Innovators share the lessons they’ve learned during 2004

Innovators share the lessons they’ve learned during 2004

What is the most important lesson you learned regarding innovation, creativity or brainstorming during 2004?

Thanks to all of you who responded. Your ideas, tips and strategies are diverse, thought provoking and were downright fun to read. So here, without further ado, are your ruminations on the lessons you have learned and the insights you’ve gained about innovation:

Have Fun

Lesson #1: Have fun. A client of mine, Quill (a division of Staples), brought the concept of reality television into their organization. The competition, called “The Quillionaire”, has three teams competing each month on various business problems (a la “The Apprentice”). The results have been spectacular. And we have generated (and are now implementing) multi-million dollar ideas. The video of the competition is shown throughout the company on plasma screens. Employees vote on their favorite solutions (“You’re Hired”) for selected challenges. The competition is then expanded beyond the 3 teams to a larger community of innovation, and the company as a whole. Want to see real creativity? Give this a try!

— Stephen M. Shapiro, President, The 24/7 Innovation Group

People make the difference in innovation

We could use the best tools and the best partners, but the real focus on innovation is people, because they make the difference. On this worlds I think that the best strategy is to clean up the past bad experiences, transform the company culture. The first step is to analyze the CEO and board minds and with the results design the changes needs here and tools to use (here is the biggest wall to change the corporation culture in the way to innovative environment).

— Eduardo Freitas Lume Tecnologia

Insight into effective innovation management

My most important lesson from both successes and failures during 2004 is, that innovation management is people management. The tools can help and support, but, at the end of the day it is your skill and focus on the participants and stakeholders that determines the tilt towards success – or failure.

— Thomas Mathiasen, Founder, TM-Innovation

The One Week Later Syndrome

An interesting lesson I learned is what I like to call the ‘one week later syndrome’, where your best ideas come one week after a brainstorming session. During the creation of my creativity card game, MetaMemes, which simulates a brainstorming session, I did a lot of play testing with different groups of people, and what started out as an observation I made myself turned into a consensus from others. I realized some of my best ideas came one week after playing MetaMemes. It wasn’t exactly 1 week, but the general principle was that even though many good ideas come up during a brainstorming session, some of my best ideas came after the session. It’s the classic example of incubation, which is obviously the hardest aspect of creativity to replicate, especially in a brainstorming session. This insight turned into a best practice I have implemented: To get the most out of a brainstorming session, you need to have a regular session or at the very least a follow up session after about a week.

— Kes Sampanthar, Chief Propeller Head, MetaMemes

Keep learning

I suppose my most important lesson was to take a personal inventory of my skills, likes and dislikes, and areas that I should pay more attention to. I am still learning to write. I made a lot of headway in 84 when I started my dissertation. At 63, I’m still learning how to communicate with the written word. A long time ago, someone told me that if I could write instructions that are understood by a ten-year-old, and the youngster understood my directions well enough to teach someone else how to perform the task, I had mastered technical writing and written communication. I’ve never tested the hypothesis, but it sounds like something we should aim for.

I’ve also learned to listen more attentively in all kinds of formal and casual conversation. It’s amazing how many folks nod yes, when they mishear or misunderstand something that’s being said. I catch people in conversations all the time that nod yes when they didn’t hear everything or misheard something. I also read across an even wider spectrum of magazines, books and publications on the Internet. I don’t limit myself to my “fields”. I don’t always seek out material that I know I will like because I agree with it.

Well past the mid-point of my life, I’m beginning to think my years of formal education could have been better spent by hiring subject matter experts to coach and tutor me. I’ve learned far more out of school than in school. I was equipped at a young age with one of the best tools. It was my ability to read. Later, as my confidence grew and my ego came under control, I learned to ask questions. I ask questions all the time. If someone looks at me with a frown, I say, “I’m nosey. Can you tell me how you did/found/do/understand/see/conclude that?”

— Thomas Pitre, Sequim, WA

Co-opetition helps create intersections of ideas

Competition is out. Co-opetition should be on top of the agenda. To solve the complex problems we face we need to develop our collaborative skills to find uniqueness and not by creating just another border. The new will be in the intersection between people, cultures and ideas. Here we find the the path to future success. Let’s change the game!”

