2 Creativity Tools that Will Knock Your Socks Off!

lateral action blogI have been in a slump as of late. Between burning myself out with some rather intense workouts and a rather stressful few weeks as work as we go through some major growing pains, I finally hit the wall in a big way. I was tired, my body hurt a bit more than usual, and I really was struggling with motivating myself.

The solution was simple – I made sure I got a little more sleep; I switched up my diet; I changed my reading habits from solely reading business books; I forced myself to start having a little more fun; and I made concerted effort to immerse myself in some new projects. Along the way, I discovered two amazing tools that I wanted to share with you, especially if you are interested in honing your creative thinking abilities.

A Blog for Creative Action

I cannot remember how I happened upon the Lateral Action blog, but you should definitely check it out. Their whole mission is to help their readers tackle the challenge of becoming more marketable by becoming an amazing creative thinker. Currently, they post once a week, so you won’t become overwhelmed with reading. I really like this approach. Instead of putting out tons of material, they focus on providing one quality post a week. (note to self – remember this for future blog development)

They have also developed a free course. I signed up for it when it first launched and I continue to be impressed with the quality material they are sharing. If you are in marketing, are a creative, or just want to improve your own creative thinking skills, this is a site you should add to your feeds.

Sometimes All You Need is a Good Whack In the Head

No, don’t hit yourself, but if you are stuck on a problem, have I got the solution for you! I am always interested in finding new ways to approach a problem. There are a ton of free books out there, but the problem with all of them is that once you put the book away, returning to it can be a problem (maybe you left it at home, a coworker borrowed it, etc.). What if you could have a creative problem solving tool right in your hand whenever and wherever you need it?

Enter Creative Whack Pack. It is an iphone app that was developed to help you break out of your old thinking habits and help you develop new ways of thinking. I downloaded Whack Pack about a week ago and have used it several times, both with personal and professional issues. I am amazed at the apps simplicity and effectiveness. The app was created by Roger von Oech. He has a great site/blog that you might want to check out as well.

What are some of the tools you use to keep your thinking fresh and energetic? How are you injecting creativity into your life? What are some of your favorite creativity tools?

Check out Lateral Action and grab yourself a copy of Whack Pack today. You won’t be disappointed.

What Makes Chris Brogan Great? (and what you can do to be just like him)

photo of chris brogan - black and whiteI can remember the first time I heard about Chris Brogan. He had made a comment on a blog post or in an interview where he revealed his consulting fee. I can remember chatting about it with a few buddies at work. I think everyone of us were thinking that finding a consulting gig might not be a bad idea. Shortly after, we decided to read Chris and Julien Smith’s book, “Trust Agents” (amazon affiliate link).

Chris and Julien’s book is great and they share a number of ideas that you can use to make a major impact in your life. Ever since then, I have been a big fan of Chris’ but there were parts to him that have remained a mystery until recently.

While on a long drive from Salt Lake City to St. George, I decided to listen to an audio book by Dave Logan and  called “Tribal Leadership” (amazon affiliate link). Several of us from work had read the book a couple years ago and it made a major impact on how we operated, but as listened to the book this time around, I picked up on a variety of insights that I had missed the first time around and this is where I finally figured out why Chris Brogan is such an amazing business leader.

If you are interested in evolving your career, “Tribal Leadership” (amazon affiliate link) is, by far, one of the most insightful books you will ever have the opportunity to read. Let’s face it, leadership is not a natural process for all of us and even if you have some leadership abilities, aren’t we all capable of getting better? This book breaks down leadership levels into five basic groups and then walks you through the characteristics of each and what you must do to progress and ultimately help others progress.

Without revealing too much about the book, Chris Brogan definitely falls between the 4th and 5th stages that are described in the book. What do these stages look like? Think about Chris for a minute. He is about bringing people together and helping businesses form thriving communities. He is genuinely interested in helping others succeed and find meaning in their lives.

