideas to daily work.

Their qualms about applying creative thinking are familiar. Working in a B2B marketing environment, I had to develop a knack for applying creativity quickly directly to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities. We did not work in an environment with tolerance for a fun creative path that didn’t deliver real world answers expeditiously.

Does there have to be a problem to justify creative thinking in a work setting?


The workshop participant asking about creativity and problems was persistent. I changed the workshop’s flow to answer his question early, using a chart we previously published and regularly use with clients. It helps assess how broadly an organization perceives a need for improved results compared to its frustration with the status quo.

Placing your organization on the chart helps identify how you apply creativity and the related expectations for your efforts. In the lower right quadrant, creativity is likely first applied to helping the organization realize the need for change. As you build that understanding and hope for improvement, you shift creativity toward exploring what it will take for a better future. If your organization is starting in the upper right though, you can apply bigger creative thinking right away toward transformative ideas for bringing about dramatic change.

Turning Creative Thinking  into Action


When it comes to shifting from ideas into action, that’s where everything we’ve published over the last several years about implementation, project management, and creating strategic impact comes into play. That work is oriented toward preparing and activating an organization to act on creative ideas.

Addressing the specific workshop query about how to move creative thinking into action, I shared five questions you can use to push a group more fascinated with ideas than acting toward specific tactics:

  • What will it take to accomplish this?
  • What are the first actions it will take to move forward?
  • Can you identify a specific individual that will have responsibility for implementing this?
  • What would you walk out here and do based on what we’ve talked about here?
  • What verbs (that demonstrate what people will do) are the first words for the tactics to make this happen?

These and comparable questions help curb coming up with more questions to push for the specifics leading to action.

And in case you were wondering, my action-oriented friends walked away from the Brainzooming strategic thinking workshop satisfied we gave them the types of help they were looking for at the start! – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Short Story: When it comes to creativity, start with and return to the underlying strategy; that’s the most important piece of creative advice I have to offer.

I’ve been trying to let go of some creative reins on the Brainzooming brand. This is a matter of necessity: too little time, too many other things to do, reaching the limits of my execution talents, needing fresh perspectives on things I have been looking at for years.

This transition forces me to formally communicate aspects of the Brainzooming brand, including strategic assumptions and brand personality, vocabulary, design standards, and other elements that have only been in my head until now.

It also reinforces something I’ve known for a long time: I’m both a great client and a horrible client.

I’m a great client because of all the creative thinking background and experience communicating with creative people. I’m horrible because I have just enough creative chops to do many things myself, which I’m not reluctant to do if a project isn’t quite working.

8 Pieces of Creative Advice from a Great and Horrible Client

While collaborating with others on the Brainzooming brand, I’ve doled out plenty of advice. Here are eight creative advice tidbits that are more broadly applicable beyond our growing creative team:

  • Sometimes they hire you for how you’ll bring your personal creative vision to a project. Sometimes they hire you to put your creative vision to the side and perform work that sounds/looks like the brand. Know which type of gig you are working on right now.
  • Get the strategy down before you move to creative ideas. Return to the brand strategy and the creative strategy frequently. Nailing the strategy exactly is more important than delivering the most stellar creative idea.
  • Make sure you get a creative brief in place so there’s some type of objective way to assess the work when you’re done.
  • If you’re strong on big creative ideas, you can probably slide on some of the fine points. If you’re very strong at creative details, that can make up for not having the biggest ideas. You can’t fall short on both big ideas and details, however, and think you’re going to thrive creatively.
  • If you are struggling with both the big ideas AND the detail, make sure you under-promise and over-deliver. Work quickly to allow time to recover from dead ends. Most importantly, be a person of your word: hit the deadlines you agree on with the client.
  • Push yourself to explore lots of creative ideas; more creative ideas than you can imagine you need. You WILL need all those creative ideas to uncover the winning idea.
  • Don’t throw your creative work over the transom with no explanation. Push for the opportunity to explain your bold creative choices. Once you get that hearing, be ready to tie your bold creative choices to the underlying strategy.
  • If your usual jobs or projects don’t allow you to regularly go for big creative ideas, cultivate something else creatively that allows you to grow and develop your big creative thinking.

That’s my creative advice. Do with it what you will. Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Short Story: You can take serious questions and wrap them in child-like situations to add fun and new thinking to a strategic planning process.

One way to create greater engagement during a strategic planning process is through framing important questions in new ways. Sometimes that means asking familiar questions completely differently. Other times it means changing the perspective from which participants are answering questions.

Then there are times in a strategic planning process when the questions are mainly serious, but the premise is mostly silly.

Here is one of those times.

