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This may or may not become a new feature on the blog, but if it does, Saturday Surprise will feature an intriguing demonstration of creativity floating around the Internet. This first video comes from Google+ and Jeffrey J. Davis, who shared it Friday afternoon.

As the headline says, this Saturday Surprise is what happens when you combine Mark Zuckerberg, Game of Thrones, an X-Acto Blade, a ruler, free time and a unique vision from Malaysian artist-architect Red Hong who “likes to paint, but not with a paintbrush.” If you’d like to learn more about Red Hong’s “Facebook” depiction of Mark Zuckerberg, you can visit her website for pictures and the story.

Enjoy your first Saturday Surprise!  – Mike Brown

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic new ideas! 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 info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these innovation benefits for you.

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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1

Are you making sure the strategic questions you use are “open, neutral, and lean”?

There is a lot on the Brainzooming blog about the value of collecting and asking great strategic questions. Complementing those articles, a recent piece from the Pointer Review Project Blog by Jason Fry on the ESPN website highlighted a recommended strategic question formula. The recommendation comes via John Sawatsky, a well-known Canadian investigative reporter.

Sawatsky uses a method he developed systematically over the last thirty years that centers on open, neutral, and lean questions. The breakthrough to his strategic question formula occurred working with students to conduct research for a book on Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Each week during the project, he gave all his students the same questions to ask potential interviewees. He expected some students to be good interviewers and some not so good, but nearly without fail, the type of question determined success more than an individual interviewer’s skills.

Sawatsky found that “open, neutral, and lean” questions were consistently more successful at getting interview sources to open up with answers that yielded useful information and insight.

What are Open, Lean, and Neutral Questions?

Here are the three characteristics and how they play into the strategic question formula:

  • Open questions – These can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Open questions probe on what, how, and why.
  • Neutral questions – The queries avoid adding value statements and judgments, which distract and bias the respondent.
  • Lean questions – As the name suggests, these are brief and conceptually simple. Lean questions keep the respondent on point and don’t allow them to pick and choose what they want to answer.

This strategic question formula is an intriguing guide in not only developing new questions, but checking those already in use to make sure they’re as productive as possible.

What ways do you hone strategic questions you use? How might the open, neutral, and lean question formula influence your approach? – Barrett Sydnor

 

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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 at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

 

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Amid all the fervor about content marketing and the importance of sharing frequent, compelling content about your brand, there could be a real problem.

Your may be dealing with challenging content. It could even be inaccessible to parts of your intended audience. Maybe your content is:

  • Overly technical
  • Meaningful to only a small audience
  • Difficult to understand or interpret
  • Boring
  • Obscure

Maybe you have challenging content for some other reason entirely. If you are saddled with the responsibility for building an audience and making challenging content accessible, what can you do? Here is an idea if you’re doing content marketing in this type of situation.

Making Challenging Content Accessible

My friend Emma Alvarez Gibson, who is perhaps the biggest Nick Cave fan in the world, has been talking about Nick Cave on Twitter and Facebook as long as I have known her. In an effort to discover shared connections with an online friend, I’d even sampled Nick Cave music on iTunes and eMusic several times. For me, Nick Cave’s music could be considered eclectic and challenging content. The songs were generally way too slow for my liking; I didn’t “get” his music and certainly didn’t download any of his songs.

Then recently, I was direct messaging with Emma and complaining about some things going on that day. Emma said she’d gone through some similar situations and songs from a couple of Nick Cave (Grinderman) albums had been helpful in getting her through it all.

With that, Emma stepped through a masterful plan to make Nick Cave’s music accessible to me. The steps are worth reviewing because they’d be appropriate for any organization trying to make its own content more accessible to its audience:

1. Build a personal connection

Beyond connecting my current situation to one where Nick Cave’s music had helped her, Emma had shared stories previously about getting to interview the drummer from the Bad Seeds. Her connection made me more intrigued to discover what she enjoyed about the music.

2. Introduce relevant context

When Emma shared links with Nick Cave song recommendations, she offered background information about the songs, the characters, and what the lyrics mean. Now, I had some elements to listen for when checking out the songs.

3. Select a relevant subset of content

Rather than trying to get me to go through the whole Nick Cave catalog, Emma recommended songs from only a couple of Nick Cave records. This provided a pool of content more likely to click with me.

4. Suggest an appropriate and easy starting point

Within the subset of Nick Cave songs Emma recommended, she identified several songs as a good place to start listening. With her input, I created a download list starting with her recommended songs. I liked the very first song I listened to on the list.

5. Check back to gauge reactions

Since I started listening to the recommended songs, Emma has checked back several times to see my reactions and offer suggestions for edgier content to listen to next. Here, she made sure I didn’t get frustrated or disaffected and stop listening.

