Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Yes, it is that time of year again when many are traveling to those lush tropical or picturesque ski destinations. Spring marks the time to pack up the vacation clothing, sun-tan lotion and cameras to take a break from the ordinary routine of school, work or just everyday life.

Do we really need the break? I think the answer is yes! Do we need to go to far away lands, beaches or mountains? I think the answer is no! Although, I must admit that those vacations are always welcomed and exciting.

A new environment can function as a catalyst to shake the cobwebs from your brain, give you energy and help you to think new creative thoughts. When you step into a fresh environment (especially those dramatically different from your regular routine) you awaken your senses because you are inundated with stimuli of all shapes and sizes.

So maybe all you really need is a change of scenery. To awaken your spirit this spring try something new and different. It is easy! You can pretend you are a tourist in your own town. Look at a travel book or visit the web and find a location nearby that you have never visited. Yesterday, I took a trip into Chicago and visited the Shedd Aquarium. Now I have been there many times but this time we decided to only visit those areas we usually overlook or just never get around to seeing. We spent four hours seeing exhibits and shows that were completely new to us. That is exciting and rejuvenating.

If your schedule doesn’t permit a full-day excursion you can try just varying your routine. Travel a new route to work, eat lunch at a new restaurant or pack something completely different, or you can do something completely crazy like having pancakes and eggs for dinner. I think you get the picture – mix it up! I guarantee you’ll have a surge of creativity and probably a whole lot of fun. Happy Trails!

We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on ways to stir creativity. Have you visited some great locations, tried new experiences or experimented with changing your everyday routine? Let us know your ideas and results!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Innovation Recipe -- Change locations -- Move

My best thoughts come when I am engaged in other endeavors. You know like working out at the gym or visiting blogs of other creative types. I am always on the hunt for new and inspiring places where I can put pencil to paper or click away into cyberspace.

When I need a break from my desk I first head to the coffee shop. Not just any coffee shop -- the little retro, diner like coffee house. A place where they still keep the regular customers’ cups mounted on a peg board. Just hearing the lively, spirited conversation, the smell of regular coffee, and the 1950s décor whisks me away and can magically fill me with new inspirations.

If it is later in the afternoon and I am afraid of that sixth cup of coffee, I often head to the woods or the beach. There is something therapeutic about the quietness of being outside. Just seeing the sun and feeling the air on my face can be enough to face the rest of the day.

Other changes of scenery may include the treadmill, library, driving in a car, book stores, some have even found their best ideas come while in the shower

Do you have any unusual or even wacky places that you visit for inspiration or that creative "AHA Moment"? Share it, if you can, who knows maybe we'll even visit you there!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What are Catalysts for Creativity?

I am sitting here trying to think up a name for a new product. It is funny that while I have performed this act a hundred times before --- never has an idea come while sitting down, looking at a blank page waiting for the name to just show up. I just isn’t going to happen like that!

That is why I ask, "What are your Catalysts for Creativity?" For me there is a formula. I love to gather information about the product/project I am working on. I mean as much information as possible. I become steeped in the research (company provided, internet, library) I then go back and bounce the idea off a trusted co-worker, friend, family member or at this point anyone who crosses my path. Watch out!

I then bounce away from the process all together. I rejoin life with ideas still wondering about. If time is available two or three days later I will go to my favorite little coffee house and begin writing to see what takes shape. And, it is usually there where I will witness the beginnings of an idea or concept taking form. Ideas and names appear, sometimes faster than I can write. I could spend days in this mode! That is if the lattes keep coming.

At this point it is just a matter of making sure I convey the vision in a format that others can quickly grasp. For me the input of others always makes the end product even better. It’s called collaboration darlin’ and nothing is sweeter…except maybe my coconut macaroons at midnight.

