Keith Harmeyer

Mar 042013

Two shiny light bulbsHave you ever known a time when ideas have been more important, nor so plentiful? Ideas are everywhere lately! Huge ideas, game changing ideas, groundbreaking ideas. All meant to fuel the ever-rising consumer demand for innovation. Creative problem solving has developed into an everyday activity for hundreds of thousands of eager and impressive business people around the world.

The problem is, most don’t have a clue what a “good idea” really is.

All Ideas Are Not Created Equal
Think about it. Simply what constitutes a good idea? That it’s a breakthrough idea and essentially modifies the way folks do things? Just like the Kindle did? Possibly you’ve forgotten the unique Sony Bookman, a monumental failure. Clearly a digital book reader was an amazing idea in 2007 – not so much in 1991.

That it makes use of technologies in highly effective new ways? Was the atomic bomb a good idea? That one continues to be debated.

Because it’s less expensive? The Yugo is considered one of the most disastrous automotive introductions in history.

Since it takes something familiar and “improves” on it? Like Crystal Pepsi in the 90s? Neither lasted a year.

Apparently new, better, improved, technologically advanced and all the other holy grails product developers and marketers seek aren’t what defines a good idea, at least not all the time.

So what are the characteristics of a good idea? Are they particular to the task at hand? Or are there consistent qualities that apply to just about any idea? More important, can they be defined before idea generation begins, to help lead us to the most important, finest idea possible? Or are they only evident after an idea has been conceived, carried out and tested – suggesting that producing good ideas is pretty much a matter of chance?

There are definitely common characteristics shared among all worthwhile ideas. But generally there shall be more specific qualities that have to be present for an idea to be thought of highly effective for solving a particular challenge.

The Common Parts of Good Ideas
– For a good suggestion to be good, it should be at least somewhat different from something else – whatever the new idea is making an attempt to replace. And it should provide some extent of improvement. Otherwise, it’s simply a mediocre idea or a bad idea. It doesn’t really need to be new (as in never before accomplished – as in “innovative”), just different from what has been carried out before for the particular challenge.

Delivers Value – “Value” is a fascinating word in that it requires two connected elements. First, the idea must do something better – faster, cheaper, easier, more elegantly, more powerfully, more successfully, more efficiently. But that improvement must also be something somebody really wants. All of the examples given earlier (and pretty much every other legendary product or marketing blunder) failed because no person really wanted the improvement provided, or at the very least not at the expense of something else more important. Value is, by definition, something “valued.” And it’s an integral part of a very good idea.

Doable – A flying automotive or a home teleportation chamber could be nifty. But sadly both defy the currently accepted laws of physics. For an idea to be good, it must be possible. It might seem obvious, but for those who sit through enough brainstorm sessions, you will hear lots of inconceivable suggestions.

Acceptable Cost-Benefit – If the idea costs more to implement than it can deliver in terms of value, it is impractical. This is applicable not just to financial cost, but time, resources, energy, etc. If no one is prepared to pay the price for whatever benefit the idea delivers, it’s not a good idea.

Particular Criteria for Good Ideas
After all, each problem has its distinctive aspects and requirements. So in addition to the common elements of fine ideas discussed above, you will need to determine what specific characteristics an idea will need to have in order to be considered “good” – and to do so BEFORE you begin generating ideas.

That is rarely the case in practice. In typical group brainstorms, for instance, unless the session leader has been skilled in advanced brainstorming methodologies, it is unlikely that he or she will have considered the objective selection standards for ideas generated.

By taking the time to do that before ideation begins, and sharing these criteria with the group, everyone is on the same page. The group knows what their ideas will be measured against, and can think about this when generating them. Adding this one, simple step to the brainstorming process can lead to dramatically better results, both in terms of quality and quantity of excellent ideas.

If you’re like most people, you’re coming up with ideas all the time. Some for challenges or opportunities in business, some for use in your private life. Take a few moments to consider – ideally before you begin thinking – just what a winning idea will look like.

You’ll find it quite a bit easier to identify when it finally shows up.

