What a first day at The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference (#BigIdeas12)!

I flew in from Kansas City Thursday morning and arrived at Rutgers University just as the first presentation was about to begin.  And in keeping with what happens at church if you arrive late, I was placed in the front row, first seat – about 6 feet from the interviewing area. For someone who usually hangs back, it put me right in the heart of great presentations on social networking, disruption (particular of higher education), innovation, and incredible stories of the triumph of the human spirit.

Suffice it to say there will likely be multiple recap posts from The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference on the Brainzooming blog.

I’m doing an innovation workshop today called “Making Big Ideas Happen.” My charge is to integrate all fifteen #BigIdeas12 presentations from today and make strategic connections to help attendees of The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference to apply the lessons from an eclectic group of TED-like presentations into their work and personal lives. While I tried to make some guesses upfront about what presenters would talk about relative to innovation and strategic connections, there were definitely late night adjustments to the “Making Big Ideas Happen” session to ensure it reflected all the incredible content from the opening session.

To support “Making Big Ideas Happen,” here are links to a variety to articles supporting topics we’ll be talking about in today’s workshop. And once again, while this is targeted for workshop attendees, the concepts are of benefit to a much broader audience:

Capturing Big Ideas and Strategic Connections: Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference – This setup post for The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference lends itself to looking for strategic connections in any situation where you’re processing content

Did You Know Video: Although a few years old at this point, this video gets your attention with a compelling presentation of the demographic and technological realities of modern education.

6 Strategic Success Skills for Today’s WorkplaceRecaps some of the educational and attitudinal changes needed to prepare students with the success skills needed to enter today’s workplace.

Brainzooming – First Questions – A short and sweet article on the fundamental strategic question to ask.

Strategic Connections – 3 Tips for Identifying More OpportunitiesThese 3 steps provide a strong way to look for many more and richer strategic connections.

Extending Brainstorming Ground Rules to Everyday Business Life – There are typical approaches to brainstorming that can benefit coming up with ideas in brainstorming sessions. If you work at it, you can extend this approach to every day work life too.

Look Inside for Distinctive Talents – 5 questions to identify your distinctive talents as a first step to taking better advantage of them to shape your creative pursuits.

Why strategic thinking doesn’t happen, part 3 – Somebody’s missing – A brief case for the value of incorporating individuals with different thinking and implementation styles to get more innovative thinking.

Crowdsourcing Diverse Input – 3 Ways to Make Crowdsourcing Work Harder – Crowdsourcing for input is great, but if you want it to be fruitful for the crowd and the requesting organization, providing appropriate structure is important.

6 Ways Social Networking Platforms Can Boost Creative Thinking –  Social networking platforms can be an outstanding source to boost creative thinking – if you use them well.

Benjamin Zander and the Art of Possibilities – A small snippet of the wonderful Benjamin Zander presentation where he lets us in on the Art of Possibilities with the vital admonition: It’s all invented!

A Poor Question for Valentine’s Day: “Can You Change Your Look?” – If you’re always looking at the same situation from the same place, you’ll see the same things. Change how you look at the status quo and find incredible new ideas.

15 Ways Whoever Is Going to Disrupt Your Market Isn’t Like You– Trust me, higher education played the part of a big fire hydrant during day one, and there was a lot of peeing going on around it. The forces that disrupt higher education aren’t going to have pretty quads and columned buildings!

11 Strategic Questions for Disruptive Innovation in Markets – If higher education professionals (or any of us) are up for truly disruptive innovation, here are 1 strategic questions you can use to start identifying opportunities.

We’ve Seen the Enemy & They Don’t Look Anything Like Us – More questions to begin understanding who might be the surprising disruptive forces in a market. One critical element is to generalize and understand what is like your current situation.

Change Your Character – One of the easiest ways to come up with new ideas is to delegate your innovation challenge to someone else. Here’s a creative thinking exercise that does just that.

