Blue Sky Thinking and Innovation

Blue-Sky-Thinking

blue-sky thinking: noun .  1. creative ideas that are not limited by current thinking or beliefs[1]

At the beginning of the great housing apocalypse I suggested to several home builder clients that they offer an opportunity for people to experience life in one the builder’s homes by allowing potential buyers to spend a night in a model home. I called it “sleep with a model.” When I suggested this to a person every one of the home builders said, “We can’t do this.” or “Our insurance will allow it.” and even “They’ll tear up the house!”

I also recommended to a Realtor client that she develop an alliance with home renovations contractors so she could provide buyers with immediate access to trusted vendors. I also advocated to the same client that she arrange value loss insurance, soothing buyers’ greatest fears: losing money. Such innovations would distinguish the Realtor’s brand in the crowded market and set her apart for the customer-focused benefits she could provide.

In both situations, there was extreme resistance and objections about why these things could not be done. Not one person stopped to consider how these things could be done.

Innovation is rare

True innovation comes along very rarely. And in (almost) every instance, real innovation is met with extreme resistance. Everyone thinks of all the reasons why something cannot be done. Given the amount of resistance when it comes to innovation, you would think that innovation is against the natural order.

Companies that prosper are those which give power to customers, — providing consumers with their most desired choices and options. Think, things that make it easy on the customer. And help you gain more business.

Technology related firms generally make the greatest leaps these days providing people the innovations they want to smooth daily life.

Taco Bell New App

In recent news, innovation is coming from the food and beverage sector. USA Today reports,

“Taco Bell will unveil an advanced mobile app that lets folks order and pay on their smartphones and then walk or drive in and pick up their food.”

The new app is being spotlighted by taking the entire Taco Bell website dark October 28, 2014. How much resistance do you think was heard around the office when this was proposed? You can imagine them conversations: “What is they pay and we don’t get their order?” “How will we deal with incorrect orders?” And on and on. But clearly somebody overcame those issues and designed the new smartphone app.

Also reported by USA Today, another sacred cow, the wait line at Outback, is being conquered by new tech with the launch of their mobile app allowing diners to see real-time estimated waiting times and to add their names to the wait list.

“It’s more important than rolling out a new steak,” says John Schaufelberger, chief marketing officer, in a phone interview.

Nurturing blue sky thinking

Innovation comes from blue sky thinking. Unhindered, unfettered consideration of ground-breaking options which lead to new procedures, new products and ease of use.

When is the last time you did some of your own blue sky thinking? Did you censor yourself? OR did you just let the ideas flow? Is your culture one of encouraging innovation? Do you listen to employees who have ideas of how to streamline production? In a classic model, U.S. auto producers changed production lines in the 1970s to complete with Japanese automakers, with a great many of their ideas arising from those who actually worked on production lines.

Censoring your creativity and wild ideas will keep you exactly where you are. Want to grow? Want to be talked about? Be different.

Blue sky thinking cultivation:

  1. Talk to your customers. Ask them what is their most difficult issue or problem. Ask them what they most need. Then figure out how to do it.
  2. Keep a notebook. Whether digital, or hand-written, capture arcane ideas or transient thoughts. This is why writers and engineers keep notebooks at their bedside so they awaken from dreams to record their nocturnal imaginings.
  3. Observe. Watch people. Watch your customers. Note how they do things, not how you’d like them to do things.
  4. Have a blue sky session. Include everyone. Customers. Owners. Stakeholders. Don’t censor. Record. Process later.
  5. Examine common problems. Apple’s iPad evolved from a desire to provide portable, lightweight, powerful devices with multiple capacities. The tablet computer they created revolutionized the market and created a new category.

How have you created innovation in your firm? Tell us how you’ve encouraged blue sky thinking and innovation.


[1] blue-sky thinking. Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/blue-sky thinking (accessed: October 28, 2014).

