Brainstorming, Ideation, Prototyping

Sticky Storm Innovation [100 Word Challenge]

Yelling out ideas in a crockpot of group-think fails, yet we keep brainstorming. Jake Knapp suggests that perhaps “brainstorming” lingers because of its “catchy name”. So I made some other weather-related portmanteau.


Empathy and journey mapping create a swell of idea; the thunderstanding comes before the brainstorms.


Structured time to work solo and think up some big ideas. Let everyone find their own Aha’s.


Swirling, rapid, and picks up and throws hypothesis into the world, and it isn’t always pretty.


Observe focus groups interact with your prototypes. Watch their emotions, see how they accomplish tasks.

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Ideation, Innovation, Systems

Divergence, Convergence, and Roses

I’m going to show you an image and tell you a story, and you will believe it. You’ll believe not because I told you to believe it, but because you want to believe it is true.

The Story

plant cementThis is a place where mankind has sanitized, homogenized, and developed using a rigid and typically unforgiving material; concrete. A downfall of concrete’s hard-line take on the world is that sometimes cracks form. Cracks that let the organic spurt through. Dirt and rain make their way down, plants make their way up, and we’re left with this analogy. Creative ideas can grow in restrictive environments.

And it is true. I’ve even written about it here. But there is caution to the tale.

The Balancing Act

Just because creativity can grow like a plant in concrete doesn’t mean we don’t have to nurture it. You can’t go laying concrete everywhere in your innovation and expect the good stuff to always break through.

There is a time to let things diverge and a time to let things converge.

Your brainroses can growses, you knowses.

Imagine creat be thought is like a rosebush. You nurture it and let it grow; branches twisting and turning in their own way. Some are full of thorns, while others yield the most beautiful and fragrant blossoms. You, as the gardner, have your choice of the best idea roses for your bouquet.

Now imagine that when the rosebush was very small, you had placed a funnel on top. Everything that the rosebush wants to do, must be forced up and out a narrow opening. It’s like the Highlander but for plants; in the end there can be only one blossom. The funnel converges too soon. The only divergence happens just above the root, but it’s not enough to allow a variety of blossoms because they’re all now competing to get out of the funnel. When you go to trim, you don’t get a choice. You get the one idea-bloom that managed to make it out of the funnel, and you’ll never know if it was the best you could have produced.

The Summary

Constraints and restrictions are still valid. We put up fences because we don’t want ourroses rosebush growing into the neighbor’s yard. These restrictions come from your users (it needs to be mobile, it has to do [task] faster, etc). However if we don’t let solutions diverge from the root of the problem, we wont have a chance to converge them into the best bouquet of products possible.

Wouldn’t you rather have your choice and trim some back than stake it all in one bloom?

The Challenge

How might you encourage the timing of divergence and convergence in your life?
Brainstorming, Ideation, Lenses, Tool

Light Rays, Toothpaste, and Ideation [100 Word Challenge]

Jon Acuff used only 100 words to restrict a recent post.

Restrictions can drive creativity like toothpaste channelled through a narrow opening. You can concentrate your brain squeezings onto a precise AND ACTIONABLE solution.

Toothpaste everywhere doesn’t help you brush your teeth.

Tim Brown, IDEO, says that leaders need to define Purpose (goal), Challenges (stepping stones to get there), and Vision (defines constraints because some stones wont lead to the goal).Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 9.19.31 AM

Like light rays, our brainstorms and rambling thoughts can also be focused by passing through constraints.
If light rays can be focused, so can bright ideas!
Only 97 words!
Constraints are sometimes imposed upon the innovator. Try this challenge for your next ideation session.
Roll one six-sided die, and based on the roll, apply the following constraint to your ideas.
1: No new technology; use what exists.
2: Focus on only untapped customer segments.
3: All solutions must start with a person-to-person interaction.
4: The idea must not include any training; intuitive at its highest power.
5: You can only use print material in your solution.
6: Your solution must have playable game elements.
Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Breakthrough, Failure, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Sustaining versus Disruptive, Uncategorized

Boss Battle Breakthroughs

villainI can’t imagine a less appealing career than being a video game villain. No matter how hard you try, or how many henchmen you hire, the hero is destined to win the game. Castles broken. Airships grounded. Treasure looted. So what does the video game villain do next? They build a different castle, marginally tougher, but still pretty much using the same stuff. Insanity? Maybe. But definitely on the way to a breakthrough innovation.

