Innovation | The Brainzooming Group - Part 5 – page 5

The 2018 Fast Company Most Innovative Companies issue arrived Saturday. It’s always a wonderful inspiration for strategic and creative thinking questions (plus it’s exciting that we have a current client among the companies recognized). In the spirit of the first Agility question below, rather than trying to imagine questions from across all the companies listed, we limited the focus to creative thinking questions inspired by the top ten most innovative companies’ innovation journeys and priorities.

16 Creative Thinking Questions from the Most Innovative Companies

You can apply these creative thinking questions to trigger your own brand’s strategic thinking on innovation strategy:


  • What’s the heart of our brand that we can double down on right away?
  • If our time horizon were 25 years, what current things would we eliminate? Which ones would we accelerate?
  • How is our leadership removing distractions to innovation (instead of creating them)?
  • How can we focus on innovation results and let the financial results follow?
  • Where can we mass resources for innovations with the biggest impacts?

Customer-Focused Innovation Strategy

  • What remarkably new things can we deliver to the marketplace in the next year? 3 years? 25 years?
  • Where can we innovate to allow customers to do things they have never been able to accomplish before?
  • Where can we innovate to provide customers and partners greater visibility and growth opportunities?
  • What innovations would help customers do the right things?
  • What would we halt if we stopped doing anything that might be remotely bad for customers?
  • What will it take to immediately stop using our customers as guinea pigs for innovation?
  • How is our B2B brand dramatically changing individuals’ lives?
  • What opportunities will let us grow by 100x the amount and variety of valuable content our brand produces for customers?


  • What can we do to deliver innovations when they need to get to market vs. when we’re done tinkering?
  • What changes would let us keep tinkering and improving right up to the time we deliver our next innovation?
  • Which of our internal systems have value for other brands like ours that we can sell?

Which creative thinking questions from the most innovative companies will you take to your next leadership team meeting to focus the conversation on your own brand’s innovation strategy?  – Mike Brown

Download our FREE eBook:
The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation

Download Your FREE eBook! The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions


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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We were facilitating report outs at a strategy planning workshop after multiple teams tackled developing high-level plans to improve various employee challenges in a relatively high-performing company. Chuck Dymer, who was co-facilitating the client workshop with me, remarked at the depth and importance of several of the report outs and the conversations they sparked.

Why were these report outs different than others we’d done previously?

Four of the five report outs in this strategy planning workshop were delivered by female leaders in the organization.

Rather than looking at the report outs as perfunctory assignments, the female leaders used the platform to share hopes, concerns, frustrations, and possibilities important to them and to the organization. And once they did, the men in the group jumped in to these powerful conversations.

If you’re in charge of a company or a significant business unit or department, are you actively managing gender diversity? Are you making sure women are in leadership positions where they can voice things that need to be said that male leaders are unwilling to say?

These questions are real.

And for the too many client strategy planning workshops we facilitate (especially in business-to-business settings) where all the participants are male, these questions about female leaders are of supreme importance.

What are your answers to the questions, and what are you doing to improve the situation right away? – Mike Brown


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Facing Innovation Barriers? Here Is Help!


Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

We have free Brainzooming eBooks for you to help navigate barriers and boost innovation!


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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An article in The Wall Street Journal by Paul Ziobro shares an report on how toy manufacturers, including Mattel and Hasbro, are accelerating their new product innovation processes. The brands want to capitalize on market growth stemming from toys tied to popular social media themes. These trends, as one industry insider put it, “burn really bright and really short,” necessitating abbreviating product development cycles from several years to months, or even weeks. Thus, the need to catalyze innovative success by streamlining the steps between ideas and implementation.

2 Super Smart Ways to Catalyze Innovative Success

Let’s review two of critical success factors toy manufacturers are embracing that are of value, if your brand also wants to speed up its innovation pace.

1. Listening to the Market in Multiple Ways

From just the few toy industry innovation stories reported in the WSJ, you see multiples ways of incorporating broad and early market perceptions to shape innovation:

  • Social Media Listening
    Portland-based organization Zing employs three people to monitor social media for popular topics with the potential to inspire successful toys. During June 2016, they noticed people in Greece using beads as a toy for nervous fidgeting. That holiday season, it released Thumb Chucks, its own version of the beads.
  • Observing Behavior
    Online video platforms provide new ways to observe customer behaviors and perceptions beyond formal research studies. Hasbro has released multiple toys based on viral video trends, including bottle flipping and people wearing dental mouth guards as they try to pronounce complicated words.
  • Point-of-Sale Analytics Trends
    LaRose Industries saw Walmart sales of its Cra-Z-Art glue increase over 50% monthly in the fall of 2016. Investigation showed that kids were creating slime (a gooey, fun concoction popularized on the Nickelodeon TV network) by mixing the glue with other household products. LaRose jumped on the growth trend, introducing slime-making kits in January 2017.
  • Securing Early Commitments
    Before producing the slime-making kits, LaRose Industries paired with Nickelodeon to license the slime name and identity, boosting potential customer awareness immediately. It also secured interest from retailers at the January toy show. It only then moved into manufacturing, reaching stores within 45 days.