About The Author:
SmartStorming helps organizations solve tough business challenges in new, more innovative ways – with advanced brainstorm leadership training, problem solving techniques, brainstorming activities, and a variety of proven skills organizations need to innovate. Learn more about their programs, and groundbreaking book, SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas at

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Feb 112013

Portrait of serious business partners looking at man explaining new idea and listening to himEvery experienced brainstormer has heard the expression, “There’s no such thing as a bad idea!” As a matter of fact, it just might be the #1 “rule” of brainstorming.

But is it really true? Aren’t there at least a few really bad ideas lurking in the shadows?

Most of us have at least a vague understanding of the expression’s meaning-but many of us just don’t buy it. In brainstorming sessions, when this notion is introduced, a heated debate typically ensues. There is always one participant, and often many more, who challenge the notion that bad ideas don’t exist. “Of course there are bad ideas. If we all decided to jump out of the window right now, that would be a bad idea.”

Where It All Began
The “no bad idea” mantra is not a new one. Alex Osborn, considered by many to be the father of brainstorming, believed that in order to be successful at brainstorming, participants must “suspend judgment.” Osborn, like most savvy brainstorm leaders, understood the perils of what happens when people start criticizing ideas in the midst of a session. And most every effective group idea generation methodology continues the tradition.

So why do so many people feel so passionately that there are, indeed, bad ideas-ideas so bad they should be stopped in their tracks, prevented from wasting the time and energy of the group?

To learn more, we decided to post this question on LinkedIn, and see just how varied the responses would be from a variety of respondents: “We’ve all heard the expression, there are no bad ideas. Do you agree? If not, why? If so, what does the expression mean to you?” Here is a small sampling of the range of different responses:

“Of course, there are bad ideas. When your product does not meet customer [expectations], it’s a bad idea.”

“In the army they used to say the only stupid question is the one not asked. There are plenty of stupid ideas but everyone should have the opportunity to express [them].”

“We are taught to encourage everyone to say only positive things to other’s suggestions and keep everything nice and rosy. Unless you want to sit around a campfire, sing kum ba ya and make s’mores, this is ludicrous!

“There are many bad ideas out there, like harming oneself or others, taking advantage of others, and making foolish financial and business decisions.”

“Jumping out of an airplane without a parachute: a BAD idea… Buying MySpace for billions: a BAD idea.”

“I’ve sat in brainstorming sessions where ‘there are no bad ideas.’ Um, there are. OK, some trigger innovative thinking. But, most just waste time. Unfortunately, many people just like to hear themselves talk.”

The debate, it seems, goes on and on.

So… are there bad ideas, or not?
Well, it all depends on how you look at it.

There are obviously ideas that appear unfeasible, impractical, irrational, harmful and potentially devastating. No one of sound mind would propose implementing such an idea, assuming they truly believed it to be “bad.”

The real question is not whether such ideas are “bad,” but rather, should those ideas be cast aside as soon as they’re voiced?

When searching for new, innovative solutions, it is important to give even ideas that resonate as undeniably “bad” a chance to be considered, debated and developed. As Osborn put it, we should suspend judgment. He did not say to eliminate judgment, just to suspend it. This would imply that we will eventually evaluate and judge whether some ideas are unacceptable, impractical or simply off-target. But we must suspend that judgment until an idea has had a chance to “percolate.”

Why “Bad” Ideas Should Be Allowed to Survive… for Awhile
First, and perhaps most obvious, rampant criticism in a brainstorm is offensive to many. When people’s ideas are quickly and consistently shot down, they become intimidated and are reluctant to share-not an ideal situation in a group idea generation session. It takes courage to put forth an idea that is imaginative or radical sounding. Negativity and judgment create an unsafe atmosphere for sharing such ideas.

Next, as a rule of thumb, the idea generation phase of a brainstorm should be spontaneous and free-flowing, where ideas are plentiful, offered spontaneously and without hesitation. The moment an idea is shot down, the free-wheeling momentum will grind to a halt. It can take a group significant time to get back into flow, if they are able to at all. So even if an idea has no value, the “cost” of killing it is too great, when considering the negative impact on the session’s productivity.

Finally, and most important, you never know when a so-called “bad idea” will contain the seeds of greatness within it.

