The Vulnerability Edge

Oprah Winfrey attributes a lot of her success to her willingness to make mistakes.

“I recognize that what brings me the greatest confidence is a willingness to be vulnerable… It’s knowing that all our mistakes have meaning. And that being open to learning from those mistakes makes the difference between succeeding and getting stuck.”

Those words resonate when it comes to innovation, because at the heart of breakthrough innovation must be a willingness to take risks and be vulnerable.

Thomas Edison famously failed thousands of times on his quest to make the incandescent light bulb. But rather than wallowing in failure, he learned from each attempt. In fact, Edison viewed each failure as a successful way not to make a light bulb before finding his one breakthrough way to do it. He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

What Edison and Winfrey have in common is what I call the “vulnerability edge.” You see, while it may sound oxymoronic, the reality is that it takes courage to be vulnerable. But in being vulnerable, we can get closer to innovation.

The Vulnerability Edge in Action

When brainstorming ideas, for example, we may feel vulnerable expressing our thoughts before a group of people. In the process, sharing what’s on our minds puts us at risk of receiving others’ praise, indifference, or scrutiny.

As scary as this prospect may seem, the time is now to embrace taking such risks during brainstorming sessions, along with the perceived success, mediocrity or failure that can come with it.

Ridding yourself of idea-sharing fear frees you to fully express yourself. In the process, you’ll gain the “vulnerability edge” you require to come up with more and better ideas.

Expanding on these additional ideas can lead to innovation that gives your company the competitive edge. So the next time you’re tempted to remain silent during a brainstorming session, remember Edison and Winfrey. “Put yourself out there” and share your ideas. Open yourself up for failure or ridicule. The breakthrough ideas that stem from your efforts will far outweigh the risks.

Nancy Francis
Principal noo F/X
nancy-small Steve Xenakis
Principal noo F/X

Get Seriously Playful

Seriously Playful!

“Playology is about waking up your senses, infusing our organs of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting – and the higher cognitive senses as well, with the spirit of play. Play ignites creativity and spontaneity. Playing together leads to trust and cooperation.”
– Ellie Katz, the world’s first playologist.

It’s one thing to talk about accessing your inner child. Actually doing it, on a day-to-day basis, is another matter. Engaging in play has long been observed to tap into our imagination, curiosity, and creativity. Play allows us to engage many senses, to laugh, and to have fun.

Dr. Ellie Katz first coined the term “playology” over 30 years ago. Dr. Katz was a registered nurse, educator, psychologist and an artist. What a fabulous combination of competencies! Given her emphasis on humor and laughter we now have come to appreciate the vision she had. Today, we can experience laugh clubs and laughter yoga, which acknowledge the importance of laughter on our overall health and well-being.

Dr. Katz was skillful at helping others rediscover their inner child. She defined playology as the “systematic study of play and its effects on the human organism.” She recognized that there are four benefits of play:

Physical benefits: Play is associated with breathing deeply and immunity benefits.
Cognitive benefits: Play stimulates the right side of the brain associated with creativity and risk-taking.
Psychological and emotional benefits: Play has been associated with many therapeutic benefits such as joy and relaxation.
Spiritual benefits: Play activities free your mind to be open to new input.

So taking some tips from Dr. Katz, we suggest you make play a practice with co-workers and family members. There are so many activities to choose from: doodle, sketch, draw, paint; take something apart; build something; mold clay; toss a ball; read a joke book; get moving; start singing. When generating new ideas we believe play is an important ingredient in our recipe for success.
Stay playful!

© 2016 noo F/X, LLC
Nancy Francis
Principal noo F/X
nancy-small Steve Xenakis
Principal noo F/X

Co-creation with Physicians

noo-cocreationA Win-Win-Win

We do a lot of idea generation with physicians. Having trained hundreds of physicians in over 20 medical specialties on creative problem-solving, we appreciate not just their willingness, but also their pleasure, in participating in a creative effort. Their insights and experience have been invaluable in many challenging innovation projects from positioning and new products, to device and delivery system development.


There are five reasons why physicians find co-creation so satisfying:

  1. Physicians’ Pride as Problem-Solvers: Many physicians see diagnosis and effective disease management as detective work. Many are healthcare private eyes, investigators, and sleuths. For some, their work is essentially creative-problem solving, and many physicians enjoy this challenge.
  2. Intellectual Socialization: Physicians tell us that working as a team to generate possibilities is a refreshing change from their day-to-day. For some physicians, particularly for those in solo and small group practices, work can feel isolating. Brainstorming gives them fresh new perspectives and learning.
  3. Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) as Continuing Medical Education: Only a minority of physicians are exposed to CPS, and these tend to be younger physicians. Exposing physicians to tried and true CPS tools and techniques is exciting new learning for many. This allows them to integrate some of these concepts into their practice and even share them with their children.
  4. Whole Brain Thinking: In our experience, many physicians engage in complementary activities involving the right brain. We specially recruit physicians who enjoy the creative-side of their lives, which can include photography, water color painting, pottery, writing, composing, arts and crafts, gardening, etc. This creative expression along with creative problem-solving engages the whole brain, enabling them to vision what is not there and to generate possibilities, as opposed to providing the “one” answer.
  5. Recognition and Reward: Being a healthcare professional is hard work. Given the complexities of healthcare, doctor’s have told us that the practice of medicine is overly romanticized. Specially recruiting physicians, training them, challenging them and honoring them for their contributions is rewarding. For a precious few hours it takes a doctor out of defensive medicine mode and rewards them for their insight, ideas, and inspiration.

