The best creativity technique known to mankind

OK, so my headlines tend to be a little sensational sometimes.  Not this one.

I want to share with you the absolute best, can’t-miss technique for truly breakthrough thinking I have ever used.  That sounds like a cheesy affiliate ad or something, but there’s no catch here. I am simply giving you one of my best leadership ideas.

But it gets better. This is also the best documented business case for workplace diversity I have ever seen.

Here we go …

First, you need to plan a brain-storming session with at least 10 diverse people.  Really shake up the diversity in every way you can. And the more people involved, the better. I’ve done this technique successfully with a room of 75 people. Be sure to tell them what the purpose of the meeting is and that they should come prepared with at least a few ideas.

Early in your meeting, have everybody rip off a big piece of easel paper and write their very best idea for the brainstorming topic at the top.  Make sure there is plenty of room below their idea to write additional ideas.

Now, have them go to the walls around the room, tape their idea to the wall and stand in front of it.

Have everybody slide over one space to their right so that they are standing in front of the idea next to them.  Ask the participants to read the idea written at the top carefully and then add to, or improve, the original idea and write their contribution below the first entry.

Now have everybody slide over TWO spaces — not just one!  The reason I do this is because you don’t want the same person continually following the thought process of the person in front of them. You are trying to mix up the mental frameworks.

Write a better idea based on what is on the page so far and then have everybody slide again. This time count off three spaces. Read what has been written so far and add to it or improve it once again.

Do this one more time. Slide over just one space and ask them to come up with a better idea than what has been written so far.

Now introduce a random prompt. Have everybody slide over two spaces and ask them something like:

  • How could this idea be illegal?
  • What would happen if this idea was invisible?
  • What would you do to this idea to have people pay a hundred dollars for it?
  • What would happen if this idea was in the dark, or under water?

The reason for these strange questions is to try to get your participants to look at the idea in a totally new perspective. One time I was leading a creativity session to come up with ways that consumers could interact with packaging in a new way. Once when I gave the “invisible” prompt, a housewife came up with an idea for an instant win game that made people a winner if they had the right barcode at a check-out scanner.

OK, now shift one more time. Two spaces. Ask them to read everything on the page and write one more great idea based on everything that is on the page so far.

Then have them go back to their original idea, read the entire page and circle the best idea on the page.

This is when the magic happens.  About 95% of the time, the idea they circle is NOT their original idea! In less than 15 minutes you can turn all of your good ideas into great, perhaps even break-through, ideas.

The theory behind this technique

When I was in grad school studying organizational development, I learned that our basic mental framework — how we process information — is basically complete by the time we are 15 years old.  So literally, it is impossible for you to think “out of the box” because you are permanently hard-wired.

For true break-through thinking to occur on a team, we must combine the boxes we have available. This is why the diversity of the participants is so important. You don’t want to do this where everybody is a numbers-type or creative-type or even all of a certain age or culture heritage. The more boxes you can combine and complement each other, the better the results.  Always!

Even if you are trying to solve a technical problem, invite people from marketing, accounting, HR … maybe even from another division or company all together. I’ve even conducted creativity sessions like this on behalf of a Fortune 100 company with a fifth-grade class just to see what they could come up with.

There is a tremendous secondary benefit to this technique. Notice I said it was important to do this early in your meeting. Typically, when people see the amazing work they’ve done in just 15 minutes, they are energized, engaged and confident in your process. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

Applying this to the web

I’ve tried to apply this technique to an online setting by shuffling ideas between far-flung participants. It has not worked very well. There is something about the interaction of a boisterous group, a shared experience, the physical movement and the sense of momentum and accomplishment from the live exercise that can’t be duplicated when folks are behind computers in cubicles.

Are you ready to give it a try? I’d love to hear about it. If you have a question, feel free to call me or drop me a line. Happy brainstorming!

Why your company may not need social media

Let’s have some fun with my buns.  Cinnamon buns, that is.

One of the myths we recently discussed on {grow} was the claim that every business needs to use social media in its marketing strategy.

So what determines if the social web can be used effectively in any company?  One key is industry structure.

Marketers are actually quite limited in the number of options they have based on the competitive structure of their industry.  Social media is just one marketing channel, and its opportunity for use will be determined by the marketplace, not the hype you read on the Internet!