You’ve probably seen it countless times. A “bad,” even absurd idea is offered up, and within minutes it has transformed into a brilliant example of innovative thinking.

In fact, there are some very effective idea generation techniques that actually invite participants to come up with the worst, most ridiculous, even distasteful ideas imaginable-and then to turn around or transform those ideas into great ones. (Techniques like “180-Degree Thinking” or “Counter-Intuitive Thinking,” for example.)

To get back to our somewhat extreme, “what if we all jumped out of the window” example… clearly this is a bad sounding idea. But from such an idea, one might develop an innovative emergency personal parachute product for individuals working in tall buildings. Or conceive an improved process for evacuation from high floors during a fire. A new “team hang gliding” extreme sports event. A breakthrough advertising concept where a group of people are able to fly after consuming a new beverage. You name it! Any of these, and an infinite number of other possibilities, could be born from the “bad idea” that everyone in the room should jump out of a window.

That is, unless the idea is shot down before the potentially great idea within it has a chance to blossom. And that is the point: to suspend judgment until an idea has had a fair chance to show all it’s got.

The Right Time to Kill an Idea
So when is it appropriate and even productive to reject an idea?

One of the most important concepts to understand about successful group idea generation is that there is a time to generate ideas, and a time to judge and select. These are two very different and distinct processes that require different thinking skills. During idea generation, thinking must remain free, spontaneous and free of any negativity or judgment. This is the optimal condition for generating the greatest breadth and depth of fresh ideas possible.

Later, once the idea generation process has been completed, it is then time to switch to the process of evaluating and selecting ideas, and subject the best ones to critique. It is during this phase in the session (or in a subsequent session) that ideas should be judged worthy or unworthy, practical or implausible, etc.

By keeping these two processes separate, you optimize your effectiveness at both.

Most of us enter a brainstorm with the goal of generating fresh, innovative, game-changing ideas. However if judgment and criticism are part of the ideation process, it is highly unlikely that goal will be achievable.

Suspend judgment. Even if you know, without a doubt, that an idea is bad-really bad, even horrible-let it live, just for awhile. You just might find a game-changer hidden inside!

Now, doesn’t that sound like a good idea?

About The Author:
SmartStorming helps organizations solve tough business challenges in new, more innovative ways – with advanced brainstorm leadership training, problem solving techniques, brainstorming activities, and a variety of proven skills organizations need to innovate. Learn more about their programs, and groundbreaking book, SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas at

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Dec 152011

six brainsOne of the simplest, most valuable skills a brainstorm facilitator can develop is the ability to “read the direction” in which their group’s thoughts are flowing. Just like the ebbing and flowing tides of an ocean or river, collaborative thinking flows in one of two distinct directions: 1) it can diverge outward, in a broad, multidirectional, expansive exploration of ideas; or 2) it can converge inward, narrowing focus in an effort to judge, select and eliminate ideas.

Divergent and Convergent Thinking
Divergent thinking opens the imagination to all possibilities, while convergent thinking analyzes and chooses from among those possibilities. In a sense, divergent and convergent thinking are the Yin and Yang of creative problem solving. Neither is superior to the other – simply more appropriate for the task at hand. And both processes are essential to the ultimate success of any group idea generation session. So it’s important to understand their relative benefits, to identify when and under what circumstances each type of thinking is taking place, and to learn how to guide the group back to the most appropriate and effective method of thinking.

The Benefits of Divergent Thinking
Divergent thinking allows a group to generate as many fresh, new ideas as possible in a short timeframe. During this process all judgment is suspended, the group is encouraged to go for quantity of ideas, not quality, spontaneously build on one another’s ideas, and push the boundaries of the imagination…even wild, crazy, audacious ideas are welcome. In fact, the motto for divergent thinking is, “Everything is possible!” All ideas are equally embraced and recorded. In divergent thinking there really is no such thing as a bad idea. The goal is to simply achieve the largest creative yield of ideas and new connections possible. Look at divergent thinking as “big picture,” unencumbered by any practical or logistical constrains, limitations, or judgments.