If you want to learn to be more like Chris, you don’t need to:

  • Grow a big scruffy beard.
  • Buy a gorgeous Camero.
  • Make videos for your blog late into the night.

What you should do is:

  1. Stop reading this post.
  2. Head on over to Amazon and order a copy of “Tribal Leadership” (amazon affiliate link) and “Trust Agents.”
  3. Read “Tribal Leadership” first.
  4. Evaluate where you fall in the different stages listed in the book and start making the changes you need to in order to become a great leader.
  5. Read “Trust Agents” second and look for ways to accentuate the skills and ideas you learned in “Tribal Leadership.”
  6. Start building your tribe.

Good luck. God Speed. Go get ‘em.

Jason's Signature

Business Gaming: A Nice Resource

scvngr deckSCVNGR, a company that has lunched a great app that combines online check ins with real-world fun, has developed a deck of cards featuring different elements of great games. Mix and match a few cards and you have yourself the elements of an incredible social gaming experience.

Erick Schonfeld has written a great article about SCVNGR’s deck and it is definitely worth a read if your are interested in creating fun games for your customers.

Game On: 5 Ways to Make Your Shopping Experience Funner

When I first saw Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk about how “gaming can make a better world,” I struggled with the concept. It was akin to my experience with Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s approach to turning work into a game. Both of these ideas were new to me and it took a while to sink in. But then it hit – they are all onto something.

Take a few minutes to watch Jane’s presentation.

I want to throw out a challenge to you – how can you turn your current shopping experience into something fun? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Several of the grocery stores around town highlight the money a customer saves, but the experience is less than exciting. Typically this involved the checker circling the amount you saved on the bottom of your receipt and then handing it to you. So what! Now, what if you had some fun with this. Perhaps you add a big screen to your register that makes a major deal out of the saving a customer gets. Perhaps you plus this up with levels of savings.
  2. Staying with the “savings” idea, why not create a savings leader of the day board where you track which customer saved the most money that day. Award the top three customers with a gift card or another special gift. Remember, it does not have to be a large amount, you’re simply trying to make them feel special. You could push this out even further by tracking the daily winners across an entire month where you then make an even bigger deal out of the monthly finalists. Take their photos and put them on a wall with the amounts they saved. Not only will you be making the check out experience funner, you will also be reinforcing your value image.
  3. Remember the balloon pop game that you played at the carnival as a kid? You know, the one with darts; you threw the dart, hopefully popped a balloon and then got the prize under/in the balloon? Why not replicate this game or come up with something like it where customers get an opportunity to participate every time they shop your store or when they spend a certain amount?
  4. Make a special game for the kids. Depending upon your type of business, many times shoppers end up bringing their children with them. Take advantage of this situation and show the parents that you care about their kids too. Hold coloring contests, set up a treasure hunt, or play trivia over your PA system.
  5. Create a secret club and for your most loyal shoppers. The secret part is absolutely critical. Why? First, it helps your these customers feel a special sense of achievement. Second, think about the power of reverse psychology – by telling your secret club members not to talk about the club, they will be way more likely to talk about it. Reward them with a special club card and give them exclusive benefits when they shop with you. What might those special benefits be? It can be about anything – special hours, extend sale dates/hours/days, free items, etc. Talk to your shoppers and find out what rewards would really matter to them.

These are simply five ideas to help you get started. Look at your store, your customers, and the opportunities you have to turn a boring or routine shopping experience into something fun. What could you do without spending any additional money or for a small investment? What if you had a moderate or large amount of money to invest in making your business fun, what would you do?

Adding a “Game Layer” to the World (and your business)

Classic Life Game BoxCould you make shopping your store more fun? Can shopping be turned into a game that actually gets your customers to want to spend more money and shop more at your location?

