How far out are you looking out to create significant changes in your business? Through the next six months? The end of the year? How about looking out at least to 2020 with an innovation theme to set priorities?

While you typically hear about an annual theme as the New Year starts, the point here is different: establish an innovation theme for next year NOW. Looking months out sets up completing preparatory work throughout the current year to be ready for strong implementation in the next.

Selecting Your Organization’s Innovation Theme

What is your innovation theme - for next year?

Reviewing the Fast Company World’s Most Innovative Companies issue suggested fourteen potential innovation themes based on the strategies the magazine reported.

Based on this list, think ahead: What you would do NOW to prepare if 2020 were going to be the year of . . .

  1. Turning your company into the ultimate content creator in your market?
  2. Making all your technology elegant?
  3. Predicting EVERYTHING that your customers will do?
  4. Inviting your audience to direct and navigate your brand stories?
  5. Creating all kinds of private-label micro brands?
  6. Doing only ONE thing but doing it at massive scale?
  7. Smashing together your offline and online brand experiences?
  8. Your brand doing one MEGA stunt to attract positive attention?
  9. Turning what you do into a subscription model?
  10. Producing ONLY to demand?
  11. Doing smaller, less complex things to increase the frequency of transactions?
  12. Slight changes with dramatic impacts?
  13. Giving customer 5x more ways to buy & use what you do?
  14. Enabling customers to automatically make small, repetitive, good decisions to benefit themselves?

Do you see any possibilities in this list? Does it inspire you to imagine other innovation themes to focus on for the year AFTER the current year?  – Mike Brown

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A few weeks back, as mentioned in a previous post, I attended the EPIC International Summit and came away with about a thousand metaphorical fires lit under me. On day two, our keynote speaker was Joe Rohde, Executive Designer and Vice President, Creative at Walt Disney Imagineering. He’s the lead designer for Disney’s Animal Kingdom park in Florida, and most recently oversaw the conversion of Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure into Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!.

Joe Rohde as featured on the cover of his alma mater's alumni magazine

In a fascinating talk that probably wouldn’t have lost any audience members had it been twice as long, Joe Rohde discussed leadership and creativity through the lens of executing incredibly detailed projects with a highly specialized, dedicated team and very short lead times. The type of scenario, in other words, that simply will not foster success unless someone agrees to move forward minus the red tape. That, says Rohde, requires “the underlying thesis of what makes right, right.”

Rather than sketching out concepts and moving through approval processes, for instance, his teams internalize the intrinsic values of the project and are trusted to deliver their part of the job.

Speaking about the group who created Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Rohde said, “They understood what we were trying to do, they understood the richness, and they had areas of expertise.”

Scenarios like these, however, tend to be misread by people who aren’t directly involved in the process. Rohde says that when a team is in the process of gaining that deep understanding, it doesn’t look like work at all. Rather, it looks “like a bunch of esoteric nerds talking like they did in AP Lit class in high school.” As one might imagine, this can make the people at the top of the org chart antsy–until they’re wowed by results. Which is not coincidental.

“When you’re simply meeting expectations, you’re invisible,” Rohde said.

We have a number of clients in the industrial sector who have brought up this issue in workshops and strategy sessions with us. They say things like, People only think about us when our product stops working or If everything’s going right, we’re invisible. And while that’s particularly true for industrial organizations, it’s still true for everyone else. If you’re only doing the job you’re supposed to do, you’re invisible. Meeting the requirements is simply the price of entry. To be visible, you must exceed expectations.

But wait, there’s another piece to this. As Joe Rohde said: the human brain is designed to register exception as either danger or opportunity, and the exceeding of expectations creates addiction in the brain. (Science!)

To sum up, then: to be seen, you’ve got to exceed expectations. To exceed expectations, you’ve got to have a carefully calibrated team of people who know their stuff–and huge amounts of trust in them. Then, once you’ve exceeded expectations, people are hooked. Rinse and repeat, and watch the money pour in. (That last part is my own pure conjecture, but I don’t know that it’s entirely off the mark.)

It’s a tall order, sure. But it can be done. The question is, are you willing to do what it takes? Emma Alvarez Gibson 

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I pulled the grid below from a previous article. In that article,  you will find a hand-drawn copy of the grid scrawled on an easel pad. I created it at the spur of the moment to answer a workshop question about negative project team members. The grid helps you place team members based on how good they are for business (meaning their level of productiveness and working for the good of the cause) and how predictable their behaviors are. You love the people in the upper right (highly predictable in how good they are for business). For people in other quadrants, it suggests strategies to maximize their impact, as best possible.

I used it recently with a friend to recommend a strategy for dealing with a baffling nonprofit group. The person is a member on a new team. The team leader is sending off very different messages than other leaders. After a negative email interaction, the team member suspected the leader was simply unpredictable, even though halfway good for the team. Because he thought the leader was a positive player for the team, he walked away from a subsequent personal conversation thinking it was a seemingly positive air clearing. Based on this, he doubled down on trying to deliver on the team leader’s expectations. It turned out he was reading the situation incorrectly. In an insidious way, the themes from the email exchange continued to show up from the team leader and a couple other team members close to him.