Based on someone reaching our website looking for reflections to kick off a strategic planning process, I started imagining adapting and wrapping strategic thinking questions in nursery rhymes. Except now, I can’t remember WHY I was thinking about using nursery rhymes. They must have seemed like a way to add fun.

Never wanting to waste an idea emerging from the Brainzooming R&D lab, here are two surprising (and fun) ways to frame important questions as nursery rhymes.

Goldilocks and the Three Competitors

If you have strategic planning process participants who are knowledgeable about your competitors, you may want to collaboratively tap their insights. How about framing the exercise as Goldilocks and the Three Competitors? Ask them to address:

  • Which competitor has been too hot? (Growing faster, making aggressive product or pricing moves, expanding operations or markets)
  • Which competitor has been too cold? (Seem to have lost its way, losing share and/or people)
  • Which competitor is just right to target? (Clear weaknesses you can better exploit, opportunities to create a major advantage)

Ask the group to identify not only the three competitors, but reasons for their situation, and the best offensive and/or defensive moves your brand can take against each of them.

Jack and his Extreme Creativity Beans

Suppose you need extreme creative thinking. The kind of extreme creativity that comes from people with their heads in the clouds! Take the story of Jack and the Beanstalk and imagine the magic beans are extreme creativity questions. Use questions such as those below to grow ideas that will reach into the blue sky!

  • What would we do if these magic beans let us ignore resource limitations?
  • What if these magic beans prevented anyone from ever telling us “no”?
  • What would we have if these magic beans allowed us to grow ideas bigger and bolder than anything we’ve ever done before?

As you use these questions, look for ways to turn the blue-sky ideas they generate into reality.

See what we mean?

These are a mix of serious and silly. But then again, that mix keeps business interesting! – Mike Brown

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Short Story: Strategic planning questions that allow people to challenge conventional norms are fun and lead to disruptive thinking, so employ questions to harvest ideas from the wild possibilities.

The other day, someone reached out looking for short, funny, strategic planning questions. We have tons of strategic planning questions, including a few we have singled out as more fun than others. We also have quite a bit on fun strategy planning, including one of our most popular new eBooks, 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.

The question got me thinking about specific strategic planning questions we use to liven up strategic thinking.

3 Short, Funny Strategic Planning Questions

Thumbing a group’s collective nose (or perhaps raising a prominent finger) toward someone or something standing in the way of pursuing new, innovative strategies always adds fun to a strategy workshop. Here are three opportunities to challenge typical roadblocks to innovation and new strategic ideas:

1. Stick It To Authority Figures

What completely outrageous thing could we do that would be incredible, yet get us into big trouble with the boss?

This is the core creative thinking question for our Shrimp exercise. We have mentioned previously using it to revive a group’s energy. This creative thinking question also helps them move beyond ideas they would typically self-censor in almost any situation.

2. Give Conventional Expectations the Heave Ho

If we did exactly the opposite of anyone’s expectations, what would we do?

This strategic thinking question is on our extreme creativity list. It does a great job of giving people permission to change everything, even if it’s only hypothetical at first.

3. Get around Expectations Because of Who You Are

If characters from The Big Bang Theory were solving this problem, what would they do?

This strategic planning question is an updated, hipper version of one of our favorite creative thinking questions: How would the castaways from Gilligan’s Island solve this issue? Both versions of Change Your Character exercises, they free a group’s perspective and energy to imagine how others would tackle daily issues around your organization.

Wait, There’s More!

These types of questions typically generate a higher percentage of ideas that, on the surface, seem completely ridiculous. That’s why you want to couple them with questions to help mine the ideas for possibilities that you CAN implement. These are a follow-up questions to consider using:

  • What could we take from these ideas (and modify) to apply to our situation?
  • How could we take this idea just as it is to challenge how we do things now?
  • How can modify this idea as little as possible to be able to move on it quickly without losing how outrageous / special / disruptive it is?

Granted, we don’t use each of these funny strategic planning questions in every client workshop. When we do use them, they definitely boost the energy level dramatically. – Mike Brown


fun-ideas-strategic-planningLooking for Bold Ideas for Fun Strategic Planning?

Yes, developing strategy can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”
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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Last weekend’s Wall Street Journal featured a piece called “Two Cheers for Failure in a Tough Drug Industry,” by Jonathan D. Rockoff. The article highlighted innovation strategy options that drug companies are using to instill and support risk-taking behaviors. These companies are trying to motivate researchers facing daunting odds for bringing a drug successfully to market. Rockoff cites odds of 1 in 10,000 for drug compounds to ultimately gain regulatory approval.

The innovation strategy options include cultivating company culture, celebrating failures with parties and awards, and making sure they are failing as fast as possible with sufficient learnings.