The Result? A New Nick Cave Fan

Emma’s efforts turned me into a Nick Cave fan. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to the song “More News from Nowhere,” one of starter songs Emma suggested. Between the hook in “More News from Nowhere” and Cave’s delivery, I’m definitely a fan!

If you are involved with content marketing and making challenging content accessible for a brand, what steps do you take to build an audience? In case you’re struggling with it, I’d recommend the five-step approach Emma Alvarez Gibson took to turn me into a new Nick Cave fan. You’ll see results! – Mike Brown

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic ideas! 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 info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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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There was an American Restoration marathon on the History Channel recently, so I bought in for multiple hours of the Pawn Stars spin-off. American Restoration features Las Vegas’ Rick Dale and the crew at his business, Rick’s Restorationsn. They specialize in restoring classic objects that time has not treated very well, turning them into show pieces by hammering out dents, repainting, and tracking down all the missing parts and pieces that used to be there.

Photo by: ohNe22 | Source: Photocase.com

When you think about it, the restoration strategy principles on the American Restoration television show (affiliate link) are similar to what we face in business when a product, program, or process that was once shiny and new isn’t anymore, but it’s too valuable, for whatever reason, to eliminate. These types of business restoration situations aren’t pure turnarounds since you can’t apply the same type of scorched earth strategy a turnaround often requires.

Working from that rationale, here are five product, program, or process business restoration strategy principles to implement:

1. Understand expectations for authenticity and the restoration’s ultimate vision.

Before launching into a restoration, Rick Dale asks a customer about the ultimate vision for what the restoration looks like. There’s a different restoration strategy if they want it like brand new versus improving it but leaving the look and feel of an object that’s clearly been used. With a business restoration strategy, you similarly need to understand customer and management expectations upfront. Are you going for a complete refurbishment to take it back to day one, or are you trying to refresh and make it more valuable, even if it only suggests what it used to be?

2. Document where you are starting from so you have a reference point.

On American Restoration, they take multiple photos of an item coming into Rick’s Restorations before the restorers start working. These photos provide an important reference point for how the item looked originally, the placement and nature of specific features, and a measure to benchmark results. When beginning a business restoration, documenting your starting point (through various means) plays a similar role as a comparison point throughout the restoration and to measure your progress.

3. Be willing to do short term harm in the interests of a stronger end result.

When restoring a valuable item that is damaged, the experts on American Restoration may take steps which seem extreme, i.e. using a pickle bath of acid to loosen rust. This potentially harmful move, however, is necessary to remove the negative effects and potentially ongoing damage being done to the item. Taking on a business restoration, you will have to come to grips with the possibility of destroying particular elements of the current product, program, or process to revive performance. Rigorous analysis, an innovative perspective, tough decision making, and rapid implementation make up one formula for the “acid” needed to start a business restoration.

4. Be willing to completely redo something to make it seem more like the original.

Someone brought a really old baseball arcade game in horrible shape into Rick’s Restorations. The images on the game’s backdrop – which depicted the upper decks of a baseball stadium filled with fans – were barely visible. Rather than trying to rehabilitate the old backdrop to maintain authenticity, Rick Dale and his crew created a new backdrop. This freed them to use the old backdrop as a model to paint a new one that looked exactly like the original when it was new. The same principle can apply in business restorations: ditching an old component process or system can lead to a better result, even if it isn’t completely authentic.

5. Infuse the final restoration with emotion.

Rick Dale adds a special flair unveiling the shop’s work to customers. At a minimum, restored items are usually draped or behind some type of moveable surface to create a synchronized reveal. After restoring a toy wagon, they wrapped it as the original Christmas present it was originally. While there may be natural emotional components to the projects on American Restoration, these examples are good reminders to incorporate the right emotional experience when you’re ready to reveal the results of your business restoration effort.

What works for you?

What are your go-to strategies when you have a business restoration project ahead of you? At The Brainzooming Group, we help direct a lot of business restoration efforts for clients, so if you’d like to learn more about specific steps we find valuable, let’s talk!