The Benefits of Convergent Thinking
If divergent thinking is casting the widest net possible to capture new ideas, then convergent thinking can be thought of as harvesting of the very best of catch. Just as a funnel decreases the scope of a substance, so that it fits through a narrow opening, convergent thinking narrows down a large number of ideas through the process of analyzing, judging, eliminating and selecting. Convergent thinking is ideally suited for thoroughly evaluating the merits of an idea, or seeing how well it holds up to scrutiny based on pre-established criteria. We use convergent thinking to gain clarity, consider practical constraints, draw conclusions, determine the bottom-line, and select the best ideas.

When Thinking Processes Collide
As we mentioned earlier, each of the two thinking processes has an essential role to play in an effective brainstorm. However, if they take place simultaneously, or at the inappropriate time, they will quickly become an obstacle to success. Like matter and antimatter, one will neutralize the benefits of the other and create potentially “explosive” situations.

For example, imagine your group is in the middle of a spirited “blue sky” exploration of new, inventive ways to promote your product or service in light of new competition (divergent thinking). Suddenly a participant begins to judge or shoot down fledgling ideas they feel aren’t worthy of consideration (convergent thinking). What happens? The spontaneous outflow of idea sharing comes to a grinding halt. People clam up, become defensive and withhold their thoughts in fear of being judged or ridiculed. It takes a vigilant and skilled facilitator to spot convergent thinking when it seeps into the divergent ideation process. To get the session back on track, the facilitator must quickly stop the judgment and shift the group back in the direction of productive, divergent thinking.

Conversely if your group is in the selection process of narrowing down an abundance of ideas, convergent thinking is just the method you need. By assessing and judging ideas according to an established list of objective criteria, you can quickly separate the wheat from the chaff. However, if divergent thinking enters your evaluation process, your group will start free-associating ways to save an impractical idea… or worse, spontaneously begin a whole new round of unnecessary idea-generation. When this occurs, the objective selection process gets hijacked; sessions run overtime, and usually end without closure.

The Best of Both Worlds
An awareness and understanding of both these types of collaborative thinking can have a profound impact on the ultimate effectiveness of your idea generation sessions. Learn to identify them quickly. Develop skills for guiding or redirecting your group’s attention in the most productive direction. Then watch, not just as the ideas flow – but as the very best rise to the top.

About the Authors:
SmartStorming (R) partners, Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer have a combined 45 years experience working with Fortune 500 companies as creative leaders in the advertising and strategic marketing communications fields. SmartStorming methodologies are the result of their personal experience and expertise, as well as extensive research and practical application in the areas of innovation, peak creative performance, group dynamics and interpersonal communication.SmartStorming helps organizations solve tough business challenges in new, more innovative ways than they ever imagined possible – with the expertise, structure, and proven tools organizations need to think more creatively, change behaviors and generate the kinds of ground-breaking ideas that drive innovation. To learn more about SmartStorming, visit their blog at or their company site at

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Dec 012011

woman leading a group meetingGroup brainstorming, as we know it today, has been around since the 1930s. For the most part, it hasn’t changed all that much in the past seventy-plus years, except in one respect: the development of new ideation techniques.

Ideation techniques are, quite simply, novel thought-provoking exercises designed to help groups tackle challenges in ways they might not otherwise consider. Some make it easier for groups to view issues from fresh perspectives; others provide engaging processes to help stimulate imagination, overcome shyness, facilitate collaboration, and much more.

In short, ideation techniques make it possible for groups to generate a greater breadth and depth of ideas (i.e., more, better ideas).

Anyone who takes even a few moments to Google “ideation techniques” will learn that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, around. Some are well-known and extensively documented; others are less-so.

We recently conducted a survey to find out just where people stand on ideation techniques-which ones they know, which ones they use in brainstorms, and what they think about them. The results are interesting, if not completely surprising.

When asked whether they believe knowing and using different ideation techniques is beneficial to brainstorming, the answer was a resounding “Yes!”

However, when provided a list of well-known ideation techniques, only one had relatively broad awareness-Mind Mapping-followed by Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and the widely-used S.W.O.T. Analysis. All others listed had less than 7% awareness.

And when asked what other techniques (not listed in the survey) they used, more than 54% of listed no additional techniques at all; and fewer than 10% listed more than two.