Beyond these possibilities, what else can your brand explore to expand its repertoire of market listening strategies?

  • Directly Observing Customers
    Whether in business or consumer markets, how can you secure cooperation from your customers to observe them in their work or home settings, using your products and others? This is a fruitful way to identify innovation opportunities customers can’t clearly articulate.
  • Involve Customer-Facing Employees
    Instead of confining new product innovation to employees working in corporate offices, directly involve sales, customer service, and other employees who routinely interact with customers. They are a rich source of customer insights and feedback.

2. Exploiting Small and Nimble to Catalyze Innovative Success

Another theme from the toy industry stories is taking advantage of smallness – in team sizes, budgets, and development windows – coupled with sizable impact expectations:

  • Hasbro
    It has created a Quick Strike team to push new product innovation stemming from popular social media topics and memes. The team has released new products in as few as 11 weeks. The manufacturer is migrating the approach into its overall organization.
  • Mattel
    The team deployed to develop social-trend based toys at Mattel is made up of ten people. The company’s CEO reports having given the team very little budget and only three months to have toy ideas ready for last January’s toy fair. The toys are scheduled to reach stores later in 2018.

Restricting resources and keeping big innovation demands in place can seem counter-intuitive. The strategy is consistent, though, with other case studies of major brands creating small, separate incubators to rapidly develop new ideas. Consider these points when developing a comparable strategy to boost nimbleness and speed:

  • First Plan the Team around Capabilities
    Rather than starting team selection with an org chart, identify the talents, capabilities, and functions the team needs. Only then start looking for the right people. Set a goal of maximizing the talent pool with as few people as possible. More people provide more ways to slow down decisions and progress.
  • Push for Self-Sufficiency
    A corporate intrapreneurial leader in the cosmetics industry cautions innovation teams to develop their own solutions rather than reaching back into their main organizations. Her experience was that parent organization answers carry time, complications, and overhead that a rapid development team can’t tolerate.
  • Streamline Decision Making
    Identify upfront the team’s parameters to keep moving forward without seeking review and approvals. As you remove typical decisions steps, make sure to enforce this simplified process throughout the development cycle. Otherwise, the parent organization may work overtime to slow down ideas it hasn’t vetted in the typical fashion.

What Else Do You Need?

These examples can get you thinking about new ways to streamline innovation. If you want to go deeper, the Accelerate eBook covers sixteen keys for finding resources to accelerate your innovation strategy. Get your copy today!Adapted from Inside the Executive Suite


Find New Resources to Innovate!

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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With nearly 2,400 articles (at time of publication) on strategybranding, and innovation, it’s safe to say there’s a ton of content on the Brainzooming website. You can go deep, wide, and in multiple directions on these core topics.

To ensure that we continue to develop relevant, valuable content for you, we’re always keen to know what resonates the most. We use analytics, keyword research, and various forms of reader feedback to shape our content calendar. We target the greatest relevance for strategists and innovators inside organizations that are excited about the opportunities that collaborative strategy offers in the way of culture transformation and results.

Many executives visiting the Brainzooming website for the first time review dozens of pages of articles and downloads. That was the case recently, as we reviewed the article selections of one such executive. This new reader was seeking information on managing strategy and innovation inside an organization described as fearing change.

How Much Do You Love Free, Fun Strategic Planning Advice?

Since we know many of you face a comparable challenge, here are the more than 30 articles this reader reviewed in search of insights and answers on strategy and innovation. We’re guessing there are more than a few articles of value to you, too!

5 Fun Strategic Planning Activities

Fun Strategic Planning Exercises – 6 Last-Minute Creative Ideas

Free Strategic Planning Exercises – 5 Warnings

Strategic Thinking Exercises – Strategic Planning for a Troubled Company

Strategic Thinking Exercise – Black Swan Events in Your Plan

Strategic Thinking Exercises – More than 200 Strategic Planning Questions

Great Strategic Questions – A 3-Step Strategic Question Formula

Brainzooming – First Questions

80 Fun Strategic Planning Activities and Ideas!

11 Boring Details for Making Strategic Planning Fun*

Strategic Thinking Perspectives – Three Strategic Voices to Include on Your Team

Creating Strategic Impact – The Brainzooming Group Strategic Planning Toolkit

Why Change Is Hard – 3 Strategic Thinking Ideas for Making Change Easy

Strategic Alignment – 4 Lessons for Line and Staff Organizations Working Well

A Week of Struggling for Simplicity – A Simple Strategy Check

The Brainzooming Strategic Thinking Manifesto

Innovation Blocks-Taking the NO Out of Business InNOvation

Facilitating Innovative Strategy with a Diverse Group

Strategic Thinking Success – 3 Critical Thinking Perspectives

Strategic Thinking Exercises – 6 Characteristics the Best Ones Have

8 Fun Strategic Planning Icebreaker Activities

15 Innovative Strategic Planning Questions to Get Ready for Next Year

3 Short, Funny Strategic Planning Questions

If Not Time, Then What Else Matters?

