Jennifer B. Davis
The following idea was passed along from Todd Hudson of The Maverick Institute from a presentation by Luke Williams with frogdesign at the Portland WebVisions conference in July.

Traditional brainstorming doesn't work. Why?
  1. Traditional brainstorming doesn't generated that many ideas. Luke'sexperience is that the well runs dry in about 20 minutes. We've all experienced that uncomfortable moment when the room goes silent.
  2. The ideas aren't really that novel. Yeah, a few weird ones emerge,but overall low quality.
  3. Only a fraction of the ideas generated get used. Not an efficientuse of time and creative energy.

So, what's his technique?
  • STEP 1: Decide on a focus area. Define the problem you're trying solve or product you're trying to develop. In our workshop he told us to think of an educational handheld product for preteens.
  • STEP 2: Break up into groups of 2 to 4 people. Small groups generate more, and more novel, ideas than big groups.
  • STEP 3: Assign each group a different random word (a noun) to generate associations. Use a dictionary. Pick of a page number, column numberand the number of a word in that column. Go there. If it's not a noun, read down until you reach the first noun. Our word was WHEAT.
  • STEP 4: Have everyone individually start writing down their assocations with the random word. Mine were BAKING, WAVING, FLOWING, SEED, STALK, BREAD, HEALTHY, GROWING, ORGANIC, MACHINERY, FARMING, OUTDOORS, FIELD, BIG, EXPANSIVE, SUNNY, HARVEST, etc, etc. Do this for about 5 minutes. Then, share your associations with the group.
  • STEP 5: Use these associations to generate fresh ideas about the focusarea for 10 to 15 minutes. Do this as an individual at first. Write each idea down on a post-it note. For example...SUNNY --> Solar powered unit that teaches kids about light, photons,etc.HEALTHY, ORGANIC, BAKING --> Product that teaches kids about nutrition.You can stick a sensor into food and it does basic analysis, e.g.,sugar content. Or you can enter in what you're eating and it will tellyou all about it....
  • STEP 6: Have everyone present their ideas to the group and let newideas emerge as part of the discussion. Write these new ideas on apost-it note.
  • STEP 7: Select another word or find a random object (he gave use a black desk stapler) and repeat steps 3 - 6. Generate new associationsand use them to generate more ideas. You'll be amazed how many novelideas emerge in round 2!
  • STEP 8: Have each group present to everyone their random words/objects,the associations and product ideas that resulted. Write down any newideas generated by discussion on a post-it note.
  • STEP 9: Place all the ideas into one of four categories

1. Specific Idea - Well formulated idea that offers immediate value.

2. Beginning Idea - Good potential that needs to be developed

3. Concept - General way of doing things

4. Approach - Very broad, general direction.

  • STEP 10: Turn 'Approaches into 'Guiding Principles' that can be usedover and over.
  • STEP 11: Turn 'Concepts' and 'Beginning Idea' into 'Specific Ideas' bylisting what would have to be done to make them more useful. Forexample, what technology obstacle would have to be overcome to make anidea practical.
  • STEP 12: Rank all the 'Specific Ideas' through some voting process and start implementing!

I can't wait to use this technique. Try it and let me know how it works. Better yet, we could try it here if someone could suggest a problem to solve.

Jennifer B. Davis
The other day I got an email from my husband saying that I had left a load of laundry in the dryer, with a dryer sheet, and had neglected to turn it on. By the time he found it was something south of "fresh" and he was re-running it. Oops!

This made me realize that perhaps there was a technology that I needed, that I had previously considered "technology for its own sake." Specifically, the internet-enabled washing machine and dryer.

Apparently Whirlpool has teamed with Panasonic and Microsoft to create a washing machine that can send text messages or emails. Perhaps if I had gotten a reminder email, I might have salvaged this load. How does one get to be a beta tester for these kinds of technologies?

Now, if I can only send an email to have clothes gathered, sorted, and a load ran and dried. I guess I'll just have to keep hoping for a maid with a Blackberry.

Jennifer B. Davis
I have ran across several interesting photo manipulation services online recently and wanted to share them with you. Enjoy!

Turn yourself into a comic book:
Artist Lina Chen turns your photo into a black and white drawing at The before image on the left becomes the illustration on the right for around $100.

