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10 FREE Lean things I rely on each day to be innovative and creatively LEAN

Updated on August 6, 2015

Mr Scrooge develops something innovative

I may come across as a bit Ebenezer Scrooge in this post, but I don’t mean too.

Amongst many other labels(*some of which too rude to write!) I define myself as being a lean creative.

This post attempts to smash the notion that turning an innovation into an action requires massive investment.

Often folk hit a self defined hurdle in their innovations by assuming lack of budget can stifle their actions. If you find yourself in this position for heaven’s sake yourself. This is complete nonsense.

Being a Lean Creative means that I can and do create innovations with what I have.

Historically I have worked in an environment where I felt that I had to “own” the entire production pipeline to be considered a “player”. But modern day thinking has pushed these notions to one side.

By working with an open innovation mindset means that I can now make experiments using open source and free introductory offerings. There are communities of people out there giving away stuff with the intention of motivating others to make innovations. In return for making these experiments you are merely agreeing to credit the individuals for their contributions. Of course if the idea goes nuclear then they are in for a cut too, but that is only fair.

By making iterative experiments using assets that can be free to use, you can test your ideas. If the experiment fails it is done so quickly and cost effectively.

By being a lean creative I assume one of my parameters for idea creation is the how to do my new thing within my resources.

These days I write, blog and talk for a living. Here is my miserly tool chain that I use each day.

1. Google Chromebook

OK so my first thing in my list of “free” assets is something you have to pay for: #fail

In my defence I bought my Chromebook a couple of years ago as it was the cheapest laptop on the block.

I have to also admit that I am a bit of a Google fanboy. At the time I was getting miffed with the battery life and boot speed of my old Windows device. I also thought that the Apple while cool didn’t really work for my right handed brain. The cost was a bit of a turn off too.

It’s fair to say I struggled with it initially. This was partly down to my addiction to storing my work locally. Editing documents with Google docs was NEARLY OK. Editing pictures using Pixlr was NEARLY OK. Google hangouts was NEARLY OK but it wasn’t Skype.

As time has moved on the software has gotten better, but I have noticed a change in me too.

The nearly OK thing chimed with me one day. Instead of viewing it as an issue I saw that it facilitated my lack of distraction.

Lean has the notion like Goldilocks of making products so that they are “just right”.

I realised the lack of frills for my laptop made me focus more on the production of the content rather than the fluff. My Chromebook’s one screen means that I don't have twitter pinging me every few minutes.

The battery life of the thing is amazing too. I can make a trip on the Chiltern train to London and back and still have enough juice left in the tank to be able to watch a Youtube video when I get back.


2. Windows Desktop PC

So having said that my Chromebook rocks, my umbilical cord to Windows has not really been severed. I can be a contrary fella I know, but I actually bought this PC from a mate whose company was effectively chucking them out

As I type this post now I sit in my office starting at a two screen setup running Windows something or other. As I mentioned before I stick with Windows over turning to Mac from the cost point of view..

I can't really explain my addiction to Windows. Its really based on convergent thinking which I abhor in myself. Its also based on a comfy knowledge of where the buttons are and where settings are located, which is annoying me as I write as I know they are all going to be off in different places if I hit that dammed upgrade to Windows 10 option.

Having a Windows PC gives me access to a heap of free tools that I have used on and off for years…

Windows Desktop
Windows Desktop

3. Google Docs

Like a patient at an AA meeting I admit it. I am a Google fan boy.

And in this case not just because it is free.

I’m constantly nagging my kids to sort out a Google account just so that they can have access to the sub atomic particle version of their homework in the cloud rather than carry the bulky atomic version around with them on an easily losable USB stick.

What I love about docs is really having all my digital stuff hosted across any device I clap my hands on. It’s on my phone, my PC, my Chromebook or even my Dad’s PC.

I’ll admit that Google Docs was initially a bit of a pain in the arse (ass) to use. Mainly this was thru my interaction with other people. Its compatibility with Office was initially a bit ropey. This made for things like tracking changes with work colleagues awkward. I ended up using combinations of both systems, which only added complexity.

My last two books however were created using the system and proof reading whilst done at the proofer with MS Word, it was tracked perfectly using Google Doc system my end.