When the team member shared the situation with me, I had to acknowledge that it was shocking. Things that would make you simply walk away from participating in the team. Playing through this whole scenario made it all clear. The leader is VERY predictable AND he’s “bad for business” more often than not. That’s led to the team member figuring out how to still perform expected duties while reducing his time investment as quickly as possible.

What Do You Do with Negative Project Team Members?

Life is too short to put up with overtly destructive behaviors, especially when you are volunteering your time, expertise, and energy for a cause that you believe in.

Whenever you are on a project team, you hope that everybody is in the upper right quadrant. That’s wonderful when it happens.

I recommend you keep this post around, though, just in case the ideal doesn’t pan out. – Mike Brown

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I’ve been spending a ton of time this year working on communications for a Catholic Church I attend. The most recent assignment? Designing a new logo for a fund-raising campaign.

I’m the first to admit: I rely HEAVILY on structure to push my creative thinking. Structure also plays a vital role in helping me maintain a consistent level of daily creativity. Once I’ve generated all the ideas, it’s time to pull away the structures for generating ideas and replace them with other structures to help implement ideas.

7 Creative Thinking Questions Before Designing a New Logo

Designing a new logo can be a group process.

In the past few weeks, I’ve begun collecting images, messages, and other inputs to develop the strategic creative brief for designing a new logo. Not surprisingly, I’m using structure (in the way of creative thinking questions) to ensure we account for everything the logo needs to deliver.

Since we’re all about sharing work-in-process tools that are working well, here are the questions I’ve been using to explore what will go into the strategic creative brief for designing a new logo. If you have a comparable branding initiative, they can help you develop your thinking:

  • What does the brand want to communicate about itself through a logo right now? Into the future?
  • What elements will best create a connection to today’s world? To the future, with its changes?
  • Which visuals will convey vital elements of the brand experience?
  • What are subtle visual elements that would communicate integral aspects of the brand?
  • What from the past applies and should be brought forward into the logo?
  • Are there things we can mine from the original inspirations behind the brand and its visual identity?
  • Are there comparable visual representations that other brands are using that could serve as inspirations or guide posts?

Next step after getting all thoughts down on these questions? Putting together that strategic creative brief to hand off to the graphic designer who will be developing the logo. Then modifying and selecting the final version.

It all sounds so easy. I’m sure we’ll have twists and turns along the way. At least we have a road map to shape our creative thinking BEFORE we get started!

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What’s the customer experience delivery like for your brand? Does it meet everything your customers are looking for?


You think there’s not much more you can do to improve your brand’s customer experience?

Don’t you think that is a very dangerous falsehood to hang onto and accept as reality?

8 Ways to Rethink Customer Experience Delivery

If you acknowledge that you have room to improve and, more importantly, re-imagine the customer experience delivery for your brand, you might try one (or more) of these strategies to perform a thought experiment. Of course, you’ll need to ultimately follow that up with doing something, but all things in due time.

  1. Talk to the people who think your brand does the coolest stuff in the world. Even with boring brands, SOMEBODY thinks your brand has some cool going for it. Now, how can you help other customers see the cool that’s right in front of you?
  2. Where do your best customers want to be – in their careers and personal lives – and how can your brand transplant them to where they REALLY want to be?
  3. What changes to your customer experience would get your customers to stay with your brand longer – whether in-person or virtually?
  4. If you tried to rework your entire customer experience around the needs and interests of ONE incredible customer, who would that customer be? What would you start to do if you only had to address them in your customer experience?
  5. What is your brand’s big story, and how does EVERY message you send link in some way to your big story?
  6. How can you give customers all kinds of clues to how to use your product once they buy it so that they will use and enjoy it more?
  7. Even if your brand will NEVER have a physical store presence, what would your store brand experience be like?
  8. What are ways you can always make your customers look incredible – but not in a pandering or obnoxious way?

After you have worked through one (or a couple of) these, how are you feeling about your current customer experience delivery?

Time to do something, right?  – Mike Brown

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I took the picture below at the gym on Saturday afternoon. The TV over the treadmill displayed pre-race coverage of the Xfinity NASCAR race in Daytona. I was probably the only person smiling widely as former drivers Jamie McMurray (center) and Michael Waltrip (right) sitting next to each other. The broadcast marked Jamie’s debut as a full-time racing analyst for Fox as he transitioned to a new career after driving his last race the next day. For everyone else, it was a racing broadcast. For me, the image represented a fond memory about personal branding and maybe an early example of trying to be an Idea Magnet.

Jamie McMurray living out his personal branding strategy.

A Personal Branding Backstory

In 2003, I was running my company’s NASCAR sponsorship. We’d finally started achieving on-track success in the previous two years. Our success translated into greater interest from our sales team in our NASCAR program. We used the new-found interest to more aggressively build integrated story lines between racing and our brand. We started heavily involving our drivers in company events and exploring new ways to gain attention for our drivers and the program as a way to build attention for our brand.