Turn yourself into an iPod advertisement:
iPodMyPhoto turns your photo into the iconic black sillouette against a bright background found on those great iPod advertisements for $19.95 an image. You can choose your background color and whether or not the subject is wearing a white iPod.

Remove tourists from your vacation photos:
This creative service from SnapMedia allows you to load a series of photos of the same subject and they combine them into one image with all the strangers removed that might have obstructed your view.
Jennifer B. Davis
Check out this online survey to find out what famous leader your style most resembles. They even let you choose how many questions you have to answer to get a result. After taking the 19 question quiz, they said I was like Ghandi. That is a pretty flattering, although skeptical, comparison. Post your results as comments!

Jennifer B. Davis
There is a new service from Barcadi (the rum people) in the UK called Barcardi Bespoke that allows you to order up a bar, complete with glasses, ice, equipment, expert mixologists, and a DJ, to your home or office. The cost of these events are subsidized by Barcardi as a marketing vehicle.

So, that (and a recent invitation for a custom fitting of Carlisle clothes in a woman's home) got me thinking what product demos I would invite into my home, or even pay to host. This is how the Experience Economy (see previous post) could be implemented through Tryvertising. Here is my list. What others would you add?

  • Foot Spa Escape: invite a bunch of girl friends over for a foot spa with Body Shop or other products (I have, in fact, hosted this party). Could also work for "makeover" parties, manicure parties, "shaping your eyebrows" parties, or any type of beauty party.
  • Garden Party: invite friends over to learn how to create a hanging basket with a representative from Michigan Bulb, Monrovia, or Jackson & Perkins.
  • Music Burning Jam Session: listen to tunes and burn your own CD of songs from new artists.
  • Digital Photography Workshop: Play with cool cameras (from Sony, Nikon, or Kodak) and take pictures of children or friends in a photo studio set-up with different backgrounds and props on-hand. Afterwards the pictures could be posted to Flickr or Evite, if they got in on the party.
  • Scarf Party: Use RIT dye to create one-of-a-kind clothing art.
  • Garden Globe Workshop: create a garden globe or other yard art using Black & Decker tools, 3M adhesive products, or other supplies.
  • Easter Egg To-Dye-For: bring your own eggs to a dyeing event showing all the latest techniques.

I can think of a lot of "consumer" products that could create an experience around them. Even in the B2B space, I could think of a number of things that would be popular and help vendors sell more products. Here are a few ideas:

  • Cool Office Supply Demo Day: the latest and greatest products from Mead, Bic, 3M, and other brands come together to let people try them out. Free samples lead to addiction and purchases.
  • On-site Eye Exams: A lot of employers offer reimbursement for eye-glasses or contacts, but a lot of people don't take advantage of the benefit. Why not invite an eyeglass company and optomitrist into the office to give free exams and take orders for glasses?
  • Chair Massage: A free chair massage could advertise a local massage salon, spa products, candles, or soothing music (or all of the above).

What company/product do you wish you could get a demo party for in your home or office?

Jennifer B. Davis
I loved the article on crowdsourcing in a recent Wired article. It was sent to me by a friend and colleage, Todd Hudson of the Maverick Institute.

Technology has enabled methods of production that are new. Digital content products (like the iStockPhoto example) are naturals for this, but imagine it applied to other products.

Digital printing is enabling the same sort of business model for a variety of printed items. You no longer have to rely on Hallmark to create the perfect card. You can order your own custom designed postcard and have the post office mail it for you ( You don't have to rely on Old Navy to create a t-shirt for you, you can go out to and buy one that your friend (or a clever stranger) designed. You don't have to rely on Uncle Sam to design a commemorative postage stamp, you can create your own at Zazzle. Furthermore, on many sites (including the last two I mentioned) you can leave designs for others to buy and make a commission for all sales. You don't have to wait for Random House to give you an advance for your mystery novel. You can publish it yourself through or and see it on Amazon tomorrow, with orders fulfilled through print-on-demand without inventory. All of this makes me wish I could draw or had the time to write!