Not only is co-creation satisfying for doctors, it’s also productive for clients, and gratifying for us.

That’s a win-win-win.

Nancy Francis
Principal noo F/X
nancy-small Steve Xenakis
Principal noo F/X
© 2016 noo F/X, LLC

Biographies Inspire

Biographies inspire me. They also give me a better understanding about insights.

For me, it’s not necessarily about their contributions to the world, but how these people think, what they feel, and how they behave during the best of times and through personal adversity. Take Stephen Hawking.

Hawking made us rethink the fundamental formation and workings of the universe, connecting cosmology and physics. He brought black holes, big bang theory, quantum physics and particle theory into our consciousness. He connected the big with the very small.

Some of us also associate Hawking with advanced technology (e.g., head, eye and face recognition and speech synthesis). This technology was used to stay a step ahead of the debilitating progressiveness of amyotrophic   lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease).

But for most of us, Hawking brought science into our homes with popular books like A Brief (and Briefer) History of Time, The Universe in a Nutshell, and The Grand Design.

So how can a great thinker, like Stephen Hawking, inspire you?


First, gather some biographical facts about the person. Jot down words and phrases that are the mosaic of his or her life. Do not censor yourself.

The second step is to organize these “gems” into four categories: qualities, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Below is what I have come to understand about Hawking, the public and private persona, and his personal journey.


  1. Eccentric
  2. Brilliant with little effort
  3. Strong will to live
  4. Determination
  5. Healthy respect for others
  6. Spontaneity
  7. Robbed of abilities
  8. Totally reliant on others
  9. Makes the most out of every minute


  1. Deep thoughts
  2. Belief in the human spirit
  3. Turning problems over in your mind
  4. Getting lost in thoughts
  5. Challenging assumptions
  6. Unifying ideas


  1. Passion to understand
  2. Sense of wonder
  3. Keeping calm
  4. Friendship
  5. Power of love
  6. Sense of humor


  1. Stay physically and mentally active
  2. Ask big questions
  3. Harness the power of disability
  4. Celebrate excellence
  5. Use all your senses
  6. Do not take yourself too seriously
  7. See beyond the boundaries
  8. Take an interest in how things work


So what you have here is a snapshot of a great thinker. These actions       represent healthy habits to integrate into your life each and everyday, not just when you are tackling a problem.

What does this say about insights? If Hawking can shed some light on       insights, it’s about transformation. Insights create change albeit in business, strategy, mindset, perceptions and / or life’s path.

These insights do not have to be earth-shattering. There can be an elegant simplicity to an insight that can create change in us.

Steve Xenakis

© 2016 noo F/X, LLC

Great Minds Think … Differently

We’ve all heard the proverb, “Great minds think alike.” So I did a double take the first time I read the motto, “Great minds think differently.”

It’s the motto for the school for children with learning disabilities that my smart and funny son with dyslexia attended. Here, they celebrate the powerful potential different ways of thinking can bring about. Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, and Charles Schwab are among the many examples of accomplished people with dyslexia.

This unique spin on a classic cliché sparks an element of surprise that commands attention and provokes one’s imagination. “Great minds think differently.”

Come to think of it, it’s true – at least in my innovation work. Great minds, thinking alike may ease decision-making. Yet I’ve seen the most innovative ideas come from teams made up of members with diverse experiences, thinking styles, and approaches.


Four Think-Differently Steps to Team Innovation

Next time you need your team to think differently and innovate, try one or more of these four suggestions:

  1. Invite a newbee, such as someone from another business unit or a new hire. Their naïve perspectives are a plus when attempting to innovate. Lacking preconceived ideas of what “can’t” be done, their input can help challenge assumptions that limit a team’s thinking.
  2. Hire the misfit. It’s comfortable to hire those who fit right in and think like the rest of the team. Yet, this practice may hinder your team’s ability to innovate. Knowing this, NASA actively recruits dyslexic engineers, known for sparking the discovery of breakthrough solutions by approaching problems differently.
  3. Bring in an outsider, such as experts directly and indirectly related to the topic. For example, if you’re working on a food innovation, bring in a chef, as well as a pan manufacturer or a gardener. In search of a new hair-color product? Bring in not only a hair stylist, but also an interior designer with expertise in the use of color, or an architect with an understanding of structure and form.
  4. Co-create with a panel. For example, noo view® thinkers from noo F/X, whom we’ve hand selected for their ability to think creatively and differently, as great minds do. Most of these panel members are also non-linear thinkers. Because they don’t work with your products everyday, even if they may use them as consumers, they bring to the table fresh perspectives as consumers, small business owners, medical professionals and others. Perspectives you may only encounter when co-creating with a noo view® or other type of panel assembled to focus on your initiative, in partnership with your team.