My argument for MS Word versus Google Doc is not just price based. Even tho Pareto suggests the magic ratio of 80:20 I reckon I only used 10% of the office family. The 90% of feature set while I knew it was there was only a distraction. When writing formatting is really an excuse for procrastination.



From recommending the Google way I can’t help but dip back into the world of windows and the free stuff it can throw up.

Pixlr is great product for the Google office, but there’s something intangible that I can’t explain that means I reach for as a touch up tool. To be fair to Pixlr its because I tend to do artwork at my desk rather than on the road*(read in the pub).

I spent a lot of time in my career developing video games. While I do have some Photoshop skills, I am at heart a pixel pusher rather than photo editor. is an app that again offers a set of distraction free editing tools that is quick to use and available for free/donation.

Audacity and a cheapo headset

Another tool I have used since my video game days is Audacity.

Audacity is an application that allows you to record and edit sounds. Its “word processor” easy to cut paste and delete audio elements. I can also use it to add new elements with a simple click.

Anyone checking out my website will be aware of my podcasting efforts. I’m only a beginner at this sort of thing and trying something new.

To generate these podcasts I am currently using a cheap headset with internal microphone and Audacity. If this becomes a success I will upgrade to a more fancy one. I use the software to record my voice and then edit the bits out that sound to my ear a bit rubbish.

Audacity is another example of an app that again offers a set of distraction free editing tools that is quick to use and available for free/donation.

Mixcloud + Expensive BOSE bluetooth Speaker

Historically as a programmer I have prefered to work in silence. These days I need an ambience that is cool to keep me going. I use Mixcloud to do this for me.

I’ve tried Spotify, but I find that I was making the same old choices every day to listen to. Mixcloud makes these decisions for me and I think I am a better person for it.

Recently I have discovered that they have a comedy channel to listen to also, but I find the spoken word distracting and by now you know my opinions on that!

Currently my favourite sounds are curated for me by

7. Evernote

I first came across Evernote while working with a friend at Coventry University. I was also offered a years worth of subscription as part of my mobile phone package. I use it mainly because I have my phone with me most of the time.

My have documented my notes taking in another post a while ago.

Whenever an idea or notion hits me I type it in with my phone. My mobile phone typing leaves a lot to be desired so there are typos and spelling mistakes all over the place. The main thrust of it though is to make sure that the idea is out of my head so I can move on.

I review the notes regularly and prune the ideas out using the GTD methodology.

8. A pencil with an eraser on the end of it

This is an obvious one, but I think relevant nonetheless.

I try to draw many of my ideas as a way of approaching my idea generation from another angle. Often an idea I have had as a 10 word sentence gets me to think of a solution in one direction. Drawing how the solution will appear or function can get idea completely.

While I have said I use pencil, I can often get drawn (excuse the pun) into the exercise further by inking with a fine black felt marker.

I do this to make the image last both physically and mentally. Pencil sketches fade. By inking them I am kind of crystallizing a solution that makes it kind of permanent. I also do it because to be frank in my mind they look good. I’ve made a Pinterest page documenting a few of them here.

9. Canva

In my previous bit of kit I kind of suggest that I am some sort of clever artist. I’m competent but not really someone with the sort of design skills I have worked with for the past couple (or three) decades.

One way I make up for these skills is to crib style guides for book covers, slides and blog posts using Canva.

My artistic colleagues will be cringing as I say this, but I think some of the work “I” have produced I am quietly rather proud of.

Canva has a heap of templates that I augment with images I have taken or purchased from photostock. They also have a catalogue of images you can license directly yourself too.

10. My dog Max + walk

Ok I admit it I added this last one for a chance to get a picture of my dog in it.

On a serious note though, I think working with my dog is a really good way to force me to stop during the day and experience some “outsideyness”. I know that it is essential for the creation process to stop and allow your “slow” brain to think. Walking up and down the park or the local canal is an absolute essential part of my creative process.

All that said I need the inspiration to do that and my mate “Max” does gives me that nudge at approx 3:00pm EVERY day.


So that's my list of stuff I use everyday. What tech or stuff do you use on a daily basis? I’d be really interested to see what it is that contributes to your creative day and particulalry if it’s free! But then I suppose that’s because at heart I really am a miser!


Until next time



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