I really liked the Procter and Gamble experiment called that used to let you design your own cosmetics. I think it was just ahead of its time when they shut it down. With a new web 2.0 business model applied, this could have been a way for individuals to create their own branded line of cosmetics and resell them on their blog, in their self-published beauty book, or to their own friends and family through a custom designed mailer printed at PSPrint. Modern technology allows the emphasis to be on brand building, not product building.

So, what about other products that are relatively easy to produce consistently, have a high creative content, and can be easily distributed? I could see whole cottage industries being enabled by this technology.

Online jewelry sites where individual artists pool their talents or take custom orders. Online copy editing services where people post copy and pay a fee and professional editors give critique and get paid by the read. What if you could get your MRI read by a group of radiology students, in addition to your radiologist. You could help fund someone's residency while getting a valuable second opinion. You don't have to wait for a concert promoter to bring your favorite artist to town. You could book an act, rent a venue, and sell your own tickets using Could these technologies be applied to give more economic opportunities to women and children in impoverished countries (who currently have to make unspeakable and unfathomable choices for survival)?

What other business ideas could be enabled in this way?

I read recently about a company in Business 2.0 magazine called Ocean Tomo that plans to broker intellectual property. You have invention and you give them a cut of the royalties if they find you a licensee. Like eBay for IP, perhaps. I wonder if they will take it as far as some of these other sites giving you the tools to do the patent filings, previous art searches, and the like? Man, I would love and use that, as would a lot of other people with great ideas, but without the time or resources to pursue monitizing them all. (Don't believe me? Check out my Invention Recycling site at

Thanks, Todd, for getting my creative juices flowing!
Jennifer B. Davis
Here is a free, virtual white board, designed and hosted by a small little outfit call General Electric. It is taking the web by storm, causing waves of viral marketing, and probably not selling any jet engines. It is fun, though, and it makes me wonder where GE's ImaginationCubed is headed?

Maybe even GE does things...just because they can.

Invite me to color with you if you want via email. And, feel free to send me a Wacom tablet if you actually want to be able to make sense of what I draw or write.
Jennifer B. Davis

It is truly incredible what a professional public relations firm can do for you. I have worked with several in the past and the good ones can really make things happen. It is dream of mine someday to have my own publicist, but I suppose I should strive to be a bit more accomplished first (although that might be unnecessary if the publicist was good enough).

To the extent that you are your own publicist as well, I ran across a free press release distribution service today that might be of use to us. i-Newswire will distribute your news on a variety of news bureaus and the like for free (or you can pay, of course, for more and better services).

This site was featured in a strange news story about a 15 year old boy who wrote up a fake press release about being hired at Google ("the company's youngest employee ever" the press release reported). He did it as a joke and it was picked up by thousands of outlets and caused quite a stink. So, I figure if it will work for bad news, it might work for us, too!

When you are writing your release, keep in mind a fun technique that my friend Tamara Greenleaf used in a release for a Web conference whose headline boldly announced that "Steve Jobs will not be the keynote at this year's event." The completely true headline sent all the web spiders and Apple-afficianios into a tizzy and got them a lot of great publicity. Brilliant!

If these releases should teach us anything it is that we should pepper our news releases with key words that will broaden its appeal. You can test out some words by looking at search trends at Google Trends (look at me peppering this blog post with several mentions of Google...oops, I did it again!)

Some body please try this and let the rest of us know how it worked. In the meantime, I'll be working on doing something newsworthy!
Jennifer B. Davis
Saw this featured on Digg and thought you'd enjoy it. I love it when people see the mundane in new ways and take the opportunity to innovate! These guys at BarCode Revolution are onto something.

This falls into the "why didn't I think of that" category. What other necessary things (like barcodes) could be revamped if we looked at them differently?

Jennifer B. Davis
I read a disturbing headline yesterday that claimed that the ultimate downfall of Kenneth Lay, the former Enron CEO and convicted white-collar criminal, was caused by his optimism. As a "glass is half full" person myself, I was offended. How could optimism be blamed for Mr. Lay's apparent disregard for integrity, for reality, and for the needs of his employees, shareholders, and community? Why mislabel "delusion" as "optimism" or, in the reporter's opinion, is this a matter of semantics?