We had named Jamie McMurray was one of our new drivers for 2003. He’d enjoyed recent and early success. Jamie won a NASCAR Cup race in only his second start ever the previous year. Since he was new in attracting more media attention, we saw many opportunities to build stories around him. We had the sense, though, that Jamie didn’t think much of creating stories or how we might help him grow his own recognition as we worked on our own.

As a result, our NASCAR representative and I made a previously-unplanned drive from Charlotte, NC to the Atlanta NASCAR track. Our objective? To meet with Jamie during the downtime at that week’s race and talk to him about personal branding. This was unusual: I abandoned my plans to fly home from Charlotte for a personal event, and I hardly ever interacted directly with drivers, other than introducing them at customer events. I liked leaving all the driver interaction to our rep. This way there was no confusion about the message from the sponsor and who would deliver it to the driver.

Can Personal Branding Change a Life?

The meeting wasn’t particularly long. I tried, during our time together, to help Jamie understand that we were interested in promoting him in ways that made sense for him AND for our brand. We chatted about the importance of HIM making decisions about what the Jamie McMurray brand would represent. I also mentioned a driver who’d won the Daytona 500. This driver was an average talent, at best, in his career. Nonetheless, this other driver was ALL OVER television commercials and race broadcasts. The reason why? Because of his outgoing personality and his willingness to be a little goofy with his personal brand. Jamie seemed open to personal branding. He made it clear, though, that he didn’t want to be like the other driver, because HE wasn’t goofy.

That driver?

You guessed it: Michael Waltrip.

After our conversation, Jamie continued the on-track success with our team, winning a couple of races. He also saw what we were doing to feature him as an integral part of our program and brand. While Jamie was with us only one year, I heard later from our NASCAR rep that Jamie referenced our personal branding conversation. He said it was the first time anyone talked to him about personal branding. Maybe it got him thinking about the possibilities as he went on to NASCAR success and to devote his attention to raising awareness of and funds for autism.

That’s why Jamie McMurray and Michael Waltrip sitting next to each other as Jamie begins his broadcast career made me smile. None of us know when a brief conversation will, ideally, make a difference in someone’s life. It was nice to get a sense that maybe the trip to Atlanta that Saturday helped to do that for Jamie. – Mike Brown

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Lots of people tell me that when they see something orange, they think of me.

Orange socks, I have a few.

That’s incredible, because, to paraphrase a story in Idea Magnets, some people are called to orange, and others have it thrust upon them.

Orange was thrust upon me.

And it took some time for me to realize how important the color would become. As a natural introvert (at least to the extent that it’s tough for me to meet new people and strike up conversations), orange has become a way to open the doors to interaction. People notice the orange socks I wear and will say something. They’ll ask whether I went to Tennessee, Clemson, or Syracuse, wonder if I’m color blind, or just go, “Wow, those orange socks are bright, dude!”

No matter what they say, we’re into a conversation!

10 Things Folks Learn When Asking about Orange Socks

Orange socks? Orange pants? What else is there orange?

Here are ten things I typically wind up sharing with people when they ask about my adopted color.

  1. Greg Reid directed our entire marketing team (including me) to wear orange socks on October 22, 1997. After January 2002, there was no way I could ever NOT wear orange socks again. It’s because of that (and being associated with creativity and innovation) that orange is the Brainzooming brand color.
  2. Two articles of orange clothing never entirely match.
  3. Me and my orange suit (and the orange socks).Orange clothes I now own? Socks (I’ve lost count of how many), a suit, 4 Ralph Lauren linen sports coats, dress shirts of all types, pants, plenty of shoes, a belt, outer coats, underwear and t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweater, baseball caps, workout shirts, sweat pants, gloves, a scarf.
  4. My fashion advice? When you find something orange, buy multiples of it. (See the 4 Lauren orange sports coats.)
  5. Where do I find all this orange stuff? I pay attention to local sports teams to find unexpected pockets of lots of orange. I can also walk by a store and sense whether there are orange clothes inside. Seriously. But that doesn’t stop me from packing too many orange clothes – just in case something bad happens.
  6. You can always wait for something orange to go on deep discount. It’s going to happen. WITHOUT A DOUBT. (Someday, I need to share the story here of WHY I have 4 orange Ralph Lauren sports coats!)
  7. Orange things in our house? The kitchen, a bathroom, towels, dishes, a fuzzy blanket, table lights, folding chairs, bed sheets and pillow cases.
  8. We’ve never owned an orange vehicle, although I used to always rent orange HHR cars (which we called planning mobiles).
  9. If I weren’t wearing so much of this color? I’d be wearing more blue, like I used to do.
  10. Favorite quote EVER about me wearing orange? “Halloween is the one day of the year when Mike looks fashionable.”

Orange you glad you read this far! – Mike Brown

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