We’re told “NO” so many times in life –
don’t break the rules, don’t make mistakes,
don’t express your opinion, don’t do things
you’re not good at, don’t violate norms.
While some NO’s are valid and well-
intentioned, they can create a cumulative
resistance to experimenting, pushing
boundaries, and openness to learning from
That’s a problem when trying to be more
innovative because innovation springs from
experiments, going outside traditional
boundaries, and often discovering what
works by finding out what doesn’t.
For those susceptible to being limited by
this type of thinking, becoming more
innovative depends on developing
perspectives to enhance your
innovativeness. Thankfully, these
perspectives can be developed by using
specific innovation techniques.
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 1
“Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” touches on eight
perspectives and approaches to enhance innovativeness in you
and your team through being:
Introspective – understanding your creative strengths
Diverse – building a creative team with complementary strengths
Forgetful – refreshing your perspective
A Borrower – putting a twist on existing ideas
Open to Possibilities – finding new ways to look at business
and life situations
Inquisitive – collecting and using great questions to see
situations in new ways
A Creator – prioritizing possibilities and getting started bringing
them to fruition
Persistent – tenaciously pursuing possibilities
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 2
A first step in enhancing innovation is understanding where you’re
most and least creative. Talents of greatest interest and passion present
the strongest opportunities for creativity.
Identify your “distinctive talents” – those talents closely associated with
you where you continually improve, you use them to benefit others, and Hidden Talents
there’s an electricity when you engage in them that attracts people.
Are there any of
Use these questions to help identify your distinctive talents:
talents that are
• What things motivate me to get up every morning? hidden ones? If
so, figure out
• How am I of greatest service to others?
how you could
• What functions, talents, & skills do I use (or have used) that provide
others by sharing
the most fulfillment in my job, family relationships / duties, spiritual
life, and personal interests / hobbies?
• How would I spend my time and attention if I didn’t have to work?
Look for opportunities to broadly apply distinctive talents in business
and personal situations to increase your sense of innovation.
Areas that don’t enliven you, and in fact drain energy from you, are ones
in which it is more difficult to be creative. If you are looking for
innovation in these areas, you’ll need other ways to address them.
That’s where diversity comes into play.
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 3
There’s no single creative talent sufficient in and of itself to spur
innovation; creativity is expressed in so many different dimensions. To
bring your innovative perspective to life, complement your own talents
with a great creative team that contributes various talents and points
Check to ensure you have a full range of creative personalities among
your informal creative team’s members. It’s beneficial to have at least
Employ both left (analytical,
one person on your team displaying each of these characteristics: quantitative) and right
(creative, intuitive) brain
thinking approaches within
your creative team to get
“whole brain” thinking.
Inventive / Mechanical Playful
If there’s a talent missing, identify a new person for your creative team
that expresses their innovative approach in that manner. And if you
don’t have a creative team that you can reach out to, start building it!
Just remember – first share your talents with your team before
tapping into theirs.
You’ll truly love the impact that this creative exchange will have on
your ability to innovate!
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 4
While experience and conventional wisdom provide attractive guiding
principles to help speed decision making, they also sit between you and
potentially wonderful new insights.
To be more innovative, you need to be able to selectively turn off
conventional wisdom and functional knowledge to allow new,
unconventional possibilities to emerge.
How do you do that? Here’s some help. When you need an innovative
approach to a common situation, use a few brainstorming guidelines
and a 3-step approach to generate 100 new ideas.
First – the guidelines:
Conventional Wisdom is a
little like the wrapping paper
• Keep it fast, furious, and short – don’t spend hours looking at a
on a present. It is functional
situation from one perspective. Break the time into 20 minute
and may even be very
segments, looking at a challenge from several angles.
attractive itself. But it
stands between you and
• Say what comes to mind – don’t self-censor or censor others when it
whatever cool new thing
comes to new possibilities. Encourage wild ideas. Emphasize you’re being given. To get to
quantity over quality. Rule out critical evaluation at this stage. the great new surprise inside,
you have to first tear off the
• Say ideas aloud. Write them all down on sticky notes so you can paper!
work with them later.
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 5
Forgetful 100 New Possibilities?
Now the three exercises where you can apply the guidelines:
Exercise 1 – Explore Connections: Ask, “What’s this situation
like?” Generalize your situation, select an analogous one to it, and
then apply attributes, lessons, and possibilities from the analogous
situation to your project. Set a goal of 35 possibilities.