I couldn't help but make a parallel between two news stories yesterday. One, Ken's fatal heart attack and the sabre-rattling missile launches of North Korea. I should say that I normally don't discuss politics and am not aware of all the subtleties of the issues at hand, but from what I do know North Koreans believe themselves to be the most technologically-advanced country in the world, with the most beloved and respected leaders. Truth is, that they are in the dark. Literally and figuratively. They live in poverty, without modern technologies and are feed government propaganda from morning until night. This aerial night photograph was shown on Good Morning America today and shows the stark contrast between North and South Korea. To believe that North Korea is an advanced country is not optimism, it is delusion.

Although the comparison maybe unfair, I suspect that Ken Lay and North Korea are similar. Both of them were/are detached from reality. Both the people of North Korea and Ken Lay probably were buffered from brutal reality with misinformation, by well-meaning lieutenants who made sure the news was always good, and they were mislead by their own deep-seated desire to believe things were going well. Optimism is the belief that you can improve a situation when confronted with brutal facts and reality, not a disregard for those facts. It is a belief that there is some good that will come from every circumstance, not the creation of a fantasy world.

Let's not blame optimism for Ken Lay's disgraceful behavior. Optimism is innocent. Moreover, it was probably an optimistic attitude that helped Ken's weak and damaged heart keep pumping until after the criminal conviction when the truth finally caught up to him. I don't know what will pull North Korea from their delusions. I'll leave that to the politicians.
Jennifer B. Davis
"Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble." - Samuel Johnson

I was reminded today of the importance of "sharpening the saw." This phrase was made cliche in Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But I connected with it in a different way today. I asked myself, "what saw do I sharpen?" and I thought in reply, "the one in hand."

Now, all of that may sound silly (especially the part where I talk to myself), but I am puzzled by how often we strive to sharpen a saw we don't have. In their books First, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths, authors Buckingham and Clifton propose that instead of trying to remediate areas of weakness, we should all rather focus on areas of strength and develop those. They claim that the return on investment in our strengths is staggering and could lead to world class performance. This is in contrast to remediation of weaknesses, which rarely makes anyone better than mediocre and saps time and energy away from developing our strengths (the opportunity costs of misplaced personal or professional development). Said another way, we should focus on becoming our best selves and not a sad imitation of someone else.

Their book includes a talent assessment of sorts which identifies five strengths worth developing further. This was an insightful exercise for me and a bit uncomfortable as well. Whether right or wrong, they listed my #1 competency as the ability to "woo" - which stood for "winning others over." This seems to be to be a powerful, and potentially dangerous, one. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and implications of it. If this is really a strength, by sheer force of enthusiasm I might be able to convince people of something that is a bad idea or I might unwittingly limit discussion and dissent. I hate to think that I have ever limited the creativity of others or the wisdom of a team because I won others over to a flawed or incomplete idea. Using gifts of this sort wisely and always in the best interests of others is part of the sharpening that I'll be working on.

What talents do you see in yourself or in others that deserve additional sharpening? Do you have examples of sharpening the saw in your hand that have demonstrated (or disproved) this idea?
Jennifer B. Davis
I attended a great WebSeminar on the "Experience Economy," hosted by WebEx. The speaker was Joseph Pine who authored The Experience Economy and Mass Customization.

The key points of his session were as follows:
  • There is a progression from commodities (the things that come from the ground), to goods (packaged items for convenience), to services (where someone else does the work for you), to experiences (where people pay admission and the goods are just the souvenirs or memorabilia).
  • He proposes that "the experience is the marketing". He says that to build demand, you must stage marketing experience (think: Pike Place market in Seattle that throws fish to captivate shoppers)
  • He suggests that people should "audition", not "interview" their front-line employees. They should train them like an actor to fulfill a role in the staged experience, and uniform them appropriately. (Think: GeekSquad or the "cast" at DisneyLand)
  • Customization is the anecdote to commoditzation. He had many great examples of this. Is there a way to do mass customization or personalization experience to build loyalty and a premium brand? (Think: Build-a-Bear Workshop) The key here is not just customizing the product, but rather getting people to think of the experience as the product they are purchasing and the goods as the take-away from the experience: not the other way a round.
  • Beyond experiences is transformations. This is really what educational institutions, healthclubs, coaches, and business consultants try to create. Can we help our customers transform themselves or their businesses by the experiences we stage?