Creating Memorable Experiences – There are three keys to creating memorable experiences for any event – whether it’s a special event or an event that happens every day.

Creating Intriguing Social Media Content – 3 Fundamental Steps – There are also three keys to identifying and creating intriguing social media content. Get these right, and you’ll have much stronger content.

Social Media Content Ideation: Think – Know – Do – Sure you get to talk about topics of interest to your business. But you only get to talk about them after you’ve thought about what your audience really wants to hear about in their lives. Then you can fit what you think, know, and do to into their expectations.

Five Innovation Lessons from Improv Comedy – by Woody Bendle – A whole lot of improvisation is based on fantastic planning and anticipation. It’s ironic, but it’s the truth.

Creating Change and Change Management – 4 Strategy Options – Some change can be incremental, but often an incremental approach to change won’t do. In those cases, here are three other strategy options to consider for creating change.

Being Perceived as an Innovative Leader – Not all innovative leaders are doing outrageous things (sorry if you think otherwise, but it’s true). Many times, being an innovative leader means innovating processes to allow innovation to happen.

Share the Credit! – Give more credit for successes to others, and don’t take much (or any at all) for yourself.

Strategic Thinking – Do Your Own and Let Us Know What You Think – You don’t have to simply spit out what you hear form business experts. Consider what they have to say, then do your own strategic thinking and share it.

Outsmarting Fears about Your “Inferior” Expertise – Nobody is better at telling your own story than you. So start telling it in multiple channels! – Mike Brown


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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.

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 week, frequent Brainzooming guest blogger Woody Bendle was tweeting some interesting thinking about innovation for higher education. Knowing I’d be at The Big Ideas in Higher Education conference today, I asked Woody to write up his full perspective to share with you (especially if you have children in or on their ways to college) and conference attendees as well. 

Continuous Innovation for Higher Education by Woody Bendle

I was on the way into my office last week listening to NPR, and a story discussed the daunting employment and debt challenges of many recent college graduates. The statistics are frankly staggering!

I’m guessing I am not the only person amazed by these statistics. And, I honestly shouldn’t be entirely amazed as I am currently supporting two students who attend public university. But these figures definitely caught my attention!

Well… so what?!

A Process for Continuous Innovation for Higher Education

Photo by: Saimen | Source: photocase dot com

I look at the above data and acknowledge the magnitude of the challenge, yet think to myself, what an incredible opportunity for innovation!

Rather than jumping in and offering a bunch of ideas (opinions) about ways Higher Education institutions might do things differently, it is important to step back and think about this innovation challenge in a more methodical, proven manner.

Innovation isn’t just about coming up with a bunch of new “cool ideas” and tossing the proverbial spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.  It is commonly accepted that the failure rate of this approach to innovation is typically between 70-90%. Innovation is a process, and following a process, the odds of coming up with and implementing successful innovations can be greatly enhanced.

In a prior Brainzooming article, Continuous Innovation and Continuous Improvement, I introduced a three-stage process for continuous innovation – i3 Continuous Innovation:

1. Identify – Opportunities for new products or services

2. Innovate – And create new products or services

3. Implement – And scale

Let’s focus on the first stage, Identify as we think about Innovation in Higher Education.  I’ll leave Stages 2 and 3 – Innovate, and Implement, for a later discussion.

The Identify stage of the i3 Continuous Innovation process is comprised of three sequential steps:

1. Identify the need

2. Come up with ideas

3. Evaluate the ideas

OK, so I’ve already offered up my opinion that there is a likely need for innovating Higher Education, but that isn’t exactly what Identify the need actually means in the i3 Continuous Innovation process.

Identify the Need through “Jobs to Be Done”

The i3 Continuous Innovation process purposefully starts with Identify the need.