Recently, my husband asked my son whether he wished he didn’t have dyslexia. “No,” my son replied. Despite the many challenges dyslexia presents for him, he sees that thinking differently is also part of what makes him great.

Nancy Francis is principal of noo F/X – a top innovation-consulting agency that helps companies take their idea generation to the next level. Learn more at
© 2016 noo F/X, LLC

“Yes, And …” Can Transform “Reaction” into “Creation”

“Reaction” and “creation” are two words inextricably linked to ideas, the creative process, and innovation. Like siblings, both words have similar DNA, but different letter sequencing.

Reaction” is a natural response to an idea.

Creation” is the process of bringing an idea into existence.

You may have a positive, indifferent, or negative reaction to an idea. No matter. To truly innovate, you must move the “C” from “reaction” to fuel “creation.” Here’s how in two simple steps when you react to an idea:

  • Yes! Acknowledge what you love, like, value, and see potential in. Take nothing for granted.
  • and…” Using a set of language such as “what if…”, “how might we…”, “I wish we could…”, or “how to…”, begin to generate possibiities that modify the idea or change it completely to create a new idea.

Undergoing what we call this “Yes, and …” creative brainstorming process takes vision, strength, and courage in your convictions. It also requires a dose of deep reflection.

Your efforts to keep thoughts flowing, rather than shut them down, can help you come up with more and better ideas. In the process, you’re poised to uncover innovations with the power to boost your business.

Steve Xenakis is principal of noo F/X – a top innovation-consulting agency that helps companies take their idea generation to the next level. Learn more at
© 2016 noo F/X, LLC

Think with Your Heart when you Build a Brand Blueprint

Poet and College Professor Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The same can be said for your brand.

This is why it’s important to think from your heart when creating a plan, or “blueprint,” for your brand. In the process, you’ll more accurately – and memorably – capture how your brand looks, sounds, feels and speaks to consumers.


Build your brand blueprint by evaluating it across the following five categories:

 1. Brand Features and Benefits

Start by identifying physical features and benefits of your brand. Never underestimate this important step, which helps you generate powerful reasons for customers to believe in what you have to offer. Ask yourself:

What are my brand’s features?

For example, “Round and smaller than a dime, plain M&M’s® have colorful, candy shells that surround sweet milk chocolate.”

What does my brand do for customers?

For example, “Purell® kills 99.99 percent of most common germs that may cause disease.”

How does my brand make customers feel?

Try to come up with an unforgettable example to illustrate your brand’s impact, as Suburu® has in its love trilogy:

  • The love loyal Suburu owners have for their cars
  • The love parents have for their children
  • The loving act of transporting others in a safe Suburu

What impact does the product have on consumers’ senses or usage experience?

For example, Yoplait® Light represents its line of dessert-themed flavors as “sinfully” delicious to eat.


 2. Brand Target Audience

Develop a deeper understanding of your prospects and customers, or “target audience,” to connect with them on a more emotional level. Get a better idea of what motivates them by learning their:

  • Demographics, such as gender, age, and life stage
  • Psychographics, such as attitudes (e.g. sincerity), orientations (e.g. family oriented) and values (e.g. honesty)
  • Experience, including the most relevant context in which your brand is used (e.g. Use Vaseline® Spray & Go Skin Care Line after the shower and when you do not have a lot of time to moisturize your skin)


3. Brand Personality / Character

 Your brand’s personality or character is its ultimate projection. Identify its traits, which will form, in part, the basis of your and your customers’ relationship with your brand. Answer the following:

If my brand were a person, what would he or she be like?

A brand example that springs from both a product characteristic and its users is Harley-Davidson, with motorcycles and riders that typically have rugged, masculine, macho and unique identities.


 4. Brand Insight

Still thinking with your heart throughout these exercises? Great! Chances are, your “brand insight” is starting to take shape. To uncover your brand insight, ask yourself:

  • What problem does my brand solve? (Or which opportunity does it leverage?)
  • What makes my brand different, new and/or better than the competition, and how do I deliver it?

For example, the Sony Wii brand insight is that interactive gaming experiences are fun and memorable for people of all ages. The solution delivers on its core values of inclusiveness, customization, fitness fun, togetherness, and healthy competition. Best of all, it enables family, friends and co-workers to play together.


5. Brand Essence

The Disney experience is often expressed as “magical.” This is a “brand essence.”

Quickly, state what you w­ant your brand to stand for in the minds of prospects and customers: ________________________________.

A strong brand essence can help you:

  • Augment your brand story
  • Inspire prospects to choose you over the competition

So remember when determining the essence of your brand: people will never forget how your brand made them feel. So create a unique, authentic and believable brand – an achievable feat when your brand blueprint comes from the heart.


© 2016 noo F/X, LLC
By Steve Xenakis and Nancy Francis, Principals of noo F/X – a top innovation-consulting agency that helps companies take their new product launches to the next level.