Customization and personalized experiences are common themes in the sites and tools that I regularly use and talk about here. They are also evidenced in the growing industry of life coaches and consultants. Are there other companies that are doing this well? If so, I'd love to hear about them.

For more information on the author and the concepts, check out Their book is filled with fantastic examples of this and is a provocative read.

Jennifer B. Davis
There is a principle of improv that says in order to draw an audience into the drama, each actor must take a "yes, and" approach. If one actor says that it is a cold day and shivers, then all the other actors must join in and build on that to create a realistic scene, collaboratively, on-the-fly. In short, it leads to better performances. This was illustrated for me in a professional development workshop facilitated by the accomplish improv actor and corporate trainer, Cynthia Oelkers, from In The Moment Productions.

I read an interview (with Men's Health, republished on the Innovation Network) with award-winning advertising agency, Weiden+Kennedy, which outlines their five rules of creativity. The ideas below echo the "yes, and" approach.

  • Act Stupid. "Our philosophy is to come in ignorant every day. The idea of retaining ignorance is sort of counterintuitive, but it subverts a lot of [problems] that come from absolute mastery. If you think you know the answer better than somebody else does, you become closed to being fresh." states Jelly Helm, creative director.
  • Shut up. "The first thing we do when we meet with clients is listen. We try to figure out what their problems are. Then we come back with questions, not solutions. We write these out and put them on the wall. And then we circle the ones that we think are interesting. More often than not, the questions hold the answer."
  • Always say yes. "What I've learned from improvisation is to let go of outcome and just say 'yes' to what ever the situation is. If you say an idea is bad, you're creating conflict--you're breaking an improv rule. You want an energy flow that moves you forward, as opposed to a creative stasis."
  • Chase Talent. "Find people who make you better. It's best to be the least talented person in the room. It's reciprocal. It challenges you to keep up."
  • Be Fearless. "Do anything, say anything. In the worlds of our president, Dan Wieden, 'You're not useful to me until you've made three momentous mistakes.' He knows that if you try not to make mistakes, you miss out on the value of learning from them."
The alternative is "No, but."

You should note, however, that there is an important difference between "yes, and" and always agreeing with your collegues or leadership. Although you can always find something to align around as a starting place (ie, the point of “Yes, And” and the basis of a host of effective communication tools), it is important to get conflicting views on the table.

In a recent Harvard Business Review interview, author Michael Roberto was asked about why it was essential for leaders to spark conflict in their organizations, as long as it is constructive. His book Why Great Leaders Don’t Take ‘Yes’ for Answer outlines why it is important for people to speak up and for others to listen. He compares and contrasts prevalent corporate cultures as follows:

  • The Culture of No: Coined by Lou Gerstner to describe the situation he inherited at IBM in the early 1990s. It is a culture of indecision where dissenters have veto power in the decision and dialogue is stifled.
  • The Culture of Maybe: An analytical approach, combined with a discomfort for ambiguity, leads to paralysis as the organization strives to be certain (see my previous post on certainty versus clarity).
  • The Culture of Yes: Dissenters are encouraged to offer alternate explanations of the facts and respectfully challenge the status quo, with the idea that everyone is building towards something better together.
So, here is the challenge. Whenever you want to say "but," stop yourself and begin with "yes, and" instead. It will be hard at first, perhaps, to find common ground, but your conversations (and even negotiations) will be more successful if you remove the word "but" from your vocabulary and do your part to build a culture of yes in your organization.
Jennifer B. Davis

It is a sunny Summer afternoon in the middle of a long, holiday weekend and my mind drifts to the ridiculous.

Having just named a new baby, I know the stress associated with choosing the "perfect" name. The same stress faced in corporate conference rooms as marketeers chose relevant and protectable brand names. All of this brought to mind a few tools I have run across online to generate names. Below is a list of some of these. Enjoy!

Now, for those of you that are naming pets or are in the pet food business, here is a cat name generator. There are others for Hobbit names, Jedi names, country music names, "pimp my name," pro-wrestler names, band names, pharmceutical product names, and others you can find on Google.

Once you have your name or brand, now you can use a whole other genre of useful webtools - see the advertising slogan generator or the Sloganizer.

Have a great holiday!