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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 at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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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The Big Ideas in Higher Education conference (or #BigIdeas12) was several weeks ago, and I am still missing it. The experience was a very special two days. Going back through my notes and tweets, here are nine ideas (some bigger than others) the Big Ideas in Higher Education conference triggered for me:

  • You’re life’s goal: absorb as many influences as you can and then mix them up so well that the mixture can only represent you.
  • When you want to change the world, start with your distinctive talents. Then go from there.
  • I don’t care how radical you think you are, if you REQUIRE someone to share your world view in order to interact with you, you’re part of the conformity problem. Invite. Don’t require someone to be like you.
  • There is no need to apologize for shortfalls others will never notice.
  • What do you do when things are really, really hard? Rejoice, because that means if you persevere, few (if any) other will.
  • How you react to someone who says they’re going to kick your business model’s ass says so much more about how likely and how soon it will happen than any research you could do about the question.
  • How good are you at asking for opportunities to do incredible things? How can you improve at it?
  • Don’t wait for an emergency to act when you know you’re going to need something at some point in the future anyway.
  • If you believe God created the world, why wouldn’t you look to God as the ultimate guide to creativity?

That is just a start, with a couple of more potential #BigIdeas12 posts in the offing! – Mike Brown

 

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If you’re facing a challenging organizational situation and are struggling to maintain forward progress because of it, The Brainzooming Group can provide a strategic sounding-board for you. We will apply our strategic thinking and implementation tools on a one-on-one basis to help you create greater organizational success. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you figure out how to work around your organizational challenges.

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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A significant barrier to being consistently and effectively innovative is the wall that says you are not succeeding unless you (or your team, or your company) is creating “The Next Big Thing.” But our lives, business and personal, are full of hundreds of small things. The people and companies that make those small things easier to use, more convenient, or less costly are doing yeoman’s work in both incremental innovation and creativity, even if they never create the big thing.

Here are three such small examples of incremental innovation that I’ve come across—two come from recent travels and the third is due to our hot, wet Kansas City spring.

1. Travel soap that doesn’t melt as easily.

The soap holder in nearly every hotel/motel shower I have ever used is a magnet for water. Ergo, the soap you put there is soon a molten mess. If you put bumps on the bottom of the soap bar, however, it stays out of the water, lasts longer and is more pleasant to use.

2. More counter space with no increase in room size.

Staying in that same incremental innovation space—literally. It isn’t often that a hotel/motel bathroom has anywhere close to enough counter space for one, much less two people’s health and beauty products. At this Red Lion in Denver, they did not make the bathroom bigger, but they did increase the counter space by making the toilet tank lid flat with a small lip around the edge.

3. Making yard work fun slightly more tolerable.

It’s been hot early in Kansas City this year and that has resulted in significantly more grass mowing. If you have a mower that uses a gas/oil blend, you know how hard it is to get that mix right. The number of ounces of oil you can buy seldom matches the size of your gas container. Ace Hardware is solving that problem. With its container for two-cycle oil you squeeze the bottom section until you have the desired amount in the upper section. Then you can easily pour that amount—and only that amount—into the gas can. You get the right mix and you pay less for the oil, because you can buy more at a time and you have no waste.

Yes, each of these may represent an incremental innovation, but I was thankful for them. And I remember who was responsible and it has upped the chances of me returning to that hotel chain and that hardware store.  – Barrett Sydnor

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This is the final installment of creative ideas from the June 2012 issue of Fast Company featuring its list of The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2012. These final thirty-six creative storytelling and creative process tips, as with the other from earlier ones, were all inspired by individual profiles on on the Fast Company 100 Most Creative People in Business list.

I hope this slightly different take on The Most Creative People in Business list profiles has been helpful now and in the future. For me personally, I pulled away perhaps five big idea possibilities for The Brainzooming Group. They tied specifically to business development and user experience ideas. Quite frankly, I’d hoped for a more, but the shortfall may be because of the abbreviated nature of the profiles Fast Company features on each person listed.

Now that our coverage on the creative people list wraps with these thirty-six creative storytelling and creative process tips, I guess it’s up to all of us now to get on with our creative work to try and make the list in 2013!

Creative Storytelling

What’s your story? Write your story. Then share it. Over and over.  Bradford Shellhammer – Cofounder, Chief Creative Officer, Fab.com (#50)

Make stories. Tie together important touch points and create stories from them.  – Steve Porter – Viral Video Producer (#60)

When you develop your own material you can create it in the way you want, with the people you admire, and end up with creative output that works for you.  Aziz Ansari – Comedian, Actor, “Parks and Rec” (#87)

Curation isn’t exclusively selection. It’s about playing out a perspective that connects to the audience.  Maria Popova – Editor, Brainpickings.org (#51)

In conveying information (whether infographics or not), start with analysis, followed by determining the size and breadth of the insights, and finish with making it accessible.  Eddie Opara – Partner, Pentagram (#52)

Introduce new content to your audience every day wrapped in great creative storytelling with strong characters, plot twists, surprising resolutions and a hint at what happens next.  Andrew Wilson – Executive Vice President, EA Sports (#40)

In what ways does every piece of new content you create build on your amazing story?  – Jeremy Heimans – Founder, Purpose (#11)