One of the most valuable ways I’ve found to think bout this is by leveraging the Jobs to be done approach to innovation.  Jobs to be done – first formally introduced by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor in their book The Innovator’s Solution – is “based on the notion that customers ‘hire’ products to do specific ‘jobs.’  The classic reference for this concept comes from Harvard professor, Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill.  They want a quarter-inch hole!”  In other words, people don’t need a drill, they need a hole; and the drill is the solution for their need.  With this in mind, the questions we need to ask are:

  • What ‘job’ does a college or university help a student ‘get done?’ (or What is it that a college ultimately helps a student do?)
  • What ‘job’ is a college being ‘hired’ for?

While Colleges and Universities serve many constituents beyond students and provide exceptionally valuable benefits for many different consumers’ needs, let’s focus on what students need from Colleges and Universities.

Tony Ulwick in What Customers Want provides instructive clarity to the Jobs to be Done approach for innovation.  Ulwick states: “To figure out what customers want and to successfully innovate, companies must think about customer requirements very differently.  Companies must be able to know, well in advance, what criteria customers are going to use to judge a products value and dutifully design a product that ensures those criteria are met.  These criteria must be predictive of success and not lagging indicators.”

Relative to Higher Education within Ulwick’s approach, think of:

  • Colleges and Universities as the Companies
  • Students as the Customer
  • Degrees (or education) as the Products.

In order for Colleges and Universities to develop new highly valued innovative degrees and/or education, they first have to deeply understand the core student need.

Why Do Students Hire Colleges or Universities?

So…why do students ‘hire’ Colleges or Universities and rack up so much debt? Fundamentally, I feel students hire them to obtain skills and capabilities valued by employers, that enable them to either get an intellectually, emotionally and/or financially rewarding job – or start a successful business. 

Maybe not every student thinks this way as they are entering or attending college, but I have to believe at some point, this is in fact the desired outcome from attending college and obtaining an education.

With this as our central job statement for Higher Education, we now have a solid foundation to begin the process of thinking about relevant innovation opportunities.  First, however, we have to identify all the things that prevent or get in the way of students getting the job done. Examples of this might include:

  • Not being able to pay for college
  • Not wanting to rack up a mountain of debt to get a college education
  • Not knowing what job / degree they really want
  • Not knowing what college would be ‘right’ for them
  • Missing classes
  • Not understanding the professor or TA
  • Not handing in assignments
  • Not being sufficiently prepared for a given class
  • Failing exams
  • Not having the ability to apply the class knowledge
  • Not having any relevant work experience
  • Not having a degree / education that is valued by employers
  • etc…

Typically, any given core ‘job’ will have between 75-150 challenges or obstacles that prevent the job executor (in this case, a student) from getting it done in a highly satisfactory way.  Once all of these are known and prioritized, based on the legitimate opportunity indicated by the market, we can move onto the next step which is:

Come up with Ideas

Let’s assume our Jobs to be done and opportunity evaluation identified two highly significant obstacles for successfully accomplishing the job:

  • Not having the ability to apply class knowledge
  • Not having any relevant work experience

By ‘significant’ I mean something deemed very important by a large portion of the market (students) and not presently perceived to be well satisfied by the market (institutions of Higher Education).

Reworded, these become the following ‘needs:’

  • Be able to apply class knowledge
  • Have relevant work experience

With these two primary needs identified, we can now focus on coming up with possible ideas for solving these two very specific problems.

There are many approaches for generating ideas for possible solutions; some good, some not so good.  Two references I particularly like for approaches to generating ideas are:

In addition, my good friends from The Brainzooming Group have an exceptionally good approach for helping organizations identify game changing innovative ideas and concepts.

