Innovation | The Brainzooming Group - Part 5 – page 5

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

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

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

Register TODAY! FREE 2017 Innovation and Creativity Summit Virutal Event

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

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

Other interviewees include:

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

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

Register TODAY! FREE 2017 Innovation and Creativity Summit Virutal Event

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

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

Mike Brown

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

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In nearly every instance, we spend time with a prospective client discussing three aspects of their strategic planning process needs:

  • What they think they want to achieve
  • What they need to achieve
  • The best way to make it happen using our collaborative process.

Do you see your organization in any of these three current conversations we are having with prospective clients?

Conducting a Strategic Planning Process with a Certain Framework

What the prospective client wants to achieve: “We’ve sold-in a specific strategic planning process methodology, so that’s the approach we need to take.”

What they need to achieve: They need to deliver a plan with the framework their leadership has approved, but still make sure it’s collaborative and engaging in a way their strategic planning process never has been previously.

The best way to make it happen: We’re proposing arranging our strategic planning exercises within the framework they have already advanced. Rather than having a Brainzooming stamp on the steps, we’ll morph our approach to work within what they client wants to see happen.

A Small Innovation Team Is the Way to Introduce Innovation

What the prospective client wants to achieve: “We think the answer is to get an innovation team together and have them come up with new ideas.”

What they need to achieve: Instead of innovation seeming like a disconnected initiative, we recommend they integrate innovation with:

  • Successful new service lines they already introduced
  • Existing ideas that haven’t advanced
  • Current strategic initiatives already underway

The best way to make it happen: We’re early in the conversation, but we suggested casting a wide net to incorporate work they’ve already done into innovation. Rather than looking at innovation as a “team,” we expect the success they want will come from greater collaboration, a team to move it forward, and a process that makes innovation sustainable for years ahead.

The Struggle Between Major Decisions and Collaboration

What the prospective client wants to achieve: “We have some major decisions to make about the company’s future, so we need to limit the planning to just the immediate leadership team.”

What they need to achieve: They clearly need to wrestle with major issues only appropriate for a small top management group. Yet, to advance in a way that sets them up for success with the big decisions, they need to involve a broader team of employees in strategic planning and implementation.

The best way to make it happen: We recommended a two-pass strategic planning process. The first pass will only include the senior team and vary the steps to create a closely-held implementation strategy for the biggest strategic issues. We would then make a second, more typical looking collaborative planning sweep across a much larger part of the organization.

Are any of these situations familiar?

We tackle these and whole host of other issues as we work with each prospective client to identify the most effective and efficient way to introduce a strategic planning process into an organization.

If you’re looking at boosting the impact of your organizational strategy, let’s get on the phone and discuss the best way to make it happen for your brand! – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

Creative Thinking Skills and Breakthrough Ideas

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

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

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

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


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Mike Brown

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

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

How do you move from creative thinking into action?

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

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

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

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


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

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

Turning Creative Thinking  into Action


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

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

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

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

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

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Mike Brown

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

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

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

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

3 Short, Funny Strategic Planning Questions

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

1. Stick It To Authority Figures

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

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

2. Give Conventional Expectations the Heave Ho

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

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

3. Get around Expectations Because of Who You Are

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

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

Wait, There’s More!

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

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

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


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

Yes, developing strategy can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”
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If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Mike Brown

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

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Short Story: If a group of experts struggles with innovation, provide an opportunity to look at the situation from the outside to discover mental space to innovate.

I was talking with an engineer at a company that primarily employs engineers. The company focuses on materials testing.

He told me how difficult it is for the organization to consider an innovation strategy. The reason why? The engineers are so accustomed to testing EVERYTHING, they routinely shoot down any innovative ideas. That’s what they are used to doing. When the whole business is built on trying to prove something doesn’t work, I guess it takes you out of the “let’s try something new and innovative and see what happens” game.

I suggested looking at a version of one of our extreme creativity questions: How can we innovate our processes to test things faster than all our competitors? Specifically, how can we test ten products in the time our competitors test two things?

I don’t know if they’ll do it or not, but they’d be better off if they did.

2 Ways to Take a Fresh Look at Outside-In Innovation Strategy

They could also take the outside-in innovation strategy approach we wrote about recently: look at other testing situations ripe for speeding up and solve those. They could then take those ideas and apply them to what they do. It always seems easier and more fun to work on somebody else’s problems and fix them. That is especially true when your expertise is tearing apart what others overlooked in their work!

Additionally, our conversation suggested an intriguing innovation strategy role. He told me how the company had its annual meeting at the same venue two years in a row. At the most recent annual meeting, the bartender was the same as the year earlier. The bartender remarked that all the engineers were sitting in EXACTLY the same seats as at the previous year’s meeting!

While the engineers obviously remembered where they sat (and returned to the same seats), it took an outside observer to point out the bigger message: YOU GUYS DON’T EVER DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY! That story got me thinking: beyond an outside facilitator, who else is witnessing your innovation strategy development over time and can point to what those closest to it will never see, or at least never mention?

If thinking about doing things in new ways is tough for your organization, start looking at an outside-in innovation 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 weekend’s Wall Street Journal featured a piece called “Two Cheers for Failure in a Tough Drug Industry,” by Jonathan D. Rockoff. The article highlighted innovation strategy options that drug companies are using to instill and support risk-taking behaviors. These companies are trying to motivate researchers facing daunting odds for bringing a drug successfully to market. Rockoff cites odds of 1 in 10,000 for drug compounds to ultimately gain regulatory approval.

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

4 Ways to Celebrate Risk Taking

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

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

1. Cultivating a Resilient, Innovative Environment

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

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

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

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

2. Celebrating Risk-Taking Behaviors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Failing and Learning

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

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

What ideas does this raise about your innovation strategy?

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


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

This free Brainzooming innovation eBook identifies seven typical business innovation fears. For each fear, we highlight strategy options to mitigate the fears and push forward with innovative strategies. We tackle:

  • Whether facts or emotional appeals are ideal to challenge fear of innovation-driven change
  • When it is smart to call attention to even bigger fears to motivate progress
  • Situations where your best strategy is taking business innovation underground

Download your FREE copy of 7 Strategies to Conquer Your Organization’s Innovation Fears today!

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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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