We got a look at how the world could be changed when Volkswagon launched their Fun Theory project. The idea behind it was could we take something that was a routine and boring, an experience that people avoided, and turn it into something people would enjoy doing. One of my favorite examples of what they did was they looked at a subway entrance/exit where most people were using the escalators instead of taking the stairs. Obviously, it is more cost effective if people take the stairs. Also, it can be a lot healthier for people. But taking the stairs requires work and so many people avoid it. Who knows why, but that is how they behave.

Volkswagon set out to find out if they could change people’s behavior. What’d they do? They turned the stairs into the keys of a working piano. Take a look at video from the experiment:

What do you think they are learning about people? More importantly, how might this apply to work and business?

Let’s start with a question about your team – what if you could increase team member loyalty simply by tweaking some of your procedures and routines? We operate in a business climate where our teams often lack inspiration and they are incredibly worried about their job security. The economy has people on edge. Now that might sound like it plays to your advantage. People are worried about their jobs and might be less likely to jump ship at the moment. But don’t fall for this illusion.

Sure, today’s economic situation might play to your advantage, but in the long term your team members will end up with the upper hand. The demographics are simple – we have way more people on the verge of retirement than people entering the workforce. This means that businesses will be fighting for talent in the future.

So what could you do to make work more fun and meaningful? Here are a few ideas to think about:

  • Create more levels of achievement. Don’t hire anyone and throw them into a high ranking position. Instead, set up a challenging set of progressions with clear tasks that have to be achieved in order to move forward.
  • Make a big deal out of milestones. I’m not suggesting that you spend a lot of money, but find ways to have a ton of fun when someone on your team achieves something special.
  • Create competitions. Build teams and then have them compete against one another. Now you don’t want to turn the competition into a negative. Have fun with it and celebrate the entire team’s efforts and success.
  • Learn to have fun. Relax and find ways to have fun with your time both while on and off the clock.

You know your business way better than I do. Take some time to think about what you could do to make it more fun for your team. Now, let’s look a at your customers for a minute.

We have a natural inclination to want to be better than others and if you can find a fun way to do this, you can increase loyalty among your shoppers. Think about Costco for a minute. They offer several membership levels that come with a variety of benefits. I know a lot of people who opt for the business membership that don’t even own their own business. Why are they willing to spend the few extra dollars? Sure they get a couple of extra privileges, but is getting access to a store an hour or two earlier than everyone else that important? I’d throw out to you that it doesn’t. What matters is that people want to feel special; they are looking for ways to be different and feel important.

What if you were able to set up a loyal system in your store where after customers have shopped with you for a period of time they earned the right to be a gold member. What would that mean to them? What benefits could you offer them? Could you figure out a simple way to do this that would not cost you a ton of money?

There are a number of interesting tools out there to help you add a game layer to your business. Have you heard of “location-based” apps? They are mobile phone apps that allow people to check in at a location and earn rewards over time. There are a variety of these apps on the market, including FourSquare and Facebook’s new Places feature. But none of these apps have tapped into the true potent of the “game layer.” They are good tools and if you are creative with them you can do some amazing things; however there is a great product out there called SCVNGR.

To learn more about SCVNGR, check out Seth Priebatsch’s presentation at TEDx, Founder of SCVNGR.

Find Your Core

hansons_lumber_millBack when I was in graduate school, I read a ton of case studies. For almost two years, a lot of my time was spend reading case studies and then writing and discussing those case studies. At the time it felt like torture, but those case studies helped form a knowledge base about key marketing issues that can easily be overlooked. Here’s a case in point:

Spotted Owls, A Lumber Company, And A Democratic State Legislator

Recently, a specific case study came to mind as I was working on a project. It was about a small Oregon lumber company that was faced with legislation that would ultimately put them out of business. It seemed that a Democratic state legislator was trying to enact new laws that would prevent the lumber company from certain types of logging practices. The logging company would have to shut down if the laws passed.