Some consistent themes, however, for successful idea generation are:

  • Start with an objective, or a specific challenge
  • Utilize diverse perspectives and information, customer, market, industry, technology, etc
  • Include people in your idea sessions with diverse backgrounds and professions
  • In the beginning stages, all ideas are good – the more the better
  • Don’t shut down ideas – let them flow, keep them coming and encourage more
  • Don’t worry about viability at this point in the process

Thinking back to the needs we are assuming as significant opportunities for innovation in Higher Education, we can come up with dozens of ideas about how Colleges and Universities might uniquely provide solutions for these needs.  Examples include:

  • Integrate some institutions (or departments within some institutions) into corporations or organizations
  • Incorporate practical, hands-on internships throughout the entire degree program
  • Require a minimum of a six months internship with an applied, full scale project prior to graduating
  • Require more “real world” problem solving into the curriculum
  • Have Colleges and Universities function similarly to the farm leagues in baseball
  • Structure collections of courses within and across semesters designed to support teams of students working on collaborative projects with substantial goals
  • Organize academics more like college sports with regular academic competitions and championships
  • No up front tuition – have tuition be a small fixed proportion of a student’s post-college salary or income – for a set period of time (i.e., 20 years)
  • etc…

Evaluate the Ideas

You could likely have a hundred ideas ranging from ridiculous and naïve to very complicated and expensive, to simple and elegant.  The objective here is to group all ideas into themes and begin determining which ideas to discard and which ideas to retain for consideration.  A method I particularly like for this is NABR (pronounced, neighbor); which stands for Needs, Approach, Benefits, Risks.  NABR is my twist on the NABC (Needs, Approach, Benefits, Competition) approach introduced by Curtis Carlson and William Wilmot in their 2006 book Innovation.  NABR is an effective tool for quickly filtering ideas at a 30,000 foot level plus a solid framework for developing a full business case.

In terms of a high-level evaluation, I’ve found it useful to utilize the following NABR assessment template.

At this point in the innovation process, we’re only trying to determine which one or two ideas are worth moving forward to the next stage of the i3 Continuous Innovation process, which is Innovate.

We have not performed a rigorous business case analysis because we don’t even have a fully thought out solution to address the need. But, from diligently following the three steps of the Identify stage of the i3 Continuous Innovation process, we have confidence the proposed idea for innovating Higher Education will:

  • Address a legitimate need in the marketplace;
  • Which is currently perceived to be unmet or underserved; and
  • We are uniquely positioned to deliver a valuable solution to the market.

While I willingly admit I currently do not have the answers for what innovations might be most wanted or needed in Higher Education, I will enthusiastically be among the first for offer assistance should I receive a call from Education Secretary Duncan.  I’m truly passionate about both Innovation and Education and feel the application of the i3 Continuous Innovation process could help change the Higher Education game in extraordinary ways. – Woody Bendle

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative 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.

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Photo by: IS2 | Source: photocase.com

Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal included multiple stories on recently ousted C-Level executives whose ethical missteps and poor judgment led to their departures:

And those were simply the highest profile stories about ousted C-level executives. There were others where it seems as if C-level executives and their egos have (or are in the midst of) leading to significant business disruptions.

Contrast these stories of C-level executives, ethical missteps, and poor judgment with a Saturday story, also in the Wall Street Journal, about a research study from Ontario’s Queens University which claims that individuals (okay, “students” – it was one of those studies) are much more successful at forsaking their personal desires when God was on their minds. When certain students were exposed to expressions referencing God, they demonstrated a greater ability to endure discomfort and forsake instant gratification. The results held whether the students were spiritual or professed agnostics or atheists.

The article closes by reporting how scientists are a bit stymied to explain the results. One suggestion was that thinking about God replenishes “psychological nutrients” similar to how Gatorade helps an athlete perform better. A rabbi compared God to the police car watching us which makes us drive more slowly. (I think maybe we’re hard-wired toward the right behaviors no matter how much we try and fight against it.)

The juxtaposition of these stories made me recall a slide in a spirituality presentation I give that includes just the letters:





You may ask what in the world these letters represent. The answer: What Would Whoever You Think You Answer to Higher than Your CEO Do?