“Whaaaaa?” you exclaim in disbelief. We’ll get there, but first we need to take a slight detour. Let’s set some common terms by grouping Innovation into three levels.

Level 1 is sustaining innovation.

  • This is where you do what you’ve done, just better. You are reorganizing pieces of what you have, maybe pushing a piece up a notch or two1, and in the end you have a better version of what you do. Fits in your  existing business model.

Level 2 is breakthrough innovation.

  • At this level you are still remixing your existing components like in Level 1. However this time you find a magical combination that is greater than the sum of its parts. It takes you into new territories. Still fits the vision but pushes the limits of your business model (if it doesn’t force you to change).

Level 3 is disruptive innovation.

  • This involves some new elements to the mix. Maybe its new technology, processes, or market strategies, but you are definitely off the status quo path. If you remixed every piece of your org, you wouldn’t arrive at this innovation which means you’re definitely looking at a new business model.

Video game villains are great at sustaining innovation. With the same blocks and baddies from their Stage 1 Basicworld, they are able remix a whole suite of levels. The first is very simple, but with each defeat the villain concocts a new version that’s moderatly tougher. They’re taking little bets by using what they have in this stage.

Breakthrough innovation happens between the stages. This is when the core obstacles remain the same (something is trying to run into you, smash you, or blast you), there is a new twist that adds the unique value to the stage. This time the villain built his defenses under water forcing you to swim to victory. This time the villain set up shop in the sky, saying “I wonder if the hero can stop me if I just remove the ground?” Still mostly the same core mechanics of hopping, dodging, and running, but they’re being used in new ways.

So when you’re ideating around some sustaining innovation, embrace your inner video game villain! Still use the Basicworld pieces you have but what is a unique twist you can add to them to make it a new stage. What’s your Lavaworld? What’s your Spaceworld? Be the ruler of your own Awesomeworld!


Brainstorming, Going Forth, Grand Canyon, Ideation, Innovation, Lenses, Prototyping, Systems, Tool

The Donkey Stuck in the Status Quo

Once upon a time, there was a donkey. This donkey, with all other conditions being the same, would eat from the hay closest to him. Kind of an easy win strategy. Well one day the donkey was walking down the road and his hunger grew immensely. There was a bail of hay up ahead, and an equal sized bail of hay, the exact same distance behind him. With neither being closer, the donkey stood still, not choosing one nor the other until he died.

The end.

This heartwarming tale is called Buridan’s donkey and it is a paradox about free will. Often, we become the donkey. There are disruptive ideas out there to follow, but we sit in the middle, too afraid to give up one for the other.

Nassim Taleb, in his book Antifragile, says that “when some systems become stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness can unlock them and set them free.” The donkey just needs a little push; just one fly to land on its ear and nudge it towards one hay pile.

Organizations, teams, and people need that dose of random, unexpected, and different to get ideas moving.gonowhere

These little nudges can feel scary, but there are ways to minimize the risk and fear. Start by breaking down the problem you want to solve into its core pieces; boil it down to its base essence. Then start looking for small things to move the needle. If you were to solve this problem, what’s the first thing you need to figure out? Find a way to prototype and test that thing. Prototyping is great for keeping cost low and risks at a minimum (especially when it is with paper).

“Prototyping is one of the most effective ways to both jump-start our thinking and to guide, inspire, and discipline an experimental approach.” – Peter Sims, Little Bets

Regularly we will need to unstick ourselves. Each idea we naturally think of is a byproduct of your point of view, past experiences, skill set, and what you had for lunch. That’s why I am going to give you a tool to help, a tool forged in process-driven chaos. It’s called…

Donkey Dice

The rules here are very simple. In fact, there’s only three:

  • CARD: On a notecard, write down six lenses and number them.
    • Things like “How would WordPress do it?”, “How would I never solve this?”, or use a random word. (Random words should be generated before each use of Donkey Dice.)
  • ROLL: Roll 1 six-sided die and identify lens selected
  • THINK: Generate ideas with lens

It’s simple, but effective. As you get good at Donkey Dice, expand your card up to 12 lenses and use two six-sided dice. You can unlock the extreme level and list 20 lenses and roll a twenty-sided die. Soon your donkey will be making his way towards relief, instead of stuck in the muck of status quo.