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Advertising Copy: Avoid Negative Connotations

Boy-jumping-on-couch

Avoid negative connotations by using positive associations

Years ago, when reading a parenting guide, I learned a bit of sage advice which I paraphrase here:

“When offering direction to children, avoid negatives; e.g. ‘Don′t jump on the couch. Rather, say, “Stay on the floor.’ If you choose negative direction, the child will hear, ‘Jump on the couch!’ and will do precisely that. If you say, ‘Stay on the floor’ the child hears exactly what you want them to do.”

When it comes to ad copy, deliver messages using words without negative connotation. Those negative connotations are easily pulled into the reader’s mind and stick, where they fester and undermine your message.

In the ad below, a health care firm seeks new physicians. However, rather than say that they were growing (and in our culture growth is generally good) and want to add new staff members, they state that they are growing like a weed.

Doctor's office ad with a negative connotation in the headline

I don′t know about you, but in my garden I pull up weeds: those undesirable, troublesome, unwanted plants. Ken Immer, a chef turned entrepreneur, said upon reading in social media my comments on the ad, “That’s like a restaurant advertising that it’s waitstaff scurries around the dining room as quick as roaches!!”

Simple, direct is best

When you write your advertising copy, it’s best to use simple messages. They can be direct, funny, contain puns or allusion. But when you want a positive association, you must take great care with any terms or phrases which have negative cultural associations — especially ones with deep roots in the psyche.

This ads copy could be restated as: “We′re growing.” Then followed with the message that the organization needs more docs. Enough said.

Oh, and proof read your ads. Docs is plural, not singular.

What are your most nettlesome notes on advertisements? Share your thoughts in comments.


If you found this article helpful, informative and useful, please share and recommend it to others.

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Pumpkin Spice Latte: Creating Product Demand

Pumpkin Spice Latte

 Just a simple seasonal delight

Ah, Fall! The season of colorful leaves, cooling evenings, long walks in the woods and …pumpkin spice!

Yes, it’s that time of year when devotees of the all-consuming fall flavor go on overdrive searching for their next fix. Why all this rabid fandom for a little cinnamon, cloves and pumpkin? And how did it become the fall cult classic flavor to rival candy corn?

Starbucks introduced the #PSL (as it is frequently hash tagged) 11 years ago. As noted on SeattleMet.com,

“Since the Pumpkin Spice latte’s inception 11 years ago, customers have ordered more than 200 million, each topped with whipped cream and a parting shake of spices. It arrives while the summer sun still beats down hot over most of the country, but a combination of masterful marketing and a fan base with the kind of obsession usually reserved for pop stars has transformed this drink into a national harbinger of fall.”

Rabid fandom aside, what makes a product so beloved and craved

In the case of this treat, its seasonality and limited appearance — similar to other mass market seasonal products like McRib, McDonalds imitation barbecue rib sandwich which pops up in markets from time to time — are what drive anticipation. In a word, rarity drives desire.

When a product is only available for a limited time, there is incentive to buy now.

Also at work in the adoration of pumpkin spice latte is its sensual hold on our psyches. No, I’m not talking about silk sheets and body oil type of sensuality, but its literal appeal to our cultural nostalgia. The odor of cinnamon is linked with baking, is linked with home, is linked with love is linked with belonging. And each of us want to be loved and to belong. It’s a fundamental need. Starbucks deliberately tapped into our needs.

Scent and tribal association mixed in one beverage

Buying pumpkin spice lattes could indicate our belongingness to our tribe. In the case of #PSL, that might be the tribe of white girls, but comedian Jay Pharoah mocks that in his ribald, hilarious send up of the drink.

Pumpkin Spice Funny Video

In the case of cinnamon, there may even be a powerful physiological response to the spice as it has antibiotic and potentially curative properties.

As entrepreneurs, we can learn from these observations when creating new products.

  1. Create a product that is amazing. Normal run of the mill products just don’t attract fans. Whether it tastes good, feels amazing, or is simply drop dead gorgeous or fulfills a strong need, as long as it is perceived as incredible, you will achieve demand. There’s no getting around this.
  2. Tap into powerful psychological needs.
  3. Limit your product’s availability and provide mental or market incentives to buy now.