The slide in the spirituality presentation is a reminder you can’t expect to look to a company’s top leadership as a moral compass. It’s too easy for them (or any of us for that matter) to fool ourselves into thinking that when no one is looking, a lot of things we should know better are wrong all of a sudden can be rationalized into being okay. You have to look higher for a moral compass to guide your actions. I can’t presume who or what it is for you, but the Queen’s University study seems to confirm the benefit of doing that.

So what’s the take-away on this story about C-level executives, ethical missteps, and poor judgment?

When deciding how you’ll conduct yourself, you could benefit from taking even a brief moment to ask: W W WYTYATHTYCEO D?

And if that question doesn’t fit with your belief structure, you’d still better at least ask what you’d do if everyone were watching you.

Because in an era of rampant social networking, an increasingly large contingent of social media journalists, and heightened expectations for authenticity and transparency, everybody really could be watching us when we have opportunities to make ethical missteps whether we’re C-level executives or not. – 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. Emailus at info@brainzooming.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how Mike can get your audience members Brainzooming!

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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I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember the specific of the first time I tweeted with Trilby Jeeves, but it was quite some time ago. I’m sure though, my first encounter with Trilby Jeeves on Twitter had to involve creativity, acting, and her workshops to help people better understand and use their creativity. Somewhere along the line, probably in a later night conversation, I asked her to do a guest blog post. Trilby claims it was 3 years ago! I’m not sure it was that long ago, but suffice it to say I was excited recently when we got the first Trilby Jeeves guest Brainzooming post “in the house.” 

Trilby is an actor, instructor, and writer from Vancouver, Canada. Nine years ago, a back operation inspired her to change her working life and she began “Buffoonery Workshops.”  Trilby is a strong advocate for creativity (as you’ll soon learn from today’s post), and her passion is to help people play in order to lead a more balanced life. Here’s Trilby Jeeves!

Creativity and the Arts are Frivolous.

If you believe that, then you better not run into me or a few of my friends in a dark alley or even a coffee shop.


Let’s say you did meet me in a coffee shop and we start talking about the recent arts education cuts. (I just heard about a whole performing arts program being sliced away, with 15 minutes notice given to the department at Keyano College in Fort McMurray, Canada).

You say, “Well, it’s about money, and the arts are frivolous, really.”

At that moment, you will see my face redden, my posture improve immensely, and you’ll sense a strange sort of energy hitting you, paralyzing you in your chair. You will not be able to shift, even if you command your legs to run.

Nope. I will have cast a “You just sit there and listen to me while I re-program, appropriately, your ignorant thinking” spell.

Are you listening closely? Maybe you should take a sip of coffee from that really cool mug someone designed.

Arts, creativity, right brain thinking, drawing, painting, performing, entertainment, storytelling, designing, poetry, dancing, song writing, singing, music and more are all words that conjure different images and feelings for each person in this world. For me, it means air to breathe.

I wonder to myself what they mean for you.

You shrug your shoulders, indicating a nonchalant commitment. “Yeah, those are all nice things, but do they make money?”

I ponder your question and realize I need to address creativity and the arts in a pragmatic way for you to actually get it. I have to let go of the emotional side of the arts for a moment (which, by the way, serves many, many purposes).

“Money, hey?”

“Well, (I refrain from calling you “dear” and releasing my inner sarcastic tone)… well, actually, if you were to do some deep examination and number crunching, you’d probably realize the arts actually bring quite a bit of good economic impact to a country.”

“Take Europe, for instance, I believe that most people voyage there because of the museums, galleries, historical architecture, food (culinary arts), and the richness of the atmosphere of cafes, theatres, and music.”


“Would you agree that brings quite a bit of money to an area?”

You reluctantly agree. I can tell it’s reluctant. But, I can’t stop there. I bring the debate closer to home.

I ask you about where we are currently. This café. I ask you to look around, and take in the atmosphere, how the tables are placed, the types of chairs we are sitting on, the music in the background, the lighting, the splashes of color on the mug you’re holding, and I ask if you think these elements just occurred by magic, or if some thought went into them? It is rhetorical, really, isn’t it?