“I wondered about the explorers who’d sailed their ships to the end of the world. How terrified they must have been when they risked falling over the edge; how amazed to discover, instead, places they had seen only in their dreams.” -Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care


Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

The Lenses of Awesome

When I back out of my drive, there is this one little spot that is really hard to see. You cant see it in the rearview mirror and you can’t see it in the side mirrors. The dreaded blindspot. And that, in variably, is where I’ve put my trashcans.

lens (2)In our everyday, there are hidden aspects of problems that we can’t really see. Thats why auto manufacturers added all those mirrors, cameras, and sensors. What do we do as innovators? We can’t walk through life with an array of mirrors strapped to us. No, this is when we use some lenses. Previously, we’ve talked on the surface level of lenses (see prior post) and in this one we’re going to get more into the how.

In the movie National Treasure, historian Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage), has some fancy glasses with multicolored lenses that reveal hidden clues on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Innovation lenses work in a similar way. By looking at your situation through different lenses, and different combinations of lenses, new solutions come into sight.

“Perceive that which cannot be seen with the eye.”

Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

Lenses allow us to look at problems and solutions in a new way. They get you out of your normal brain path and into some divergent thinking. Your first instinct is to resort to your habits, your known constraints, and your know resources. Lenses stop you in your tracks so that nothing is an automatic response. To find new solutions, you have to break your old cycles.

Lenses get you beyond the confines of you business model and into some adjacent areas. Out in the unexplored areas, the hidden coves, is where treasure awaits.

How to use a lens:

  • Boil down your problem into the very base mechanics.
    • What are the root causes of your customer’s pain?
    • What very base jobs are they trying to do?
  • Apply a lens to your base mechanics.
    • How would McDonald’s address these customer pains?
    • How could the customer accomplish the jobs they need if the constraint was a positive instead of a negative?
  • Translate a lensed solution to your industry.
    • Now that you have a divergent base, build it back into your environment.
    • How could you actually pull this divergent thought off?

Previously I shared these lenses:

  • How would I never solve this problem?
  • What is the worst way I can solve this problem?

Here are a few more of my favorites:

  • How can the pain points be sold as features?
  • What would [Insert popular company] do?

What are some of your favorite lenses? Comment or tweet them! #lensesofawesome

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lenses

Use New Lenses to See Past the Hammers

I mean really, what else could Geppetto have done?

He wanted and son so he looked around at the resources he had. Lathes, chisels, hammers, and wood. Geppetto leaned on his strengths to carve Pinocchio who would magically transform from wooden marionette to a real boy. You know, after he was done goofing off and finding his way.

Abraham Maslow said “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” That’s exactly what Geppetto did. He literally had hammers and built his “son” out of wood, a material he had decades of experience with but would require magical intervention to achieve his goal.

We often fall into the same trap as innovators. We apply the same thoughts to distinct and unique problems and we murmur befuddlement when our solutions look like solutions we had in the past for a different problem.

Well murmur no more! You just need more in your toolbox than hammers.

One of the best suppliers of new “tools” is the concept of lenses for brainstorming. Lenses have the ability to be an endless and infinite supply of inspiration… and you already know how to use them! The problem is that you and I default to the same lenses. Our default lenses are the place that we work, the go to inspiration we surround ourselves with. To apply new lenses, we need to think outside our comfort zone… we need to venture into problem adjacent areas.

Let’s say we’re working on solving a certain problem. To apply and adjacent lens, we need to whittle the problem down into its barebones mechanics. “Customers do this, they need it to do this, they feel this way” and so on. This is a great time to apply the five why method to get to the root mechanics. We’ll talk about that later but for now just think of it as an over-inquisitve toddler that just wont stop.

“I need to go to the store.” “Why?”

“Because we need food.” “Why?”

“Because without food we’ll go hungry.” “Why?”

You get the point. But take a look at what those three why’s did. Instead of the problem being “I need to go to the store”, the problem is boiled down to “we need food or we’ll go hungry”. That boiled down problem is more at the root and offers way more solution possibilities.