Strategic Thinking Questions to Identify What Matters for a Brand

What Are We Trying to Say?

Ask and You Shall Receive with Great Strategic Questions

Strategy – Visioning Exercises for Strategic Planning

Reinvent Yourself Week – Look and Ask Around

Nobody Cares About You!!!

Creative Thinking Exercises – Would you like S, M, L, or XL Creative Ideas?

Where will you head next on strategy, branding, and innovation? – Mike Brown


fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make a Strategic Planning Process More Fun!

Yes, strategic planning 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.”

Download Your 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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You’re leading a major new initiative for your organization. It’s kind of a big deal. Since you’re leading it, that means a lot of other people ARE NOT leading it. Nearly all of them are fine with that. It’s one fewer thing to be responsible for beyond their regular day jobs.

One person, however, resents the hell out of your leading the initiative.

This person (let’s make him a guy, because we all know, it’s almost always a guy) knows that HE should be leading the initiative. It’s HIS area of expertise. HE has the best experience. He’s been around longer than you have, is known by all the key executives, and basks in his reputation as always wanting to be the one credited with making things happen.

He sees the new initiative you are leading quite plainly: YOU are going to get the credit if things go well. In his twisted way, if YOU are getting credit for a success, that makes HIM look worse. That leaves only one option: do everything possible (without calling attention to it) to sabotage you, the initiative, and its ultimate success.

What leadership strategy should you employ to succeed while dealing with this type of pernicious corporate antagonist?

The expected answer is probably to keep the corporate antagonist as far away from the initiative as possible.

An Unconventional Leadership Strategy with a Corporate Antagonist

When a new executive at a company faced this situation, I counseled him to instead adopt a leadership strategy where he invites the antagonist into all the planning activities for the new initiative.

The advice surprised him.

Here’s the reason for suggesting it. Inviting the corporate antagonist into the heart of the process forces him to openly share his resistance. Participating in everything, he will be part of a lot of strategy setting, review points, and decisions. Across those opportunities, he’s going to have to either constructively participate or use crazy levels of subterfuge to hide the sabotage he really hopes to carry out successfully. If he elects to go the route of trying to jam things ups for the new initiative later, the initiative leader will have documented a whole array of comments and involvement to challenge and confront the duplicity.

According to the new executive, the strategy is working. The antagonist feels involved. He’s having to go public with several biases and perennial weak spots in his leadership style as he tries to protect his previous work.

In this case, keeping a business ally close and a corporate antagonist even closer is working even when it seems an unconventional leadership strategy. – 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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Last week, The Brainzooming Group was in San Francisco for the Social Media Strategies Summit, where Mike presented a content marketing strategy workshop and a talk on collaborative engagement. In the workshop, he brought up the idea of turning seemingly boring brands into cool brands. That’s important, because brand strategy has everything to do with cool. This is true even if you’re an industrial brand, as Mike pointed out:

Well, okay, you might be thinking, But there’s nothing cool about our brand. There’s no fire. We’re completely utilitarian, unhip, the least sexy service on the planet. Possibly the galaxy. Hear me, friend: no matter what you do, there’s something inherently cool about your services, your product, your people, and maybe even all three. Marcel Proust was spot on when he wrote that the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. So let’s see about getting some new eyes and putting them to work for you.

3 Keys to Creating Cool Brands from Boring Brands

1. Define Cool

Start by making sure your definition is up to date. Cool used to be a narrow space occupied by a select few, but that isn’t the case any longer. Its definition has expanded, if not outright exploded, and now there’s much more space at this particular table. Within the current landscape, here are a few traits I see that fit inside the broad category of cool brands:

  • On trend
  • Intelligent
  • Humanitarian
  • Rebellious
  • Kind
  • Honest
  • Clever
  • Unique
  • Consistent
  • Simple

What makes these things cool? It all boils down to the same thing. And despite its recent run as an overused buzzword, at its core it’s all that matters. It’s authenticity, of course. When something is true, we know it on an instinctual level that can be hard to quantify. Perhaps it’s easier to quantify its opposite. It’s a scientific fact that phoniness disguised as authenticity creeps us out. To paraphrase the incisively smart Eve Callahan from Umpqua Bank, whose presentation at the Social Media Strategies Summit left my brain…well, zooming: humans are great at spotting blanks.