It is important to note that this survey was conducted among an audience that is probably more tuned-in to advanced brainstorming and ideation techniques than the average businessperson. And yet, it is clear that even among this group, very few know, understand and use a range of ideation techniques.

Again, this result isn’t entirely surprising. In our own ongoing research, we find that fewer than 10% of individuals in any industry (even creativity-focused businesses like advertising and design) have had any training whatsoever in brainstorming and group ideation. Those that have typically know one or two ideation techniques, but nothing about brainstorming session structure or facilitation skills.

And so it would appear that while we understand and acknowledge the value of having a library of ideation techniques at our disposal, few of us make the effort to identify and learn those techniques.

In this era of the “innovation economy,” it is bewildering that individuals and organizations still don’t recognize the importance of idea generation. Business success today requires continuous reevaluation and reinvention of one’s business offering. Once organizations could thrive for decades on a single great idea; today they need a great idea every year, and in some cases every month or week.

Only by taking the personal initiative to educate oneself in a variety of ideation techniques-and to offer training throughout one’s organization in effective brainstorm leadership and facilitation-can anyone hope to survive and thrive in today’s competitive business environment.

Innovation begins with ideas. No ideas, no innovation.

How many great ideas did you and your team come up with today?

About the Authors:
SmartStorming (R) partners, Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer help organizations solve tough business challenges in new, more innovative ways than they ever imagined possible – with advanced brainstorm leadership training, creative brainstorming techniques, and a variety of proven tools organizations need to think more creatively, change behaviors and generate the kinds of ground-breaking ideas that drive innovation. To learn more about SmartStorming, visit their blog at

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Nov 172011

mature businessman thinkingIn a recent, much-referenced study conducted by IBM Global Business Services, a group of over 1,500 CEOs in 60 nations and 33 industries agreed that “creativity” is now the most important leadership quality for success in business.

Not “global focus,” not “integrity,” not even much heralded “sustainability.” But “creativity.”

Steven Tomasco, of IBM Global Business Services, found the result surprising, considering that we have just come out of (hopefully) an historic economic downturn the likes of which most of these CEOs have never experienced in their professional lives.

In terms of actual percentages, 60% of those surveyed ranked “creativity” in the #1 spot. Second was “integrity.” (With all due respect to Steven Tomasco,we would suggest this is the more surprising result in this era of “the end justifies the means” corporate management.)

In fact, for those fortunate enough to have had access to the crystal ball of business success over the past several years, in our new “innovation economy,” that “creativity” holds the #1 spot is hardly surprising. In fact, it is expected.

If there is a secret of business success today, it is the willingness and ability to continually reinvent one’s value proposition, deliver ever-increasing value to customers and recognize that the consumer calls the shots-every shot.

Consider that 88% of CEOs surveyed also ranked “getting closer to the customer” as the #1 area of focus, followed closely by “people skills” (81%) and “insights and intelligence” (76%).

Creativity, people skills, insights/intelligence… it all boils down to a consumer-driven success model.

The dominant businesses in today’s marketplace understand this. They work diligently to stay one step ahead of the consumer’s need. It’s no longer about the ability to respond-it’s about the need to anticipate. Give your customers what they want-before they even know they want it-and you will rise to the top of the competitive corporate food chain. Fail to do so, even for a moment, and prepare to fall, rapidly.

So what does creativity have to do with all of this? Why is it necessary to “think outside the box” in order to meet consumer demand?

Because your customers don’t have a clue what they will want tomorrow-even though they want it now. And they are not going to tell you; that’s too much work. They want you to tell them; and when they see it, they’ll know it. Tell them what they want, and if you are correct, you win the brass ring. And if you don’t, someone else most certainly will.

There’s a bit of alchemy involved in this, the ability to ask, “What if?”

“What if my customers had ? How would it make their lives better, easier, more productive?”

This business model is not for the faint of heart. It is not built upon market data (backwards focused), proven successes (backwards focused) or established business practices (backwards focused). It is built upon vision…and the ability to manifest it.