What other products do you know of which have similar limited seasonality and rabid fandom? Why do you think they are much beloved?

In the meantime, enjoy an array of pumpkin spice tweets.


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Communications Basics: The Elevator Pitch

Learn more about elevator pitches as an important part of your marketing commuications.

Can you effectively introduce your business with your elevator pitch? Photo By: Richie Diesterheft

Elevator pitches help establish trust

As a frequent workshop presenter,  I often meet entrepreneurs and owners of new businesses. At the beginning of workshops I invite participants to introduce themselves and their business with their elevator pitch. Elevator pitches are short, persuasive introductions to your enterprise.

Many people speak too quietly, hesitantly or without conviction, which leaves people in the back of the room wondering what they said or, worse, why they should even pay attention to the just introduced person. It is much better to speak boldly about your new businesses and how your services and products benefit potential customers. However, far too often, I find people don’t use their voices effectively nor do they take advantage of the opportunity to introduce their business to a roomful of new people.

As an entrepreneur, it is imperative that you learn to represent your business. Your ability to speak confidently and succinctly conveys knowledge and assurance. In turn, this nurtures trust. And trust, not money, is fundamentally the currency of a sale.

Inc blogger Geoffrey James has filmed a video with his advice about the three components of an elevator pitch.

  1. The Benefit–how your product helps your customer
  2. The Differentiator–this is the part where you explain why your product is superior, based on evidence, awards, market advantage or experience (for example.)
  3. The Ask–Request to meet or speak later.

Develop your elevator pitch by using James’ ‘explain it to a 12 year old’ method.

quotation-Marks.jpgImagine you’re a happy customer who just bought your product.

Smile.Imagine that a 12-year-old comes by and asks, “Why are you smiling?”

Explain why you’re happy in words that the 12-year-old will understand.”


You can improve by practicing your pitch and delivering it to the mirror, your family and your associates. You might even use your smart phone to capture yourself on video as you make your pitch. If you need improvement, you may find our public speaking tips helpful.

Watch the video How to Master the Elevator Pitch

Click tho view Geoffrey James How to Master the Elevator Pitch

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Do These Things if You Are Moving to a New Host, or Upgrading Your WordPress Theme

Don’t try to move your website or update your theme without packing up the most essential items: Your WordPress database and all your posts and images. Photo By: Drew Coffman

Before you move your site, you must pack

It’s rare that someone chooses to move and leave all their worldly goods behind. But that’s exactly what some people do when they relocate their website to a new host or upgrade their website’s theme, or replace their existing static html site with a dynamic CMS based website.

There are two essential steps to prepare to move your site or change your hosting: back up and the creation of an inventory of all pages by creating a sitemap.

If you are going to undertake a hosting change you or your web developer must do these things in order to have an easy move.

Back up your site

By not backing up or copying your site’s content you risk losing it all in the transfer. Before doing anything, back up both your theme and your MySQL database if you have a content managed website.

You can use Filezilla to make copies of all your website directories and files, saving them to your hard drive. Or if you have a WordPress site, can use WordPress’ export tool to allow you to export all your data neatly.

Create a sitemap

Next, build a sitemap of your existing site capturing all URLs and relationships of pages to each other.

You can use Google’s Webmaster Tools to create a sitemap, or if you have a WordPress self-hosted site you can install the most popular WordPress plugin, Google XML Sitemaps. But what if your site is not a WordPress site? How do you create a sitemap? Either with Google’s Webmaster Tools or with an online tool such as XML Sitemaps.

After you move your site, you should create 301 redirects which will prevent the loss of your SERP (search engine results pages) referrals. [Read our post on the topic.] When you setup your new site, especially if you are not maintaining an exact copy of your previous site’s structure, need to set up redirects for every page which previously existed and which no longer exists in your new site.

As with preparation for any trip, your digital data needs good planning. And tidy packing. Happy Travels!

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