But when we’re interacting with authenticity, there’s a sense of order and peace about the interaction. There’s even, dare I say, a sense of fun and creativity about it. In this unreliable world, authenticity is as cool as it gets. So whether you’re authentically kind, consistent, rebellious, clever, or something else altogether: you’re cool. Humans love authenticity. (It’s essential for excellence. If excellence were a planet, authenticity would be its carbon, the basis for all its life forms.)

Chances are, your organization can identify two or three of these as descriptors, but generally there’s a standout trait in what you do and how you do it that’s become, in the mind of your customer, a kind of shorthand for your identity. (If that makes you nervous, don’t worry, just keep reading: this is going to help.)

2. Ask Your People

So what is that standout trait? Ask your people. For our purposes, “your people” comprises customers, colleagues, higher-ups, partners, collaborators, and, if possible, competitors. Reach out to as many as possible to get their input. You can do this in person (quickly ask someone on your way to a meeting, or when you’re grabbing a coffee, and jot down their answer), via email, via text, over the phone, using an online survey or collaboration — you get the picture. If you can get everyone to respond on one platform, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. What’s definitely necessary is to have the feedback of multiple representatives from each group.

When you feel you’ve gotten either as much feedback as you need, or as much as you’re going to get, take a close look at it. What words come up most often? Which one most closely matches your brand promise?* Once you’ve identified that, you can move on to the fun part.

3. Amp it Up

This is where you bring it to life. Set aside some planning time, then take that ineffable cool that’s central to your organization and walk it through every available venue. If you can include a couple of trusted associates to help, all the better. Make your cool the lens through which you see, the starting point of everything you do. What does honesty (or rebellion, or intelligence, or kindness, etc.) look like in social-first content, in print, over radio? What does it look it in customer service, in an internal newsletter, in an all-hands-on-deck meeting? How does a fundamentally honest organization start and end the business day?

Chances are, your organization’s doing some (or many!) of these things already, but you’ll find that you’re coming up with simple-to-implement ideas that had never occurred to you before. And while you can’t possibly change everything you’d like to change, there’s probably a whole lot you can amp up to shine a big spotlight on what make your cool brand as cool as it is. Which has the potential to drastically improve the strength and success of your entire organization.

And that’s pretty cool. Emma Alvarez Gibson

*If they don’t match, perhaps it’s time for a little internal disruptive thinking?

Download Your FREE eBook! Disrupting Thinking - 13 Exercises to Imagine Disrupting Your Brand

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 someone who was wondering aloud about how to boost the creative thinking skills of a group made up primarily of fact- and logic-driven individuals. Think accountants, engineers, compliance officers, and others in right-wrong answer professions.

What a great (and challenging) question. We’ve faced a few situations like this. We don’t deal with it more frequently because we consciously push in advance for diverse groups to engage in creative thinking and innovation workshops.

3 Ways to Find Strong Creative Thinking Skills in Logic-Oriented Groups

In response to the question, we shared several ideas to identify the participants more likely to display strong creative thinking skills within a group setting such as the one described.

via Shutterstock

1. Profile the Participants Upfront

The first step is to identify the participants most likely to display strong creative thinking skills by asking someone within the organization to profile each participant. They can do this based on their strategic thinking perspectives alone. They might also profile them based on the types of voices each will bring to a group setting.

2. Ask the Math and Music Question

To identify those most likely to display robust creative thinking skills within a logic-oriented group, look for the math and music people. Invariably, people with interests and aptitudes in both math and music are versatile thinkers. They can more easily disengage from the purely logical side to think imaginatively. You can insert a question about who enjoys math AND music within an ice breaker exercise or within a sign-up sheet asking various questions.

3. Have the Group Perform an Abstract Task

Another possibility is to give the group an abstract ice breaker task with no obvious right or wrong answer. Ideally, the exercise should push participants outside their comfort zones. Even mentioning such an exercise will cause many of them to balk or pout. Most of the rest will display that behavior while doing it. Some of them, however, will have fun. Those individuals are signaling more openness to creativity through their behavior. One ice breaker question we’ve used that happened to work will in this regard was, “What is the last thing on your mind?” Participant’s answers made it clear who could have fun with the question, and who just thought it was the dumbest question ever. An exercise that works well is telling them that you are going to teach them to draw a cartoon. It always works (everyone winds up realizing they can draw) and always unveils the participants interested in doing new things.

No Guarantees, but these Provide Possibilities

While none of these approaches is guaranteed, they can all help identify participants with stronger creative thinking skills. You will want to make sure you spread these individuals throughout any small groups. This will help create more focus on generating ideas versus analyzing them to death! – 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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