Your Small-Business Innovation Tool Kit

By Rieva LesonskyBusiness on Main

A roundup of the top tools to help business owners refresh their way of thinking and build more innovative, creative companies.

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Innovation has been top of mind lately for many entrepreneurs. After all, in our fast-paced business world, innovation is key to small-business success. But innovating consistently is easier said than done.

To help you, your team and your business be more innovative, I’ve rounded up some of the top innovation tools. These websites, blogs and software products will refresh your way of thinking, boost your creativity and make your business more innovative — and more successful.

1) “Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work”

Are your efforts at business innovation a struggle because you feel like you’re just not creative? Michael Michalko contends everyone can be creative — once we unlearn the standard ways of thinking that have been drilled into us through habit and education.

His hands-on book explains dozens of creativity tactics and shows you how to become more creative simply by doing the things that creative people regularly do. “Thought Experiments” throughout the book help you put Michalko’s ideas into practice. “Creative Thinkering” is a fun and inspiring read that will unleash your inner innovator.

2) Creative Think

Creativity expert and consultant Roger von Oech earned fame with his 1983 book “A Whack on the Side of the Head.” The business best-seller showed readers how to boost their creativity by being playful, asking seemingly crazy questions, and looking at problems from new perspectives. His Creative Think website features a blog full of ideas to jump-start your creativity, a daily “Creative Whack” exercise that will make you think about old topics in new ways, and all his creativity tools (including his books and an iPhone app) for sale.

3) Innovation Tools

Dubbing itself “the world's largest website focused on business innovation, creativity and brainstorming,” Innovation Tools could very well serve as your one-stop shop for all things innovative.

The site covers the latest innovation news and trends, spotlights useful tools and resources, and includes a thoughtful blog. You’ll find interviews with thought leaders, resource centers that cover a range of innovation-related topics, and more. The Innovation Links Directory alone is worth the price of admission, with hundreds of links covering everything from books and magazines, to creativity consultants and companies, to creativity software and tools.

4) Head Shed

Don’t be fooled by the funky design of this unassuming-looking website. As you dig into it, you’ll discover a treasure trove of links to creativity tools, creative communities and creativity blogs. While some of the links are more “artsy/hippie” than business-focused, you’ll still find plenty of guidance, ideas and inspiration to help your company along the path to innovation. It’s all served up with a dose of humor — one of the key ingredients for successful innovation.


For small-business owners, mind mapping can be a useful tool for everything from idea generation to strategic planning. In mind mapping, you start with one central topic and use lines radiating outward for subtopics (similar to branches on a tree). The visual format helps boost your creativity. You can mind map by hand, or use free or paid software. Learn more about mind mapping at, where you’ll find blog posts, reviews of mind mapping software, and ideas for how to use mind mapping in your business.

6) 100 Online Brainstorming Tools to Help You Think Outside the Box

Want to know how to hold a successful brainstorming session, get your whole team involved, and spark lots of useful ideas? Visit this site and you’ll learn everything you need to know. You’ll find articles, explanations and how-to guides; a long list of specific brainstorming techniques to get your group “unstuck”; and myriad brainstorming tools such as software, books and gadgets.

7) Bulbstorm

Collaborative innovation, a hot buzzword today, simply means inviting outsiders to help your business innovate. With tools like Bulbstorm’s software, it’s easy to do. Create your own online “innovation community” where your employees, partners and customers can share ideas in a secure environment. You can also integrate Bulbstorm with social media tools like Facebook to get feedback on ideas and capture new insights from your customers.

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