Exercise 2 – Look Randomly: Select random words, phrases,
and images from a magazine and ask, “What does this word, phrase,
or image suggest about possibilities for my situation?” Answer the
question at least 35 times. Stuck for a good magazine to use? Try
“Real Simple” or any other big, picture-rich magazine outside
your field of expertise.
Exercise 3 – Rewind & Pair-up: Go back through your 70 new
possibilities and start pairing them up to generate at least 30 more of
Pick: With your 100 new possibilities there could be up to 20 new
100 New Possibilities and
ideas that you can select and innovatively apply to your situation.
Up to 20 Potential Ideas
Beyond generating ideas on your own, look at other sources from to Pursue!
which to borrow and improve upon ideas.
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 6
In Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote, “Neither a borrower nor a lender
be.” Sorry to break the news here, but he was wrong. That's not good
advice for being more innovative!
When it comes to innovation, it’s valuable to both borrow inspiration from
others (making sure that you modify and improve it) and to share your
ideas with others to see if they can enhance them in ways that you couldn’t.
Here are four great ways to improve your borrowing skills:
1. Read material outside your industry and expertise to gain a fresh, new
2. Look for common things in other industries that are foreign to your
market. How can they be tweaked and adapted for your business?
3. Go to a museum and look for ideas you can adapt to business. (If you
work in a museum, go to an innovative business for ideas!)
4. Have someone completely unfamiliar with your situation observe it.
Ask, “What works? What doesn’t work? What is surprising to you about
this situation? What would you recommend in this situation?”
Get out there and start borrowing and lending your way to more great
innovations. And don’t rule out possibilities that might at first appear
unusual – they could be the best answers available!
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 7
Open to Possibilities
It’s vital to become comfortable with considering more possibilities than
you could ever implement. That includes embracing what you can learn
from even apparently unworkable ideas. These are building blocks to
innovation – an impossible idea could be just the trigger to envisioning a
very possible reality.
Actively cultivate your possibilities-generating skills in these three ways:
What if pigs
• Use proven techniques and tools to bolster your innovation skills.
Google innovation creativity techniques brainstorming tools to look for
and test multiple techniques to stretch your thinking.
• Things you think can’t be changed didn’t exist at some point in time.
Ask: What was that time like? If you were put back at that time, how
might you solve your challenge differently?
• Let someone completely unusual solve your problem - maybe a famous
person, a cartoon character, or another business. How? Pick a character.
List 10 ways that they solve problems or similar situations to yours. Then
for each of the approaches, apply them to your challenge, generating at
least 3 new ideas for each one.
Here’s another Google search to do – Edward de Bono. He’s the father of
lateral thinking and searching on his name is a great starting point to check
out thinking, techniques, and books designed to dramatically expand the
questions you ask and possibilities you can imagine.
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 8
Asking great questions helps eliminate many “No’s” preventing
innovation. Thought provoking questions allow people to see things in
new ways. Here are several to generate fresh looks at familiar situations.
• Ask questions that place situations in more extreme contexts,
i.e. “How could we make this as . . . Dramatic as a Broadway opening?
Cool as the design of Apple products? Exciting as an overtime game?
Simple as a baby’s rattle? Fun as a blockbuster comedy movie?
This question structure can be adapted, using descriptors suited to your
A key to solid strategic
situation. thinking is identifying “what
matters” & addressing the
• Use these questions to think innovatively about future threats: answers with insight &
What benefits does our company deliver? If we didn’t deliver them,
who else currently would / could deliver them? Here are questions to help
identify what matters:
What if our company or industry never existed – how would users
satisfy their needs? • What does our brand
Who are the niche players in our markets today that could grow in • What do we most want to
prominence? How might they be defining our business for us right
• How do we describe our
• What’s the biggest
These are just a few examples of innovation-prompting questions. Test
unknown in our business?
these and others that yield lots of possibilities for you to create.
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 9
Something needs to result from innovation or it’s simply an interesting
mental exercise – which is fine, but it makes it difficult to pay the bills
if it doesn’t lead to results!
If you’ve generated a large number and broad range of possibilities, it’s
likely that up to 20% of them have real near-term potential. As a result,
it’s important to systematically prioritize and narrow the list to those
with the strongest potential.
