The Answer is in the Question, The Invitational Stem

April 22nd, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

Newton’s third law of motion states that “Every action is accompanied by an equal and opposite reaction. And, these forces always occur in pairs”. This simple law reveals that a reactive force cannot exist without an active counterpart.

An answer is a reaction of opposition, agreement or indifference to a previous action. The magnitude or quality of an answer largely depends on the question. The principles in the art of conversation instruct that desired results depend on the right answers, and the right answers depend on the right questions.

This truth is especially critical in creative thinking and ideation, where optimal results are desired.

A simple way to build a strong question is to phrase it around an Invitational Stem.

An Invitational Stem is the beginning part of a question that focuses on very specific phrasing. The focus on the phrasing is what creates a great question, thus resulting in a great answer. The key structure of the phrase is:

“In what ways might we…..”?

In what ways might we increase productivity?” is a better question than “How do we increase productivity?”, or “Let’s increase productivity!

The term “How?” is narrow-focused and asks for a specific. “Ways” is broad, open-ended and encourages creative thought.

Another great phrase alternative is:

“How might we…”?

Might…” implies a greater level of curiosity, wonder and experimenting.

In ideation, quantity is a value as much as quality.

Hybrid Group Brainstorming

January 29th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

A variety of reasons play a role in the behavior of an individual within a group context. Through the lens of Psychology alone, factors like fear, rejection and self-esteem significantly stifle a person’s ability to contribute value. Corporate stigmas like bureaucracy, hierarchy and personal agendas dramatically alter the immediate and the long-term performance of a team, and the organization.

A study (PDF) conducted by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and INSTEAD Business School revealed that traditional group brainstorming sessions yield ideas that are both lower in quality and quantity. Allowing time for participants to individually generate ideas, then bring the ideas into the collaborative environment proved to be ideal.

Based on this research, I’ve developed a Dynamically Hybrid Group Brainstorming method. This approach allows for the ideal time and setting needed for optimal individual thinking by allowing members to approach the challenge individually in their own environment under terms that stimulate creative thought and ideas.



  • The Brief – Write down the challenge or the objectives. Make sure the brief is concise, and general enough as not to imply any ideas or directions. Your challenge needs to be well thought out and clear, preferably written in an Invitational Stem format (“In What Ways Might We______“). Establish specific deadlines.
  • The Participants – Select the participants. The facilitator will distribute and collect the ideas.
  • The Exchange – Set up a way to anonymously exchange the ideas. It could be through email, online or paper. Setting up a online password-protected publishing platform using WordPress is a great location for the exchange to happen. Publish your brief as a post and allow commenting. Advise each participant to submit their ideas as comments using factitious names. And, make sure that all comments are held for moderation by checking the option “administrator must always approve the comment” (located in the Discussion settings). This way, participants will not see other participant’s ideas. Once all ideas have been submitted, the administrator will approve the comments, thus making the submissions viewable by the group.



1. Distribute Brief – Make the brief public to the participants. Instruct them to come up with ideas and submit the results by a specific deadline. Advise everyone not to spend too much time elaborating on each idea, simply note the idea or thought, and move on. Quantity is more important than quality at this point. Encourage the individuals to work in their desired environments (cafe, bookstore, etc.)

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VSC Idea Management™

September 17th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

VSC Idea Management™ is a open model for managing the onset, development and execution of ideas; whether they are events, products, systems, or campaigns.

It can be applied in advertising campaigns, corporate planning and systems, business initiatives, new market penetration, product development, cost reduction, goal setting, and entrepreneurial ventures.

The VSC Architecture™ questions and notes are intentionally broad to encompass the wide spectrum of nuances that are unique to industries, challenges and opportunities. And, the model is structured using three variables; Vision (Why), Strategy (How), and The Creative (What).

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Characteristics of a Problem As Ideas

September 16th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Smaller sets are manageable – whether they are people, projects or things. We’re able to see them in their entirety. We understand the dynamics, processes, resources and forces involved. And we have a greater and more intimate control over the smaller sets.

A trip is seemingly shorter and manageable when frequent stops are part of the journey.

When problems arise, they often present themselves as a complex cacophony of stuff that must be timely addressed and resolved. To navigate through a problem, we need to first understand the territory that makes up a problem, then begin to look at the individual characteristics of the problem to generate solutions.

When problems arise, any of the following characteristics are creating the problem:

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Criteria For a Successful Startup

July 30th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Every successful entrepreneur has his own criteria for measuring the success factor of an idea for starting a business. There is also value in studying how others make decisions. Norm Brodsky, a veteran entrepreneur who founded and built half a dozen large companies, uses a simple approach when starting a business.

According to Brodsky, three factors must be at play when venturing out:

An Established Concept

Education can be expensive. Educating the masses can be really expensive, not to mention a daunting task for a business to undertake. Stick with something people are familiar with.

Focusing on an established concept does not lessen your ability to create innovative and revolutionary products. Take Apple for example. They’ve been doing the same thing since day one – developing technology that is intuitively simple, functional and beautiful. The iPad, the iPhone, the Touch – these are all familiar devices. The market does not need a crashcourse on what these devices are and what they do. Yet, they are truly remarkable products that challenge our accepted perception of what technology is able to do, how it’s able to do it – and its aesthetics. Human-centered design has been around for centuries, yet Apple continues to push the envelope.