— Steffen Konrath, IM-BOOT Online Magazine

Capture ideas – any time, anywhere

The new habit that has really paid off this year has been making an effort to capture ideas at any time. I find that creativity happens continuously, not just when you need it to. I have a spiral-bound pad that goes everywhere. Any random thoughts get written on it (just a keyword is often enough), processed later, then torn out. At a higher level, I have a series of mind maps that organize and develop ideas, and serve as a review system before going to the next stage of deciding whether to integrate or incubate. If you don’t capture these things when they occur, they are gone forever, and don’t happen as often. It you capture them for later processing, they just keep coming.

— Nick Duffill, Gyronix

Innovation is a journey

Probably my most important lesson is that improving innovation and creativity for business applications should to be in the context of a sound, fundamental business model. Too often innovation and creativity are thought of as brainstorming interventions. To have a meaningful impact, you need to think of innovation as a journey and consider issues of vision/mission/strategy, target customer, creating a holistic experiences that delight these key customers, core competencies, organization environment, leadership competency, etc.

— Andrew Arken, Director, Andrew Arken Innovation Partnerships, LLC

Aim high

Peter Drucker pointed out in a book published in 1968, that most people, even people of considerable ambition, aim too low. Further, it takes just as much energy and resources to tackle a $million or $billion project as it does to tackle a $trillion challenge. Make sure that you don’t aim too low.
— Brian H. Barron, Founder & CEO, General Innovation, Inc.

Diversity, Diversity, Diversity!

This is one of those things we all know but this year I had a couple of strong reminders about how important it is to have people with different perspectives, thinking styles, experiences, skills and mindsets focused on an issue of mutual concern. I’ve made Deliberate Diversity a mantra.

— Joyce Wycoff, co-founder, InnovationNetwork

Opportunities offered by innovation

Creativity, and innovation are vital to the success and sustainability of an organisation especially one in the IT industry. In a time when IT is becoming a commodity and struggling to justify its existence let alone attract large investments to implement new tools and techniques, Innovation is bringing to the surface ways, of using existing systems and data in new and more business effective ways. Creativity will allow us to see what we have in place in new and more effective ways, offering the business exciting new ways of delivering products and services to their customer base and at the same time attracting new customers.

— Greg Steward, Branch Manager, Trilogy CSI

Mind mapping helps engineer the new

Innovation tools has re-awakened my interest in mindmapping. Had researched Tony Buzan’s brainstorming techniques for holistic entrainment many years ago. Going to buy mindmap software in the new year to help focus and frame a multitude of creative projects. In general just an excellent resource site for software, books, etc. on helping the imagination engineer the new.
— David Brydges, CEO (chief enthusiasm officer), Blue Apple Press

People are the key to innovation

It would be difficult to say that there was only one important thing that I learnt! But yes, there is a common thread – people! I realized how important “people” were to whatever I did! And so it follows to everything that happens around us. Without people – and various characteristics related to them – I believe that nothing would be possible! I learnt that “Ask and Thou Shalt Get” is true – because people intrinsically are helpful. I learnt that inherently – everyone wants to trust and if given an opportunity – everyone does trust! I had a great time in 2004 – interacting with people from a huge variety of backgrounds! I have learnt that it is better to explore and test the waters than sit back and be cynical – thinking that one will never be able to do it!

— Naina Redhu, ASIDE Consulting

Taking innovation worldwide

In 2004, I’ve been working for a British group to make a world wide innovation session in eight different countries including US (Chicago), I have convinced them that it was a good idea to make a creative session with their Shanghai team. I was really preoccupied when I have started the two days session we called the “Magic Box” with 15 people coming from Bejing and Shanghai. It was great Chuck. For some of them, probably it was the very first time they were asked to be really creative, to think about their future, to think for non-Chinese market. So my most important lesson is : In innovation management, the job is not only to listen to creative people and manage their ideas, but also – even if it’s more difficult – to unleash the creativity of so-called non creative people. The result is amazing.

— Pierre A. d’Huy, Partner, expertsconsulting Paris

The importance of visual thinking

The important part that visual thinking and use of images has in developing new ideas, understanding old ideas and in communicating and being understood by a wider audience.

— Dave Farquhar, Training Manager, Discover Financial


In 2004, I learned that the concept of anti-knowledge seems to be a bit too much for people to digest. I’ve had lots of difficulty getting what I believe to be an quantum leap concept to take hold. Everyone seems quietly interested, but no one seems to know quite what to do with it. Anti-knowledge is the realm of perceivable questions around a particular topic that, when discovered and structured methodically, create new knowledge, solutions, etc.