Please feel free to send any of your catalysts for creativity. We would love to share them on-line or we’ll stop by your on-line Creative Space to see what innovations you have.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stimulate Creative Thinking with Cyriel Kortleven

I was just checking the Catalyst Ranch calendar to see what creative talent may be stopping by and I found something that may be of interest -- especially to those of you living in the Chicagoland area.

Cyriel Kortleven from NEW SHOES TODAY will make his way from Belgium on March 31 from 6 to 9 p.m.to spend an evening at the Ranch for an interactive session to stimulate your creative thinking.

Cyriel is an enthusiastic, driven crew member of NEW SHOES TODAY who work to support people & organizations on their road to creation, innovation & change. Cyriel is an expert in creativity & innovation & loves to move people in both literal & figurative ways. Recently he and a colleague wrote a Dutch book "And Action" to help trainers, facilitators & consultants work in a more interactive way with their groups.

If you would like to join Cyriel on March 31 visit www.catalystranch.com and find out all of the details. If you would like more information on Cyriel and the creative work that he does just visit www.newshoestoday.com.

For me spring is often a time of renewal and recharging the batteries. I can think of no better spark than joining Cyriel for an evening of fun, where great actionable ideas are shared in a creative space.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gregg Fraley's Brainstorming Tips for Personal Innovation

We have been exploring the many facets of brainstorming and creativity. At Catalyst Ranch we experience creativity, innovation and group brainstorming on a daily basis. But, what if you are tackling an individual project or problem. Can you still work creatively to find an answer? Can you brainstorm solo?

We decided to seek insight from Gregg Fraley, Creativity and Innovation Expert. Gregg is an innovation consultant to Fortune 500 companies, partner in the Innovise Guys and author of Jack's Notebook: A business Novel about Creative Problem Solving.

Visit http:www.greggfraley.com for his wonderful selection of creativity offerings. We'll chat with Gregg from time to time for his offerings on a Creatives' Space. Please enjoy the following and don't forget to visit his website to view the entire article.

Rolling with Creativity
Brainstorming Alone

A tool for personal innovation
By Gregg Fraley © 2008

When I think of brainstorming my earliest memory is the old TV show, Bewitched. Darrin Stephens, the long-suffering husband of the nose-twitching witch “Sam” was an old-fashioned ad man. Every now and then Darrin and his boss Larry Tate kicked ideas around for one of their accounts – Hollywood style brainstorming. Still, I got a sense of the freewheeling, wacky, anything goes part of brainstorming, and the image stuck with me. Brainstorming, my earliest imprint says, is a group thing, and subsequent real life experiences reinforced this. When ideas start to flow and one person’s ideas trigger ideas in you, it’s powerful, and it feels like the group think is better than what one person could create on their own.

The group image of brainstorming is pervasive. Clearly, most people don’t think they can “brainstorm alone” when dealing with a complex situation. You might say you are “trying to come up with something” or that you are “mulling it over.” It’s usually an invisible process, it’s all in your head. Simply reflecting, thinking, often works – solutions occur to us, and we get right into action. Other times it’s not so easy. It’s one of the toughest challenges in life. That is, coping with the endless and unsolvable problems running around in your head.

You can probably guess that I’m all for doing more than just mulling it over. Most of the time, our thinking in our head is circular. We rehash the situation, and go over it again and again, and we have a hard time getting into idea mode. You may think of one, but then you immediately analyze it to death, and your circle back and do another re-hash. The image that comes to mind is beating your head against the wall. The situation calls for new ideas. Sometimes you need ideas!

And you’re alone.

Maybe it’s a situation or challenge that requires your personal touch. Maybe it’s a problem that you “own” in a very personal way, like a relationship with a business partner or loved one. For whatever reason you need to think things through on your own.

Time for a personal brainstorming session, yes, brainstorming alone. And it can work as effectively as working with a group. Brainstorming alone is a powerful tool for what I call personal innovation.

Okay, how do you go about Brainstorming Alone?

For starters, take a deep breath, smile, and believe you can come up with great ideas. Be optimistic.