Here’s one way to do it – Have each person on your team select ideas
that they feel strongly about pursuing. Use the formula below to
approximate how many ideas each person can choose for
Approximate Number of Ideas in Total
(5 * Number of Team Members Participating in Prioritization)
Then use a 4-box grid to allow individuals to place their ideas relative
to two dimensions:
Potential Impact – From Minimal to Dramatic
Implementation Ease – From Easy to Difficult
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 10
A Creator Before Discussion
Typically, this initial idea placement yields too many ideas judged to
have dramatic impact while being easy to implement. If true, these
ideas are very attractive!
But often ideas will have less impact or may be more difficult to
implement than originally suspected. This is a great opportunity to
have group discussion on the initial placement of possibilities. Be
willing to move an idea if it’s clearly viewed by the group as stronger or
weaker than its original placement.
The result of this exercise should be a much more refined set of ideas,
with a good deal of input for selecting a few to further develop. After Discussion
From there, it’s important to get going and create an artifact soon! This
allows you to see how an idea might function when developed. Ideally,
you need to be persistent and learn quickly what might and what
might not work as you create real change from your ideas.
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 11
Innovation is a numbers game. You’ve have to be resilient in generating
lots of possibilities, narrowing the list, and learning from every one of
them. An important aspect of that persistence is being able to embody
the characteristics of “Brainzooming.”
What’s Brainzooming? Beyond just supporting innovation,
Brainzooming implies quickly helping a group innovatively address
important issues by:
• Being an energy source – using enthusiasm to spark excitement.
• Providing approbation – reinforcing people for sharing ideas, creating
a verbal reward that engenders more ideas.
• Drawing out non-participants suffering from self- or group
censorship – going out of the way to solicit input from reluctant
• Making connections – listening to what people suggest and tying
together things the group might miss in the throes of ideating.
Through Brainzooming and being a cheerleader for creativity and
change, you can ensure that both you and your team are at your
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 12
More Places to Explore
There are lots of great sources on each of the topics in “Taking the NO Out
of InNOvation.” Here are starting points for further reading on each of
Introspective – “Radical Careering – 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job,
Your Career, and Your Life” by Sally Hogshead, Gotham Books, ISBN: 1-
Diverse – “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie,
Pocket, ISBN: 978-0671723651.
Forgetful – “?What If!: How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work” by
Dave Allan, Matt Kingdon, Kris Murrin, and Daz Rudkin, Capstone
Publishing Limited, ISBN: 1-84112-068-5 (www.whatifinnovation.com/).
A Borrower – “The Marketer's Visual Toolkit” by Terry Richey,
AMACOM, ASIN: 0814402135
Open to Possibilities – “The Art of Possibility – Transforming
Professional and Personal Life” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin
Zander, Harvard Business School Press, ISBN: 0-87584-770-6.
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 13
More Places to Explore
Inquisitive – “75 Cage Rattling Questions” by Dick Whitney &
Melissa Giovagnoli, McGraw-Hill, ISBN: 0070700192
A Creator – “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Random
House, ISBN-10: 1400064287.
Persistent – “The Art of Innovation” by Tom Kelley with Jonathan
Littman, Doubleday, ISBN: 0-385-49984-1. (http://www.ideo.com).
And of course, visit www.creativeinstigation.com – your one stop for
checking out my BrainZooming blog with daily articles on strategy and
innovation and the Creative Instigation blog from Jan Harness, my
creative instigation partner, that features daily insights on creativity in
all its forms.
Embracing the attitudes and the associated approaches described in
this e-book will help you to eliminate, walk around, or blow up all the
NO’s that stand in the way of a more innovative approach in business
and in your personal life.
Have a blast innovating!
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 14
Mike Brown is a frequent keynote presenter and facilitator in
the areas of marketing best practices, innovation, and
strategic thinking. He shares his extensive experience in
these fields through daily strategy and innovation articles on
his website, BrainZooming.blogspot.com.
Additionally, he’s co-authoring and illustrating an upcoming
book titled “Creative Instigation” about spurring creativity in
yourself and your team.
Mike is Vice President – Market Strategy for a Fortune 500
transportation & logistics company based in the Kansas City
area where he leads the research, business intelligence,
marketing communications, and e-commerce efforts.
His personal branding approach has been highlighted in
Fast Company magazine and his material has been featured
in publications for the Transportation Marketing &
Communications Association, Frost & Sullivan, and the
Business Marketing Association.
Contact Mike – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation 15