— Bruce LaDuke, Managing Director, Anti-Knowledge Enterprises, LLC

The importance of collaboration

The probability for innovation increases significantly within intelligent environments rich in information, skills, intellectual and social capital, and cooperation networks. A major component of these collaborative environments is created by multimedia tools, networking infrastructures and interactive technologies, operating in five pathways towards innovation: (1) market and technology intelligence, (2) technology transfer and IPR offer and demand, (3) spin-off creation combining R&D results and venture capital financing, (4) collaborative new product development, and (5) process innovation based on cost and transaction saving technologies. A collection of tools and multimedia which enable individuals and organizations to share knowledge and collaborate within virtual spaces is presented in However, the effectiveness of virtual innovation spaces is extremely limited if they are disconnected from creative organizations, communities, and clusters.

— Nicos Komninos, Professor Dr. Urban Development and Innovation Policy, URENIO Research Unit, Aristotle University

Affinity diagram process proves effective

This may be very old fashioned, but I have used the affinity diagram process to excellent effect this year with a number of various groups. It goes well because of the concept of SILENT idea generation. I use sticky notes and markers – one idea per note. SILENT idea generation and SILENT arrangement of the ideas into groups is powerful because of 1) anonymity and 2) extroverts cannot dominate and 3) guarantee that there is NO negative or positive reaction to the ideas generated. It is a great way to brainstorm and help groups come up with creative ideas and plan their priorities and work going forward. I used it for a group I belong to at church this year and that was a success too.

— Doug Fine, Director of OD and Professional Learning, MCG Health Inc.

Just do it!

I don’t know that it’s something I’ve observed in particular this year, but it goes something like this: “There is magic in the attempt.” The gist is that things have a way of coming together in the doing, beyond what one might be able to anticipate in forethought. There is a spiritual parallel to this in subjects of meditation/prayer/seeking/longing, that we might be tempted to explain away as some kind of reconciliation of facts and possibilities on a non-conscious level. (It works … often astounding in how well, and how dependably.)

— Wayne W. Becker, Salutary Technology, Inc.

Use the right tools to generate ideas

Here are probably two of the most important lessons learned 2005 for me:

“When working in group the ‘creativity tools’ and ‘whack level’ must be adjusted to the level of the group. A group that consider Post-it notes as the prime tool for creativity might not enjoy making snow sculptures representing the corporate mission. And the other way around. Best result in group is when tools and whack levels are in level with group experience & expectation.”

“Not! This is a word that are more useful then we might think. Many time we describe what we are, what things are, what we are to achieve, what the project is going to deliver. But equally interesting – and often very thought provoking – is to reverse and consider what we NOT are, what we NOT are trying to achieve – and what the project is NOT going to deliver. The “not” here is not a restriction – but actually more of an opener and widener (assuming that ‘widener’ is a word…).”

— Anders Jangbrand, jangan dabla design thinking

Start with a clearly-defined problem

My most important learning came from participating as a judge in a global innovation challenge involving 251 MBA teams from 17 countries ( conducted on the Internet. The first was when I helped the corporate sponsors craft the actual challenge statements. These often are poorly worded, crammed with limiting criteria and sometimes difficult to determine what the primary objective is. So, starting with the best statement prior to any ideation is critical (I’m working on a book concept involving that, now tentatively titled, “Frame Bending”). My second earning came when I served as a in person judge for the ten finalists held in Phoenix. The winning team gave the best presentation based on their research and the fact that it was coherent, in that all the pieces held together and the final product was well-crafted just as if it were a tangible product. The client agreed and a team from Spain won the $20,000 prize! The winning team took their concept from beginning to end and the client’s approval is the ultimate judge.

— Andy VanGundy

The power of subconscious brainstorming

The lesson I learned was how to do subconscious brainstorming. It really works, is simple , yet powerful.

1. Consciously think of the situation, problem or opportunity on which you want your subconscious to work on

2. Consciously tell your subconscious that you want it to (brainstorm) provide ideas for the situation defined above.

3. Stop consciously working on the problem, take a break, go to lunch, etc. This allow your subconscious brainstorming time to develop ideas.