To illustrate this concept, let’s look at how four companies — with four very different competitive structures — may or may not use the social web to sell the very same product: cinnamon rolls.

Flat Rock Village Bakery, Flat Rock N.C.

The Flat Rock Village Bakery is a small, family-owned cafe that serves its customers wood-fired pizzas and artisan pastries. They have a single location in a tiny mountain town. Why would somebody buy a cinnamon roll from this bakery?

  • Convenience of central location amid relatively little competition
  • Ambiance of tree-lined community setting
  • Community involvement and reputation of the company
  • Consistent quality of artisan products
  • Appeal of non-chain, local ownership
  • Attentive Service

As a marketer, we want to increase sales by promoting these points of differentiation.  The social web can certainly enhance the reputation of the bakery but probably won’t significantly drive more traffic to this store — They essentially already have a captive audience. Their focus should be on increasing sales per customer at the actual point of purchase. What is their risk of NOT participating in the social web?  Low.

McKee Foods, Chattanooga, TN

Now compare that to a national bakery like McKee Foods whose Little Debbie brand is found in grocery and convenience stores throughout the country. Little Debbie will sell you a cinnamon roll based on

  • Low price, which is enabled by efficient operations and distribution
  • Large selection of products in a grocery store aisle
  • Coupons and promotions
  • Brand awareness
  • Consistent, but low-quality, product with a relatively long shelf life

Unlike the cozy competitive climate of the Flat Rock Bakery, competition in the grocery aisle is fierce and Little Debbie would ignore the social web to its peril.  The bakery giant can certainly use social media to:

  • Monitor customer conversations about its products
  • Build brand awareness cost-effectively
  • Coupons and promotions
  • Involve consumers in its brand
  • Create new products
  • Facilitate customer service
  • Monitor competitor activities

Can you begin to see how these dramatically different competitive structures influence marketing strategy?

Panera Bread, everywhere

Panera has built its successful business by establishing clean, bright stores that serve as community meeting places. You might drive to Panera to buy a cinnamon roll because:

  • It’s a spacious, convenient place to meet colleagues and friends
  • They have bakery-quality food at reasonable prices
  • Free Wi-Fi
  • A recognizable national brand with predictable quality

Panera faces a host of competitors offering similar value.  Compared to the first two examples, its business model is more easily duplicated, so finding ways to connect to customers is key.

There are lots of opportunities to do this through the social web, especially if it could master location-based apps like Foursquare that reward frequent visitors.

Cinnabon, a mall near you

Although Cinnabon also serves up cinnamon rolls — in fact that is basically ALL it sells — it represents a radically different competitive dynamic.

Cinnabon bases their competitive advantage on one thing — location — and the opportunity to sell you through an impulse buy. They are usually located in malls and airports so if you are hungering for a fresh-baked goodie, you really have no choice.

Their price point is set high, and they don’t need to use coupons or other promotions because they’ve got you right where they want you – captive.

They have a Facebook page and a Twitter account but is this where they should spend their primary marketing effort?  No.  As a marketer I would probably spend money on fans to blow the heavenly cinnamon smell out onto the airport concourse!

Putting this to use for your business

Obviously in the space of a short blog post I had to do a simplistic comparison to make a point. I realize the industry structures are more complex than what I present here.  Still, I think it’s a useful example illustrating the widely different dynamics in selling even a simple product like a pastry.

Where do you go with this as you make your decisions about social media?

  1. Begin with the fundamentals including market research, customer interviews and competitor analysis before jumping into any marketing initiative.  Spending money without knowing the competitive structure of your industry will create disastrous results.
  2. Use clear-eyed intellectual honesty when assessing the social media opportunities for your company. There is a natural tendency to want to climb onboard Facebook or YouTube because everyone else is … but take a hard look at what effort is going to be the most effective use of your resources.
  3. Look for channels that allow you to emphasize your competitive advantages and how they match customer needs.
  4. Measure every effort to constantly adjust your efforts to the changing marketplace.

What is the competitive structure of your business?  How many “stars” would you give your social media opportunity and why?

“Think outside the office” video promotes new economy

I’m a judge on the International Economic Development Council’s annual website competition this month and I’ll be featuring some of the amazing best practices I’m witnessing in some future posts.