Of course, someone DESIGNED everything we are experiencing. And, it translates to a monetary value. If the café had no atmosphere, do you really think they would be doing such a roaring business? I don’t think so.

But, what I have explained is very basic. Very. However, it does bring the question of art and creativity to a pretty fundamental place. Maybe that’s where we’ll get the attention of people.

If I were to bring the idea of the Performing Arts (of which I’m part of) to the discussion, I would think you might feel like you have more fodder for dismissing it as an extracurricular activity (as did Keyano College in Fort McMurray).

My guess was correct.

But, if we look at story telling as a basic human need (start with cave drawings and continue to money making filmmaking), you’ll soon realize that keeping stories secret, and not sharing, can be detrimental to your health.  (Result: a community’s health costs rise – not very economical).

I avoid the obvious (to me) benefits of seeing live performances, and coming out of a theatre with life changing ideas.

Need I suggest that when the young embrace performing arts as an option in high school or beyond, how much their confidence is built? We can turn that into a monetary response (since you seem to base everything on that) in that they will do much better in their adult life with this confidence. They might turn into entrepreneurs where creative thinking is crucial (trust me.. I am one of those people who has created her own job via the right brain road). And, they might do so well that they actually create jobs.

I see you are starting to sweat a little. I know that’s a sign you are realizing the absurdity and ignorance of your earlier thoughts, and, that perhaps you need to change your attitude.

I stop ranting. I realize I should let you re-think your ideas regarding creativity with these simple observations. My hopes are that you will look at the world through an alternate lens and realize that “artists” show up in all sorts of subtle ways.

And, if you decide that truck driving for the oil sands is more important, just remember that someone had to design that vehicle and think outside the box in order to make it a little more comfortable and safe. And, they might have even included a DVD player where you can watch those billion dollar Hollywood movies on your break.

I release my spell, watch as you nod, and thank me, shakily, and depart the busy café.  I call out after you, “If you come back tomorrow, I’ll talk about how great the arts and creativity is on a spiritual level!” You nod again.

Eventually, another person strolls over and, asks, “Is anyone sitting here?”

I smile and say, “No, please sit down.”

I breathe in.

“May I ask you a question?”

Need More Ammunition to Challenge “Creativity and the Arts Are Frivolous”?

Just in case you need a little more convincing or some ammunition for your own “Take the Frivolous out of Arts” movement, here are links to check for more information.



Vive les arts ET la créativité! Trilby Jeeves

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Responsible for creating cool product names for a new product idea?

A Brainzooming blog email subscriber asked me last week if The Brainzooming Group had a ready-made creative thinking exercise on the blog for creating cool product names for a new product idea.

I shared with her some variations on eight creative thinking questions in a previous post about developing creative job titles. If one reader has a question about a particular creative thinking exercise, it is probably a good sign other readers could use help on a similar question.

New Product Idea and Faux Names

The creative thinking questions you can use if you need to create ideas for new product names are below, but first, a couple of cautions:

Creating Cool Product Names with Creative Thinking Questions

Cool Product Names – 17 Creative Questions for Winning Product Name IdeasThis list is not designed to yield faux new product names comprised of nonsense syllables. The list of questions is intended to come up with intriguing, real-sounding names. Ask the eight creative thinking questions, come up with as many potential answers as you can, and then prioritize the most strategic and creative possibilities for consideration:

  • What words describe the cool outcomes from the new product or the experience of using it?
  • What other products are like this? What words are used to describe those products that we could modify and enhance?
  • If this new product delivered super powers, what would they be?
  • What words would you use to describe this new product if you were trying to impress your mom / dad or a spouse / girlfriend / boyfriend?
  • What words would add emotional impact to the product name?
  • What words describe HOW the product works when it is at its best?
  • What words would be more exciting, powerful, fun, surprising, or memorable?