4. After returning from your break tell your subconscious that you are ready for its ideas.

5. Next and the key to this subconscious brainstorm technique is to write ideas as fast as you can. No matter how foolish the idea/thought might appear, write whatever comes to mind. By writing FAST you are tapping into subconscious thoughts that are normally blocked by conscious thinking. DO NOT LIFT THE PEN FROM THE PAPER FOR 2-4 MINUTES. This technique will fail if you start consciously thinking about what you are writing.

6. Lastly, consciously review your subconscious brainstorm list and to see if there are ideas of value.

— Dennis Heindl, Nth Degree Software, Inc.

Insights into the process of innovation

I think the lesson(s) I’ve learnt has come from three factors that seem to inter-link around the process of innovation:

1) Nearly all the parties I come in contact with have a definition of innovation then promptly forget the key aspect of it, that it should have an end result of”’commercialization” or “realization”

2) A sum of many different parts is not thought through enough and then the parties are surprised it still does not make the ‘whole’ in finding a successful innovation process and finally

3) So much emphasis is placed on the front end and not enough on successful implementation through project management skills to constantly repeat and embed the process, that this then leads to disappointment and disillusionment. It seems so many stumble along not treating the process seriously and this erodes confidence in innovation.

— Paul Hobcraft, Founder, HOCA International, Singapore


What I learned regarding innovation this year is that experimentation never fails (Max DePree).

— Tracy Buzzell, Program Manager, YouthFutures, Inc.

Focus on your strengths

Through the course of the year 2004, we learned a very important lesson at We will be most successful if we focus on what we do best. Many people are tempted to invest in areas in which they are not strong, in order to improve that weakness. But the key to success is to do just the opposite–continue to invest in areas that you are already strong, and make them even stronger. An appropriate analogy is, should Tiger Woods spend a little less time playing golf and take up tennis instead? Of course not. He’s already a world class golfer, so why should he invest time in tennis? In recent years, we’ve been distracted with new opportunities that have looked very attractive; but they were not areas in which we were strong. This year, we’ve invested in our strengths: our SmartDraw product line and Internet Marketing. This has resulted in strong growth.

— Paul Stannard, CEO, SmartDraw

Democracy at odds with new ideas?

That as hard as we’ve tried all these years to make the world more conducive to new ideas, the irrepressible stupidity of the American electorate has voted us back into the Stone Age.

— Peter Lloyd, GoCreate

How can you make technology work for you?

As I have tried to pitch ActiveWords (his product) to anyone and everyone, I keep learning that it is not whether there are innovative technologies out there, there are all kinds of them! The real test is whether you can aggregate one or more of the innovative technologies that you encounter to work for you? If you can then the result becomes an explosive result rather than simply doing something a little faster and a little better. But this type of thinking requires work, something that many people don’t seem to be willing to do. Also, it requires a little vision and imagination, but when you connect these dots, and watch out!

— Burton L. Bruggeman, ActiveWords, Inc.

Let go of fear

The most insightful lesson I learned this year about creativity and innovation came from my 5 year old son who is completely unselfconscious about calling string cheese, “scream cheese” and daily demonstrates the freedom of creativity by doodling on any piece of paper in sight with any type of writing utensil and fashioning elaborate stories from his story books. The lesson I learned is absence of fear and adult ego releases us to freely create our greatest masterpieces whether inspiring our children’s creativity, initiating a new idea at work, or turning a hobby into a profitable business. Like Susan Jeffers says, “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway!”

— Celia Szelwach, CEO Creative Collaborations Consulting


The main learning I had in 2004: Willpower like confidence and courage is an inside-out process. You need will power to get willpower.

— Dr.B. Bowonder, Tata Management Training Centre

Springboard stories

The effectiveness of springboard stories as per Denning.

— Ben Royal, Maytag Mexico

Ask other people for ideas

It doesn’t matter how great you think your idea or solution to an issue is – just ask three people from different backgrounds what they’d do to improve it in some way. I’m always blown away at how they add a new angle that I’d missed completely!

— Chris Thomason, IdeaGen

Training people in entrepreneurship

This has been a challenging year but all in all i have been able to train and motivate business people in Kenya. The main thing in my training have been brainstorming then on how to use innovation in their business this have come up due to the concept of value adding in their products. In Kenya the business people do not know of entrepreneurship and thus still are far behind in creating new market ,adding value to their farm produce for the farmers etc. So we have ended up in duplication of the same business. So I have now majored in empowering the community in business on innovation as a key tool into their business.