Then, get prepared. Get comfortable. Dress casually so nothing is pinching or confining. Start when you are reasonably fresh and if you’re tired, take a walk, or do some stretching, and then begin.

Get yourself a good notebook to write in. Personally, I like sketch books with no lines, but this is a matter of taste. Get one it feels good to write in.

Have a smooth flowing pen, one that feels good in your hand. Pens are usually taken for granted aren’t they? You can subtly change your thinking by simply getting a pen you enjoy using.

Believe me, all this little stuff adds up. Brainstorming alone is almost like prayer, and a positive ritual of preparation can make a difference.

Start writing. Write your challenge at the top of the page, and frame it with words like, “How Might I….or In what ways might I…then finish the sentence.

Start listing ideas. Just list them and don’t even think about them, don’t edit them, don’t edit yourself, don’t analyze, just list, list, list. Keep the pen moving – even when it seems like garbage.

Ø When you hit a block, take a deep breath and try to become another person. That’s right, put yourself in the shoes of Lincoln, or Ghandi, or Thomas Edison, or that fourth grade teacher you so admired…and list.

Ø List even bad ideas, stupid ideas, expensive ideas, ideas that patently “won’t work”, ideas that have failed before. Just list any idea that comes to you. Brainstorming alone is a flow experience and getting into the flow is key to getting results.

Ø Getting into flow can be tough, but if you keep writing, it will happen, and the list of ideas will grow.

Ø Do not stop when you hit a really good idea. Keep going. Don’t settle for a B plus when an A plus is right around the corner.

When you simply can’t do anymore, take a rest. A rest might be for ten minutes or a week. Then list again. Brainstorming alone is not a one-time thing, it’s an on-going thing.

Stop when you have about 5 times more ideas then you think is reasonable. Set a goal – 20 ideas, 50 ideas, 100 ideas -- it depends on your challenge and its complexity. Your brain will fill the list to meet your goal, it’s amazing how it rises to the test.

When you’ve met your quota, then review your list. Really consider even the nutty ideas and try to shape them into something that might really work. See if you can combine a couple and make something really powerful.

If you do this you will come up with some amazing solutions and people will be wondering if you have a wife named Sam with a magic nose. Try brainstorming alone, it’s a powerful tool for personal innovation.

Thank you Gregg for all of your insight and how-tos on the topic of brainstorming solo. It is so helpful to have a framework when tackling an issue or working to produce a marvelous new invention.

We would love to hear from anyone who has used these or similar methods to develop new ideas or products. Send along your thoughts!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Brainstorming Starter Tips

On Monday we talked about the origins of brainstorms or ideation sessions. Those energetic sessions that companies use to develop a new product, provide company direction and find creative solutions to an existing problem.

Having been part of many brainstorming sessions I have found that those that produce the desired results have one thing in common: COMPLETE INVOLVEMENT BY ATTENDEES!

How does one garner involvement by all attendees? I think the answer is creating an atomosphere where everyone feels comfortable. Those ideation sessions that create the most enthusiatic participation begin with Warm-up Exercises and Icebreakers.

I sat down with Eva Niewiadomski, Catalyst Ranch, Ranch Czarina and asked her to provide a few effective Warm-up Exercises and Icebreakers that she has used during her most fruitful innovation sessions. Following is an exercise Eva has used with much success. We will provide more as we meet in the months to come.

Assignment: Create a mask that shows how you would like to look if you were to become a cartoon character.
ALLOTTED TIME: 15 minutes
1. Provide a table with various supplies to build a mask, using a colored paper plate as the base. Supplies can include yarn, pipecleaners (have several varieties), plastic eyeballs, ribbons, fabric remnants, construction paper, colored index cards, wrapping paper, glue sticks, Elmer's glue, glitter paint tubes, scissors, cotton balls, colored string, candy, staplers, tape, plastic beads, paperclips (regular and colored)felt, pompoms.
2. Have them wrap the masks around the back of their chair using yarn for ties.