Dress the creative part. It’s your obligation to wear jeans if it allows others to see you in the proper light.  Cyrus Massoumi – Cofounder, ZocDoc (#57)

Creative Process Tips

It’s harder to sustain your creativity than it is to work to get your creative break. Focus on only doing what counts to make or keep your creative break. Don’t let yourself become distracted.  Ceelo Green – Entertainer (#5)

You can’t sit still and expect ideas will just pop out of your head. Go do something!  Elvis Chau – Executive Creative Director, JWT Shanghai (#84)

How much nonsense stuff are you doing? Is it good nonsense (that spurs creativity) or bad nonsense (it saps creativity)?  Andrew Yang – Founder, Venture for America (#27)

If you’re the creative force in your organization can you afford to personally “touch” everything your organization produces? Can you afford not to?  Pamela Love – Founder, Pamela Lover N.Y.C. (#93)

Make every square inch of your work space creative and fill it with people who have both the creative and technical talents to create through your entire process.  Tony Haile – CEO, Chartbeat (#64)

Hold a weekly “Inspiration Friday,” event to share anything that’s been a creative inspiration in the past 7 days.  Neil Blumenthal – Confounder, Warby Parker (#92)

Try a “walking meeting” to talk and walk and solve.  Andrew Hsu – Founder, Airy Labs (#68)

Spit out as many ideas as fast as you can to get them out and captured. Then think about the connections and context among them.  Greg Gunn – Entrepreneur in Residence, City Light Central (#85)

Take an experimental view and put together unconnected things to find the strategic connectionsMasashi Kawamura – Cofounder, Creative Director, Party (#47)

When you’re in a partnership, one person’s passion for an idea or approach trumps the other’s reticence.  Anand Rajaraman & Venky Harinarayan – Coheads, Walmart Labs (#53)

When you’re creating a fantasy world, there still should be a solid internal logic to it.  – Thomas Tull – Founder, Chairman, CEO, Legendary Entertainment (#55)

Share a starting idea or piece of creative work with the crowd, and let the crowd edit, change, or rank it to create the final version.  Roy Price – Director, Amazon Studios (#15)

Invest more time in the visualization of whatever you do or create.  – Miriah Meyer- Computer Scientist, University of Utah (#24)

Every creative effort has to incorporate time to consider its aesthetics.  Janet Iwasa – Molecular Animator, Harvard University (#25)

If you have different strategic efforts focused on the same creative goal that are difficult to compare, come up with a new success metric that works for both.  Stefan Olander – VP, Digital Sport, Nike (#7)

If you’re addressing multiple audiences and can’t play creative favorites among them, create a prototypical audience member who is both everyone and no one at the same time.  Kibwe Tavares – Cofounder, Factor Fifteen (#91)

Turn teaching into an experience of a class creating something together.  Michael Karnjanaprakorn – Founder, Skillshare (#18)

When education is the goal, contact and interaction is a fundamental aspect of the process.  – Anka Mulder – President, OpenCourseWare Consortium (#19)

If you don’t want to seem abrupt to your audience, signal what you’re planning to do before you do it.  Leila Takayama – Research Scientist, Willow Garage (#30)

When signaling change, physically destroy a representation of the attitudes that are getting in the way (i.e., put negative culture characteristics on beer bottles and smash them).  – Jeff Charney – CMO, Progressive Insurance (#35)

Audiences are more accepting of new content being delivered without as much polish, allowing you more room for trial, error, and learning.  T.J. Miller – Actor, Comedian (#58)

Personal relevancy and engagement drive not only why people open things online, but also why people want to interact with anything.  Ron J. Williams – CEO, Cofounder, Knodes (#62)

Invest more of your creative time and energy on creating incredible transitions in your work.  Danny Trinh – Designer, Path (#66)

Maybe literacy in the Arab world is bad because of bad typefaces. Great reminder to keep asking, “Why else could this be happening?” until you get to very surprising answers.  Nadine Chahine – Type Designer, Linotype and Monotype Imaging (#69)

When thinking about creative executions for mobile applications, strip things down to their simplest, tiniest forms.  Ethan Marcotte – Freelance Web Designed (#75)

When someone’s pushed to the breaking point in a process you discover what they REALLY believe vs. what they’re doing simply it seems like the right thing to do.  Carrie Brownstein – Writer, Actor, Portlandia (#95)

If there’s a problem with even one part of your creative output, there’s a problem with all of your creative output.  Robin Guenther – Principal, Perkins + Will (#61)

When there’s a problem, look at the things that are still working and rewind them until everything seems to function in an expected way. Then restart.  Nina Tandon – Research Scientist, Columbia University (#26)  – 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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