Takeaway – Instead of painfully searching for the “next big wow thing”, identify a familiar or understood industry/product and build upon it. Just look at what Aaron Patzer did with – genius!

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It's In Our DNA to Create

June 25th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

We as humans are creative beings by nature. By our design and DNA we are wired to make stuff and create. The creative drive comes from a inner place, far behind our intellect and our emotions. It is something that cannot be learned or taught. It can only be realized and developed. Since this pure creative drive comes from an inner place, the process of birthing an idea is often hindered and polluted by our intellect and our emotions. Environments that stimulate all five senses enable us to tap into this inner place where the best ideas live. While our senses are being stimulated and engaged, we allow for the ideas to be heard. Yes, there comes a time when we need to convert this idea into a feasible product using our intellect and our emotions. But, we need to find the seed of the idea. And the way to tap into this source is to block out our sensory receptors.

This post is a further explanation to Airports, Coffee & Pavlov’s Dogs.

Airports, Coffee & Pavlov’s Dogs

June 22nd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Have you ever wondered why certain environments, music and even scents inspire you and stimulate creative thought and ideas? To expand on this question even further. Why do we come up with the greatest ideas when we’re not coming up with ideas? When we play, ideas happen.

We’re in a constant cycle of growth and learning. As we move through life, we unconsciously develop ways to make our life more efficient by creating habits and routines. We find shorter ways to get from point A to point B. We develop new systems to get things done. And, we often learn efficiency and fall into habits without thinking. Our learning and growing is never without influence; whether the influence is a person, a story, an idea or an internal drive.

One of the forms of learning is Associative Learning. We often refer to this as Classical Conditioning (yes, the story of Pavlov’s dogs!) In a nutshell, if the brain is presented and conditioned with stimuli that evokes a specific response, then anytime a similar stimuli is presented, the same response is triggered. Over time, our minds develop an association between the stimulus and the response.

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Testing Your Ideas

June 11th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

No entrepreneur wants to waste their time developing a business idea that will only end up flopping. Here’s a simple test to determine whether your idea has a chance of becoming valuable and desirable, or you’re just wasting your time and resources.

The above drawing takes into account two factors, PR value and Needs value.

Bottom Left -If your idea falls into this quadrant, just stop. No one will ever buy your product, nor will the press care for the lack of a story.

Top Left – This quadrant can be described as the typical publicity stunt without the proper backing. The story is great. PR loves it. Mass exposure is achieved. But the immediate rise is short-lived after the public realizes your product is without value and doesn’t fill an actual need.

Bottom Right – A great idea without PR support is paved with a journey of an uphill push. Eventually the product will make it into the mass market, only after it’s passed the chasm.

Top Right – If you’re story or idea is newsworthy, it is the best free advertising anyone can get. If you’re story is really good, it will spread like wildfire through blogs, tweets and likes. A great idea coupled with immediate publicity equals a true winner.

Bottom line, as you come up with ideas, make sure people will buy it and there’s an interesting story behind it for the press to eat up.

Thank you @gaeblerdotcom for sharing your approach on

Deductive & Inductive Reasoning As Opportunities

May 28th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

The greatest ideas typically result from Abductive Reasoning, where one looks at a set of seemingly unrelated data with the understanding that a solution is there.

Two additional reasoning methods can be used to develop ideas and explore opportunities, Deductive and Inductive Reasoning.

Deductive Reasoning (DR) begins with a Theory, an observation or speculation about a particular interest or subject; a belief. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, a definition of Theory is a “supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, esp. one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.” A Hypotheses is then formed around the Theory, to provide an explanation that is not based on concrete evidence. Through a series of testing, observations and prototyping the Theory is proven either true or false. DR works from the general to the specific.

  • Application: DR works well with existing ideas (products, services, beliefs). Implementing DR in a creative session can expose weaknesses of a particular idea, thus providing an opportunity to improve the idea, or create a new one.

Inductive Reasoning (IR) works from the specifics (observations, testing, prototyping) to the general (The Theory).

  • Application – IR is a great tool that can be used by entrepreneurs to identify and capitalize on trends. By observing cultural nuances, social shifts and early-adopter behaviors, theories can be concluded and turned into entrepreneurial opportunities.

Having a broader understanding of reasoning and logic, additional approaches are available for identifying and generating ideas.

Abductive Reasoning

May 11th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

Abductive Reasoning is at the heart of Creativity, including Innovation, Design Thinking, and all other methods and visionary goals. The most ground-breaking ideas resulted from looking at a set of seemingly unrelated components.

Abductive reasoning typically begins with an incomplete set of observations and proceeds to the likeliest possible explanation for the set. Abductive reasoning yields the kind of daily decision-making that does its best with the information at hand, which often is incomplete. (Source Link)

Our imaginations follow this type of thinking pattern. It is ideas and thoughts that at first appear absurd and ridiculous. Einstein regularly experimented using this method to explore the world around him.

Action: Using small note cards, write down anything that captures your attention during the course of a week (things, objects, ideas, products/services used, food consumed, tangible, intangible, etc.). At the end of the week, take the inventory of cards and force yourself to find relationships, trends, opportunities and ideas – regardless of how ludicrous that may be.