This will create a very positive environment and spirits should remain high with the cartoon masks displayed all day. Such a fun way to begin conversations!

Feel free to contact us if you have a specific need. We love to brainstorm ideation ideas. Whew! We are here to support your creative needs. If we don't have an answer -- we'll find someone who can help!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Andy Sernovitz, Word of Mouth Guru, Shares Trade Secrets at Catalyst Ranch

Andy Sernovitz's book Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking will be featured at the Matchbook Club, Catalsyt Ranch, Thursday, March 19.

Andy & his consulting company, GasPedal, are among Catalyst Ranch's favorite clients. We just knew we had to wrangle Andy in for an evening to discuss his book and share some fascinating industry advice.

This is THE book that will teach you how to use word of mouth marketing to make your company more profitable, how to spend less on marketing, and how to make your customers happier. It's the simple, back-pocket, straightforward-but-not-for-dummies guide to word of mouth marketing.

An 18-year veteran of the interactive marketing business, Andy has spent years helping companies learn how to do better marketing. Andy teaches word of mouth marketing at Northwestern and has started half a dozen companies including GasPedal, his consulting company, advises brands like TiVo, Dell, Ralph Lauren, Sprint, and Kimberly-Clark.

He created the Word of Mouth Marketing Association around the latest revolutions in blogs, buzz, and word of mouth. Andy also writes an amazing newsletter and blog called "Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That."

Date: Thursday, March 19th 2009 6pm to 8pm
Where: Catalyst Ranch 656 W. Randolph St, Suite 3W
Cost: $30 or 2 (comparably priced) new children's books to benefit Room to Read®

Monday, March 16, 2009

Brainstorms Spur Creativity!

The last time we met in the Creatives’ Space we mentioned brainstorm. Those fun, dynamic, energetic sessions that are used to produce a new product, provide a solution to a problem or create a new business venture. These sessions tend to have the best outcomes when individuals are gathered and given the opportunity to expand their thinking in a creative, fostering environment. Ideally, while chewing bubblegum, playing with a slinky and pounding a piece of silly putty.

As creatives we have all been involved in a few brainstorms. Just where did the term brainstorm originate? We sought immediate feedback at www.answers.com and here is what they wrote:
In the 1920s the term brainstorm was used as a way to describe a “sudden surge of ingenuity.” Around 1950, Alex Osborn of the noted advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn had a brainstorm of his own. He expanded the concept to create a monsoon of ideas when he began hosting brainstorming sessions. An article in Business Week, explains that it involved “free-wheeling sessions that encouraged ideas by prohibiting any evaluation or discussion until the session was over.” Osborn would absolutely explode if he could see the ideas that have evolved from his then revolutionary brainstorm group.

Recently brainstorming sessions have also been referred to as ideation sessions. Our creative space at Catalyst Ranch was even founded on the tenet that great ideas are inspired by groups of people in a creative, supportive environment. And, don’t forget to play baby, ideate, brainstorm. Just have fun with it!
We would love to hear your thoughts on great brainstorming ideas or even fun brainstorm sessions you have participated in.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Welcome to the Creatives' Space

Hi Ya’ll! Welcome to the one-and-only CREATIVES’ SPACE! That’s right a space dedicated to professionals like you! To enter you need the following: A desire to enhance creativity and the environment in which creativity is born.
We plan to dedicate this on-line space, as we do our Catalyst Ranch, Chicago location, to be used by creatives, or those creatively slumped right now. This is a colorful, comfortable, inspiring place where you can share ideas, ask questions, pick up information or just hang out with “CREATIVE” types. And, we at the ranch will help facilitate and foster creativity. Please un-fasten your seat belt and get ready to play!
So welcome, grab a seat and let your brain storm! And, don’t forget to invite all of your creative friends… spread the word let’s see how far we can spread creativity.