Apple understands. So does Google. Microsoft did once. So did AOL and iomega and countless others who have tripped, stumbled and gone plummeting off the front pages of the business press. Business success means redefining oneself daily. These surveyed corporate leaders know this, even if they are not presently doing it. Those who will ultimately act upon it will be around to respond to the next IBM survey. Those who don’t???

What if? That is the pressing question. Can you provide the answer?

About the Authors:
SmartStorming (R) partners, Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer help organizations solve tough business challenges in new, more innovative ways than they ever imagined possible – with advanced brainstorm leadership training, creative brainstorming techniques, and a variety of proven tools organizations need to think more creatively, change behaviors and generate the kinds of ground-breaking ideas that drive innovation. To learn more about SmartStorming, visit their blog at

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Nov 032011

female chef in front of room of chairsEvery day, in conference rooms around the world, tens of thousands of brainstorms take place. Workgroups come together (often with trepidation) to generate fresh ideas, solve problems, explore opportunities and identify new ways to achieve success. In fact, in a world where advancing technology allows more and more tasks to be accomplished by fewer and fewer people, the brainstorm is one of the few remaining collaborative business processes.

Some question the effectiveness of brainstorming, and for good reason. Most sessions aren’t planned or facilitated very well, and all-too-often deliver disappointing results in terms of the breadth and depth of ideas actually generated, as well as a less-than-pleasant experience for participants.

However numerous studies show that when brainstorms are conducted well, the opposite is the case – the process is consistently productive and gratifying. So apparently the problem isn’t brainstorming, it’s brainstorming as typically practiced.

So just what does the typical brainstorm look like? Here are several of the most common types of brainstorming experiences, each of which is a reflection of the personal style of the individual leading the session, the participating group and the prevailing business culture in which the brainstorm takes place.

Pressure Cooker
Don’t you realize that generating ideas is serious business? The Pressure Cooker brainstorm is intense, overly focused and not the least bit fun. In fact, just a few moments of spontaneous laughter or lightness is frowned upon, and the offenders are reprimanded for “not taking the task seriously.” The team has work to do; this is no time for play! Of course, the most effective brainstorms always contain a degree of lightness and joyful exploration and wonder. They are a creative process, after all. An overly serious environment reduces spontaneity and can literally inhibit or even shut down creative thinking. Try approaching even the most serious challenges with a sense of childlike curiosity. Think of brainstorms as “play with purpose.”

The antithesis of the Pressure Cooker, in these excessively laid back, “no worries” brainstorms, everyone wastes away…their time, that is. No structure, no clear goals or objectives, no leadership skills, all contribute to an enjoyable, but otherwise worthless experience. The conversations veer repeatedly off topic, the fun and lightness referred to earlier escalate to the level of silliness, and little, if anything, gets accomplished. Many people fall into the Margaritaville trap because they believe that brainstorms, as a creative activity, should be loose and unstructured. But nothing could be further from the truth. It is a well-known fact among creative professionals that creativity without structure leads to chaos. The most effective brainstorms always provide an organized process to help keep people’s creative thinking focused and productive.

Friday the 13th
These high-stakes brainstorms inspire fear in even the most courageous of participants. There is danger lurking at every turn, and you never know who’s going to get their heads chopped off next-simply for sharing an idea that the resident “Idea Assassin” feels is unworthy of consideration. And not only are potentially great ideas systematically killed off…so is everyone’s enthusiasm and willingness to participate. These brainstorms typically start off uncomfortable and end up in utter discouragement. In contrast, high-powered brainstorming sessions are always “judgment-free zones,” where everyone feels safe to share even their most off-the-wall ideas.

Déjà Vu
Been there, done that. These brainstorming sessions feel eerily the same-as the last one, and the one before that and the one before that. Same people, same group dynamics, same areas of exploration, and worst of all, same tired, old ideas. When you remain in safe, familiar, territory and never venture out from the status quo, how can you NOT generate the same results? And when you have no fresh, new thinking, there is no innovation. Successful teams regularly inject their brainstorms with a healthy dose of diversity in personalities, background and points of view, plus new types of ideation techniques to engage minds in new and different ways.