You can click on the image below to get a free creative naming mini-poster that includes these questions in a fun, easy-to-use format!


Which types of cool product names do you like?

What is your preference for new product names? Faux names or real names, and why? – Mike Brown

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Find New Resources to Innovate!

NEW FREE Download: 16 Keys for Finding Resources to Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy

Accelerate-CoverYou know it’s important for your organization to innovate. One challenge, however, is finding and dedicating the resources necessary to develop an innovation strategy and begin innovating.

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
  • Identify alternative internal strategies to secure support
  • Reach out to external partners with shared interests in innovation

Download your FREE copy of Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy today! 

Download Your FREE Brainzooming eBook! Accelerate - 16 Keys to Finding Innovation Resources

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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I love Big Ideas.

That’s why I’m so excited about attending and speaking next week at The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference at Rutgers University.

And in a clear departure from other higher education conference programs, even though The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference (#BigIdeas12) is for educators, the TED-oriented and Inside the Actor’s Studio-style sessions will largely be delivered by non-educators. And having gone through the speaker bios in-depth to prepare my own session, there’s an incredible group of amazingly talented and accomplished people presenting at the two-day conference.

But Where Are the Educators at this Higher Education Conference?

Since there’s an expectation some attendees are going to struggle with the absence of a full slate of higher education presenters, my last-afternoon session is to help attendees in capturing big ideas and making strategic connections among the various sessions so they can start making things happen with The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference content.

As I said to The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference organizers, it would be better to do my session near the start of the conference rather than at the end. Alas, it was too late to change things around.

Instead, here are some thoughts for attendees at any conference where there are going to be speakers who may seem to have little direct connection to what you do. Even if that’s the case, there are always going to be opportunities to learn, especially from someone who knows nothing about what you know.

Capturing All Your Big Ideas and Making them Happen

Here are 3 key steps for capturing big ideas at a conference where the presenters or material are outside your focus areas:

1. List what you want from the conference beforehand.

List a few opportunities, challenges, or issues you want to address from the information presented at the conference. This will help keep your most important objectives top-of-mind throughout the conference.

2. Don’t take notes. Capture ideas and thought starters – even challenging and apparently irrelevant ones.

It’s great to take notes at a conference. But in addition, capture and keep a separate list of ideas & comments from the presenters. These are the concepts that really get you thinking, even if you don’t know what to think about them. Maybe it’s an interesting statistic. It could very well be something that connects with you on emotional level (think: excited, stunned, energized, angered, stimulated, challenged, etc.), even if it’s apathy or boredom from wondering why the presenter is sharing information you don’t think connects with you.

Organize these ideas and thought starters relative to how much you relate to the information and how much the concepts intrigue you. The matrix below presents a way to organize your notes:

3. Start Making Strategic Connections

Some strategic connections between your list in number 1 and ideas / concepts shared at the conference will be naturals (“Lessons” should be directly applicable to your interests; ”Familiar” ideas may need a little creative sizzle).

Other strategic connections will be more challenging to identify, but those are often the most fruitful ones for innovation opportunities.

To help identify potential strategic connections look for the following relationships between your list and the conference ideas:

  • Similarities
  • Stark differences
  • Shared characteristics
  • Similar inputs and/or outputs among them
  • Sequential relationships between items on each list

After having identified these relationships, you should be able to more easily find “Big Ideas” within the “Ideas” quadrant. This will occur as you link your related to opportunities/challenges to ideas / concepts from the conference content.

Ideas in the “Huh?” category should provide relatively fertile ground for additional brainstorming to identify innovative connections you missed seeing the first time through.

What’s Next?

These first three steps will get you started in looking at ideas shared at an innovative business conference in new ways.

What’s next in terms of additional techniques for innovatively adapting ideas to your organizational situation is the topic of my presentation for The Big Ideas in Education Conference?