From the base mechanics of the problem, we need to venture into other solutions that exist for the base mechanic outside our given industry. You are looking for bright spot solutions outside your realm of dominance. Work in food service? Maybe you solution lies in the way health care solved a similar problem. The world is ripe with adjacent lenses. All you have to do is ask yourself “How would X solve this?” or “How did Y eliminate this problem?” Start there and start extrapolating ideas and making connections to your own industry.

Had Geppetto thought of using lenses, he might of said to himself “You know, I’d really like a son of my own. I wonder how the farmers solve the problem of wanting children?” He might not have started with a carved marionette.

And let’s face, we cant afford to wait for our solutions to magically solve the problem. We are the magic so get out there and make your awesomeness real!


As an added bonus, here are a couple other lenses I like to use during brainstorming.

  • How would I never solve this problem?
  • What is the worst way I can solve this problem?

Despite it being fun to think of anti-solutions, you’ll be surprised at how effective these are at finding hidden solutions!

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Diffusion of Innovation, Ideation, Innovation, Understanding the Customer

Innovating with the Uninterested

My kids send me strong signals all the time. For example, when we have broccoli or sweet potatoes, they respond with very strong signals. Unfortunately their signals are strong AND negative. One way we’ve tried limit these anti-veggie reactions is to get them involved in the meal planning.

Like in meal planning, we should be looking for strong signals with prototype tests. Strong signals validate that solutions are worthy of digging into deeper. Sometimes, you will get responses of “I don’t like this” or “I’m not sure this will work.” These are great strong signals, just not the ones you may have been looking for. Their value though can be immense.

diffusionOfInnovationLooking at the Diffusion of Innovation, these types of strong signals would be achieved from folks in the “Late majority” category. That accounts for 34% of the market, and yet we design by relying on “Early Adopters” or the “Early Majority”. How can we move their timeline of adoption up? How can we use their strong signals, and their personas, to help make our prototype better?

We can design with them!

Wrangle up some of those “This will never work” naysayers and get them in an ideation session. You can often get them to agree by just being honest. No need for trickery or bribes. Just tell them that you’re sorry your one idea didn’t fit for them but you’d like to understand their view better.

“Great! Now I have all the people who hated my prototype in one room. What do I do now?”

It is simple, just understand these three guidelines.
  1. Let the customer drive the conversation
    Strong signals, like kids rebelling over the inclusion of broccoli, can indicate the presence of the "Late Majority". Instead of taking a hit to your momentum, use their energy to design a new, better solution!
    Strong signals, like kids rebelling over the inclusion of broccoli, can indicate the presence of the “Late Majority”. Instead of taking a hit to your momentum, use their energy to design a new, better solution!
    • You must aim for a 80-20 ratio of listening to talking.
    • Listen to understand, not to react.
      • This is a personal pet peeve, but too often we listen with the intent of reacting to what someone says. Especially here where you’ve already show the customer a solution. They will say “Well I need it to do X.” and you’ll want to say “Well what I showed you will already do X, you may have missed it.” AVOID THIS! Internalize that thought but come back to them with something like “Interesting. When it does X, what does that look like to you?”
    • Reiterate what they say if you are unclear.
      • Remove any uncertainty.
    • You may need to set up the ideation session with some easy wins up front to grease the gears of innovation.
  2. Keep their options limited
    • Too many options and they will freeze up. It’s a cousin of the “blank page” syndrome.
    • Constraints can also help people be creative.
      • It’s like squeezing a tube of toothpaste. Applying pressure, with the constraints of the rest of the tube, pushes the paste onto the brush.
  3. Nothing needs to be pretty
    • An “ugly” prototype or a napkin sketch keeps the customer from thinking the idea is set in stone.
    • Thinking everything is “up for change” frees them up to make more suggestions.
    • Encourage them to take a crack at some wireframes.
      • You will hear “I’m not good at drawing” but we’re not looking for art here, just ideas. You can offer to draw for them if this is a sticking point.

I’m not saying you’ll end this process with a market-capturing design. But you will have a better understanding of the needs, the pain points, and the potential gains for your innovation with the Late Majority. Imagine if you can inspire the Late Majority to adopt sooner!