Let’s get ready to rumble! This brainstorm style is a true battle royale, where two or more participants duke it out to decide whose ideas are best. Funny thing is, it’s always their own ideas they’re fighting for. Most of the time one or two strong, imposing personalities totally dominate these sessions, leaving very little room for others to share. The conflict rages on throughout the brainstorm, and when the dust settles, everyone is emotionally bruised, battered and exhausted. In contrast, great brainstorms feel effortless. Teams quickly get into “the zone” and stay there. Time flies, and so do the game-changing ideas!

Of course, these are just a few examples. There are as many different styles of brainstorms as there are brainstorm leaders and participants. It is human nature to superimpose our own personalities, interests, beliefs, insecurities, preferences, etc. onto whatever we create, and brainstorms are no exception.

By all means, make your brainstorms your own. Research, learn and make use of your favorite ideation techniques. Try different icebreaker activities to get your group aligned and collaborating quickly. Just make sure that whatever you do, you always foster an environment where participants feel safe in sharing, where they can embrace and enjoy their creative spirits, and where the seeds of innovation can take root and grow.

About the Authors:
SmartStorming helps organizations solve tough business challenges in new, more innovative ways – with advanced brainstorm leadership training, problem solving techniques, brainstorming activities, and a variety of proven skill organizations need to innovation. Learn more at

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Oct 202011

sketch of a helicopterInnovation has become the benchmark of success, particularly in the current business environment. Companies in every industry are stepping up their efforts to become more innovative in the way they work, communicate and produce the goods and services they sell. But with such an objective, the obvious challenge becomes, how to identify the individuals within an organization who possess the greatest potential to innovate.

While everyone has the innate ability to engage in creative thinking, there are seven common traits that innovative leaders like da Vinci, Edison, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs share; seven traits that propel them to think outside the confines of conventional wisdom and imagine breakthrough concepts that change the way you and I live and experience the world.

The seven traits of highly innovate thinkers are:

  1. Curiosity – Curiosity is the first step toward discovery. It is the “beginner’s mind,” a deep, child-like sense of wonder about the world, the relationship between different things and how things work.
  2. Imagination – Before you can develop a new idea, you must first be able to conceive it, to envision the very possibility that it could exist. Innovation is fueled by leaps of the imagination, making novel new connections between seemingly disparate ideas, concepts or objects.
  3. Intuition – Making decisions based on facts and figures is fine in many instances. But true innovation is more often born from that internal “knowing,” the guiding force, sixth sense or gut feeling to follow one’s instincts, no matter how unconventional or illogical the direction.
  4. Inventiveness – The ability to change the status quo requires an inquisitive passion for “tinkering.” Innovators possess the desire to arrange and re-arrange ideas or things in new and different combinations.
  5. Playfulness – It is when you get “lost in your work” that amazing things begin to happen. Time, self-consciousness, seriousness and any sense of limitation falls away, and challenges are handled with ease. The attitude of playfulness is, “Everything is possible.”
  6. Flexibility – The capacity to suspend judgment and embrace two (or more) seemingly contradictory or unrelated viewpoints at the same time helps create a dynamic tension that ultimately stimulates creative resolutions (solutions).
  7. Persistence – All the creative talent in the world is of no value if you give up before the work is done. Persistence, the passion, willpower and enthusiasm to overcome setbacks and discouragement, allows innovative thinkers to keep trying new possibilities until success is achieved.

Of course, there is no secret recipe for innovation. It requires an ongoing commitment on the part of an organization and the individuals within to relentlessly pursue new, better ways of doing business, and to never accept anything less than the best possible outcome. But these seven key traits are an excellent starting point for building your innovation foundation.

Start to recognize the individuals around you who naturally possess these traits, and encourage them to make frequent use of them. And nurture these traits in others who aren’t as naturally inclined. Acknowledge and reward creative thinking, responsible risk-taking and questioning the status quo. And in no time you will have fostered a thriving culture of innovation which can lead to only one thing: greater success.

About the Authors:

Mitchell Rigie and Keith Harmeyer have a combined 40+ years experience working in the strategic marketing communications field. SmartStorming: Advanced Training in Innovative Thinking is the result of their personal experience and expertise, as well as extensive research and practical application. To learn more about SmartStorming, visit their blog at or their company site at

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