Coming out of my session (“Take all of your Big Ideas and Make them Happen, an Innovation Workshop”), I’ll share multiple strategic techniques exercises to derive even greater value from an innovative conference experience.

And if you want to follow along, track The Big Ideas Education Conference on Twitter at #BigIdeas12. – Mike Brown


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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.

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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I was talking with a long-time friend and Brainzooming blog reader last week about a business conference she had participated in recently. In the pre-event materials, the event was portrayed as an innovative business conference featuring TED-like talks. She was helping one of her company’s senior leaders develop his presentation based on these materials. To get ready, she had reached out to me, and we talked through what aspects should go into the talk’s design and structure to reflect TED sensibilities.

After all the preparation to create a worthy TED-like talk, she was dumbfounded when her company’s segment was the only one that was anything like a TED talk at the business conference. Additionally, the staging (a podium with a fixed microphone) and audio-visual support (no lavalier microphone even available) in no way suggested an expectation that TED-like talks would be delivered.

This type of disconnect between how a supposedly innovative business conference is billed and what it actually delivers is by no means confined to this one event. I’ve been to a variety of innovative business conferences hyped with “Social Media,” “Unconference,” or “TED-like” positionings that fell completely flat.


Because they set up expectations for an audience experience that clearly wasn’t delivered.

What’s Vital for an Innovative Business Conference?

As a favor to anyone considering putting on an innovative business conference, here is a starting checklist of 7 vital elements to deliver. These will help support your pre-event hype and begin addressing audience experience expectations whenever you say you’re creating an innovation, social media, or unconference event.

1. See the featured presenters speak ahead of time.

Don’t leave planned presentations to chance – especially the keynote presentations. Someone may have great content. But great content that is poorly delivered or presented with a negative attitude can crater your event’s audience experience from the opening minutes.

2. Create places for attendees to easily congregate before and during the business conference.

If you really want to make it easy, create it on Facebook and invest the time to make sure the community management is very active. If you’re expecting people to go someplace else to congregate, REALLY make sure there’s a reason for them to go there. While you’re at it, create reasons why people would want to hang out there after the conference as well.

3. Create a business conference hashtag (maybe multiple hashtags) beforehand.

A Twitter hashtag allows attendees and presenters to readily connect with each other, makes creating and sharing additional valuable content much more likely, and benefits you by making audience-generated event promotion much easier.

4. Be true to the audience experience expectations for the type of conference you’re planning.

If you’re going to advertise TED-style presentations, make sure that’s what you deliver. That means there’s no podium and the presentations are time-constrained, story-based, and well-rehearsed. If you’re advertising an unconference, the audience needs to participate in selecting and presenting the content. Don’t tout a type of audience experience you don’t plan to create.

5. When you’re planning an innovation-oriented conference, there needs to be some degree of innovation delivered in the presentation style as well.

Innovation speakers who use the same old, crappy, text-laden, impossible to read PowerPoint slides DON’T back up audience experience expectations for what an innovation conference should be. Take advantage of innovative presenters and presentation formats.

6. Have a production team that knows what it’s doing and understands the style of the conference experience you’re trying to deliver.

It’s not enough to have the person who organized the event using a personal laptop or switching out computers among presenters. Put a real production team and system in place. Test everything, especially videos, Internet, audio transitions, etc.  Make sure there are redundancies when something doesn’t work. And you should never try to overtax the production setup you do have in place.

7. Light the speaking area very well.

It’s ridiculous when you have to turn off the lights around the speaker so you can see the slides but the audience can no longer see the speaker. Or the speaker spends the entire presentation time in a dark area on stage. Get the lighting right and let the speakers know how to take best advantage of it.

What other elements would you add that need to be part of an innovative business conference?

That’s my starting list. What would you add based on your frustrations with attending innovation, social media, and unconferences that failed to meet your expectations? – 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 info@brainzooming.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how Mike can get your audience members Brainzooming!

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

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