I’ve been impressed with some of things Calgary, Canada has been doing for some time and I really love this new marketing angle they’ve developed for their city — positioning their community as place that enables the new economy by making it easy for people to work from home.

Although working from home isn’t a new concept, making it part of a city’s brand is … and I thought this upbeat video treatment gets the unique  point across nicely. Calgary has done done also done a beautiful job with their “Live in Calgary” website.”

The 20 craziest things you can do on Twitter

OK, we’ve heard all the great business success stories about connecting and learning through Twitter. But the human race is made up of all kinds of people and some of them have more important things to do. Like hooking their toilet up to Twitter.  I started collecting some of these random (and real) uses of Twitter and thought I would present this amusing list to my dear friends on {grow}.

Did you know Twitter can help you …

Tweet with vampires — The Twitter account @vampires will let you follow the adventures of the undead. Bloody great idea.

Befriend lactating cows — A dozen lactating bovines are hooked up to a monitor so you can read their teats er … tweets … after they’ve been milked by a robot.  The cows at a Buttermine Farms near Woodstock, Ont., has more than 2,000  tweets since the project began in December.

Tell secretsSecret tweet allows you to post your secrets to Twitter anonymously.  Here was mine: I am writing this in the nude. Which means I probably broke some law in Singapore.

Rock out – Here is a list of the top 50 rock stars on Twitter.  The list includes Brittany Spears. I doth protest.

Let your pets make friends.  — Cats on Twitter is a site where cats can meet other tweeting cats and of course there is also the companion site, Dogs on Twitter.  There is one cat (@sockington)with over 1.5 million followers on Twitter.  Cat tweeting is apparently serious business. Really makes you take paws.

Water your plantsThis device helps your plants tweet you when they need some H2O. When will  they make one for beer?

Be random — Twitrand lets you generate random tweets from your tweet stream. Why?  Why any of this really.

Learn the rulesThe rules is a hilarious Twitter account which teaches you the rules of life in no particular order.  Today’s wisdom:  Rule No. 537: No speedos, please.

 

Get breaking news on Cheetos — I hate the orange stuff it leaves on your fingers but that doesn’t seem to bother Chester the Cheetah who tweets about a Cheetos wedding, the world’s largest Cheeto, snack impersonators and other tasty tidbits.

Watch the world poop — Everybody does it.  So of course somebody had to put it on Twitter.  TwttrPoop tracks the whole world pooping in real time. They should have called it Twitter Shitter right?  If you thought Twitter was a load of crap, well … now you’re right

Monitor a toilet — You had to know this one was coming. The HacklabToilet in Toronto has a Twitter feed.  Hacklab is a site for hackers in Toronto with a “a strong disdain for twitter” and an urge to wire things to the internet.

Say hello to PeeWee Herman — Hey, he has a new Broadway show now so let’s see what’s up with the ever-boy. Captain Carl rocked.

Follow an execution – In what may be the most distasteful use of Twitter (well, maybe tied with the poop thing) the Utah Attorney General announced the progress of a prisoner’s execution over Twitter.

Track the activities of Superheros — Holy Hashtags Caped Crusader!  You can now follow  Batman (my personal favorite), SpiderMan, and Superman on Twitter.

Get advice on brasYour bra consultant claims that most women are wearing the wrong sized bra. I swear I had no idea.  So don’t be a boob — tune in for the web’s best bra advice.

Tweet while you driveFord announced they will produce a range of tweeting vehicles. The special app will allow the drivers to read their Twitter messages (huh?).  And you’ll be able to reply to tweets as a voice-activated function.

Secretly watch Steve — The Twitter bio description of the ShhDontTellSteve account:  “This is a Twitter page where I secretly tweet about what my roommate Steve is doing at all times.”  Hilarious.

Find people who are addicted to shoesHere is a list of shoe freaks on Twitter.  A well-heeled group apparently.

Read headstones@FindAGrave reports quotes from famous headstones each day. I wonder if they have ghost writers?

Follow your cat’s every move – Sony has developed a prototype cat tweeting device that has a built-in camera, an accelerometer, and a GPS so you will be able to tell when the cat is moving around, eating and sleeping.

So there you have it.  For better or worse, all the world’s showing up on Twitter.  Hope you had some fun with this list!

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Illustration: Geek and Poke
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