4 Ways to Celebrate Risk Taking

While an innovation strategy that suggests throwing a party to celebrate a failed idea seems outrageous, the message from the pharma companies is that it’s smart business. Even if your innovation success rate is dramatically higher, motivating employees to embrace risks vital for innovating can be challenging. It’s chic for gurus to extol embracing failure. Yet, most employees have no track record of seeing peers – or anyone else – fail repeatedly as a pathway to corporate success.

Let’s suspend judgement and see the innovation strategy decisions certain pharma players are introducing to motivate taking risks.

1. Cultivating a Resilient, Innovative Environment

Ironwood Pharmaceuticals is targeting both learning and emotion to prompt engagement and risk taking among its nearly 700 employees. In business for nineteen years, it has only one drug in the marketplace; eight more are in advanced development stages. To create broader understanding among employees about embracing serial risk taking amid tough odds, it invites well-known pharmaceutical innovators to share their experiences and practices.

The company also depicts development paths of drugs that have successfully made it through the regulatory gauntlet. They display these case studies in the workplace. To further engage its team, Ironwood asks staff to submit clever early-stage names for products in development. They encourage temporary names that are inside jokes or reflect pop culture interests.

By involving employees beyond its research team, Ironwood personalizes for all staff the challenges of innovating when you expect to meet many setbacks and dead ends. Inviting everyone to name test drugs creates personal investment in products under development, even among non-researchers.

Something to Think about for Your Business: How does your organization create opportunities for all employees to invest in innovation, even if you are not looking for them to generate or develop new product ideas? Just as you might encourage every employee to find the connections between themselves and end customers, how can you encourage them to create closer connections to the innovation centers in your business?

2. Celebrating Risk-Taking Behaviors

The biotech units at AstraZeneca and at Bristol-Myers Squibb each award scientists and researchers for outstanding work. Their awards are independent of ultimate commercialization or lack of it. AstraZeneca hosts an annual event to recognize scientists. The awards, presented at a black-tie event (dubbed the “Science Oscars”) are based on promising work; results are not a factor. The “Bravo Awards” at Bristol-Myers Squibb are similarly granted based on research efforts.

When an organization singles out people for dedicated, positive effort AND successful results, it sends a powerful message. It says the organization realizes successful innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Innovation depends on ideas and exploration, development and testing, and ultimately, achieving some threshold rate of commercialization. Reinforcing a multi-dimensional innovation process view with incentives and rewards along all phases shows that the company understands the importance of cultivating all aspects of innovation.

Something to Think about for Your Business: Do your innovation metrics track performance from idea generation to R&D, and through business results? If not, what are some smart steps that will expand your innovation dashboard?

3. Letting Go when an Innovation Strategy Isn’t Working

Beyond ingenious names, Ironwood holds wakes for drugs it has tested but killed before reaching the market. The company introduced the idea of a drug wake to allay researchers’ fears related to its first failed drug. With research and development on the drug suspended, employees were dreading restarting their research efforts (at best) or losing their jobs (at worst).

The wakes salute development efforts that extend up to a decade without commercial success. Ironwood now has six in its history; the wakes are integral to helping employees move to new assignments with strong outlooks. Recalling personal experiences and memories conveys appreciation for each innovation journey, even if the desired destination proves elusive.

Organizational behaviors convey whether or not true appreciation exists for risk taking that doesn’t result in bankable ROI. The audacity of throwing a party for what could easily be classified as failures signals confidence in ultimate success, investment in valuing people (beyond exclusively ROI-based outcomes), and a relaxed environment. These send the clear message that support for innovation and risk taking exists independently from market success.

Something to Think about for Your Business: What do your organizational behaviors say about your organization’s risk tolerance? Do you back up communication about the value of risk taking with obvious support and encouragement when individuals and teams pursue new ideas that fail to come to fruition?

4. Failing and Learning

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is training employees to conduct thorough post-R&D analysis. It wants to ensure that scientists capitalize on every possible learning from failed innovation. Embedding the US Army’s “after-action reporting” technique provides a methodology for in-depth researcher interviews to identify themes behind successes and failures. The process turns personal learnings into organizational knowledge.

Something to Think about for Your Business: Are you using every innovation initiative, regardless of its success, to create learnings that make your organization smarter and better? How often are you prioritizing and green lighting higher-risk innovation initiatives that promise disproportionate new learning potential?

What ideas does this raise about your innovation strategy?

Could you identify a couple of areas where pharma companies are supporting risk-taking behavior that would benefit your organization’s innovation strategy? Maybe it’s not a wake for a dead idea, but what else can you mine for an innovation strategy boost? – Mike Brown


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3d-Cover-Innovation-FearsWhether spoken or unspoken, organizations can send strong messages saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t screw around with it” in a variety of ways. Such messages make it clear that good things do not await those pushing for innovation involving any significant level of risk.

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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