As any of us would do in similar circumstances, the management team quickly went to work trying to figure out what to do. Some of the team wanted to hire an expensive lobby firm out of D.C. Others were interested in hiring an expensive marketing agency. Luckily, someone spoke up and asked a very important question – what audience should they really be talking to?

This question caused them to step back and as a series of other important questions:

  • What was their strategy?
  • What goals did they have?
  • What audience would help them get the best results?
  • Which tactics would help them connect best with their intended audience?
  • How would they know when they had won?

Asking these questions caused their team to dig in deep and do the hard work that great marketing is all about. In stead of spending a ton of money or outsourcing their efforts, they focused and came up with an ingenious plan.

Instead of focusing on the senator or the public, they turned their efforts inward and decided to engage their team. But what tactic did they choose? This is the cool part. They knew they had limited resources and some brilliant person mentioned a potential tool they had been using for years, but never in a strategic manner. They had a company newsletter that had always been used to share the basics – birthdays, events, team member info, etc.

So they took the newsletter and transformed it into an amazing storytelling device. They educated their team about the issues they faced and explained what the consequences would be if the legislation passed. More importantly, they provided their team with specific calls to action.

Lessons Learned

There is a lot that can be learned from this story, but what is the most important take-aways for your small business?

  1. Have a process in place for marketing and stay true to it. When the pressure is on, it is tempting to jump straight to tactics. Don’t fall for this. Having a process in place forces you to think through all the elements of a marketing campaign or program and helps you keep strategy at the forefront. A good marketing process should cover the following (stick to this order as much as possible): strategy, business objectives, audience, tactics, metrics.
  2. Dig in deep when you get to audience. The thing this case study really helps you understand is that the obvious audience is not always the right audience to help you spread your story. In the case of the lumber company, they only had one person whose mind needed to be changed – the Democratic state senator. They could have tried talking directly to him; however, what they understood was that by engaging their team, who then engaged their friends and neighbors, they were unleashing a powerful force that the company could not have created by itself.
  3. Holding yourself accountable is a big deal. When times are tough, measuring your success is more important than ever. It is incredibly easy to skip over this last step in marketing, but if you truly want to create value and ensure that you get the most from your marketing dollars you have to hold yourself accountable.

There is another lesson here. Case studies are a great way to learn about business, but you do not need to go to school to find case studies. The truth is that there are real-world case studies around us every day. Watch what your fellow small business owners are up to, take notes and learn from what they are doing. Network with them and share your successes and failures. The key is to always continue learning and innovating.

A Must Read Book – The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo: Book Review

Innovation Secrets of Steve JobsWhat if you could be as smart as Steve Jobs? What would you do with all that talent?

For many of us, the thought of being “like Steve” might sound impossible. Right? Let’s be real. Steve built Apple. Then he built Pixar. Then he turned around and rebuilt Apple. The guy has defied conventional wisdom time and time again. He is so great at what he does that many of us fear the day he leaves Apple. How in the world can an average guy learn to be like Steve?

It is possible and as long as you are willing to be open-minded and willing to work your butt off, you can achieve greatness; you can be just as innovative as Steve Jobs. Carmine Gallo, author of “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” (amazon affiliate link) has a great book coming out this month that will show you how.

It is called “The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs” and you are going to love it. For those of you that read Carmine’s earlier book, this one will seem familiar to you. Carmine does a great job identifying the 7 key principles that Jobs brings to Apple and how it has allow the company to become one of the world’s leading innovation companies.

What is interesting about Gallo’s perspective is that it breaks with so many other books on the same subject. No where in the book does he talk about brainstorming or giving IQ tests for new hires. What he does discuss is building cultures that thrive on innovation and what steps you can take to mimic Steve’s success.

What is the single most important thing I took away from the book? The answer to this is simple. Apple is innovative because they have taken the time and committed to becoming innovative. They have made their own rules as they have gone along. They don’t allow themselves to be swayed from their vision.

If you are ready to transform your culture, pre-order Carmine’s book and start building a complete vision of what you want to be.