60 Plus Tools for Today’s Innovator

innovation tools

If you buy something through our links, we may earn money from our affiliate partners. Learn more.

Almost everyone wants to be known as innovative, to be an innovator. Companies and individuals seek to demonstrate that they are capable of “out of the box” thinking, as the saying goes.

I have recently worked on some projects around innovation for companies like Verizon and Qualcomm and it got me to thinking – what about innovation tools to help my fellow small business owners to brainstorm, to create new products, to get rid of the innovation cramp and get the ideas flowing?

Below are 60 plus innovation tools and sites that today’s innovators should check out.

Innovation Tools

1. Try the Visual Thesaurus to help stimulate your ideas in a visual way. You type in a word and it creates a web of links to synonyms. It encourages lateral thinking. There is a free 14-day trial.

innovation tools

2. Check out Visual Teams: Graphic Tools for Commitment, Innovation, and High Performance. This book is filled with visual ideas, including how to conduct innovation meetings in non-traditional places.

3. If you want to innovate by real-time whiteboarding-type drawing, try PabloDraw. It’s at the MAC App store but has a cross-platform framework.

4. Jive is a tool that will allow you to collaborate with others in an online platform. It helps with internal collaboration, marketing, sales, and customer care.

5. Although not as eye appealing as some other online collaboration sites, Zoho combines collaboration applications with a suite of other applications.

6. Monitor your customer experience and what customers are saying about you with Google alerts. I use this to find out about my clients’ competitors.

7. Along these lines, I like to search for #hashtags on Twitter or even on Google. Oftentimes, the tweet itself will reveal loads of other tags or terms that I missed.

8. Looking for an innovative new website design? Get inspired at Pattern Tap. It allows you to focus only on the elements of the website you are struggling with such as the header or navigation. Think of it as a search engine for designers — input a term and it showcases great design for that.

innovation tools

9. SyncSpace allows you to sketch with others in a whiteboard format but also lets you zoom in or out on certain parts of the sketch while doing it.

10. Quora is a forum for asking and answering questions. You list your interests and get to see all the questions and answers related to those interests.

11. Many of you have probably already participated in LinkedIn and there are some good innovation and small business communities. Check out our very own, too: Small Business Trends on LinkedIn.

12. Innovate with word clouds–text formed shapes–and see what others have created on Wordle.

13. Use Mindjet to help with your mind mapping collaboration. It acts as a whiteboard, project management, and collaboration base.

14. You can create diagrams through online collaboration or work entirely offline with creately.

15. Adobe Kuler allows you to create your own color schemes. Beginner tutorial Designing with Kuler is a must-watch.

16. Looking for new ways to get your group innovating together? Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers gives you about 80 games to get your crew on the right track.

17. Just about everyone has heard of Skype. The platform does audio and video, plus you can track your calls in an organized manner.

18. You can have your work proofed quickly and easily using ProofHQ. Create a proof for a variety of file types and your team will have the tools they need to review it.

19. Lucidchart not only offers mind mapping and diagramming software, but it enables users to collaborate on software prototypes, website wireframes, and UML designs. All accounts can collaborate, but each user is limited by his account features with free accounts getting very few.

20. For online collaboration, consider fmyi. Unlike other social networks, this one is private and allows you to track contacts, gather data, manage projects, and share your innovation files (or any file, really).

21. Turn brainstorming into a random game. Use these Harvey cards to help stimulate your innovation process.

22. Spiderscribe allows you to capture ideas and connect them in your mind map. It helps combine planning, visualizing, and organizing.

23. Make HP Virtual Rooms your virtual meeting place where you can share and store files for your meetings.

24. Do you want to achieve golden dimensions? Type one dimension into the Phiculator and it will give you the other dimension needed to achieve the golden ratio. Download only for the Mac OS.

25. 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization – well-reviewed book on Amazon that describes different tools you can use to help drive innovation.

26. TitanFile is an online file sharing and collaboration cloud-based service that boasts tight security.

27. If you want mind mapping software that provides you with many features, sharing abilities, and styles, try iMindMap.

28. You can perform a variety of 3D modeling effects including animation with LightWave. This software costs depending on the features you need.

29. On the 3D modeling and scanning front, check out the Autodesk app: 123D Catch for iPad. Rockstar program. Look for their other free apps listed on the site.

innovation tools

30. For more a powerful, dedicated 3D scanner, then check out the folks at NextEngine 3D Scanner. I saw a very cool Jimi Hendrix statue that was scanned and 3D printed at a community college using their scanner.

31. Vyew is online whiteboarding that allows you to collaborate in an ad-supported version for free. It supports multiple formats and screen sharing.

32. Create charts, wireframes, and technical drawings using gliffy. I have mentioned this web-based software before and it is pretty awesome.

33. To innovate with prototypes across the Internet on Web, mobile, and enterprise applications, try pidoco. Think wireframes.

34. If you thought matching wine to a meal was tough, try font pairing. The folks at bonfx have the Big Book of Font Combinations available for sale. Overall, it is a good site for graphic design types.

35. If you are looking for free interactive whiteboard software, try Open-Sankore. It adapts to any device and files can be saved as a PDF.

36. Balsamiq allows you to collaborate with others using wireframes on a platform that is similar to a whiteboard.

37. If you find regular mind mapping to be boring and uninspiring, try Pinball. It is a unique way that challenges you to look differently at what you are creating.

38. Tagxedo allows you to innovate with word clouds and the put your designs on T-shirts, totes, and mugs.

39. If you want more interactivity in your conference room, try Luidia’s eBeam. The hardware is a little pricey, but it can bring a truly collaborative whiteboard to your meeting.

40. DAZ3D is a unique 3D modeling software that is free, but the catch is you pay to buy content for the ad-ons such as clothing, figures, and environments.

41. Find innovation through controlled Web surfing. StumbleUpon is a website that connects you with websites that fit your interests.

42. Tired of mind maps with straight lines? Use Connected Mind from Google Chrome to create more organic mind maps.

43. Looking for a unified workspace with task management capabilities where you can stash all those ideas? Try Ubidesk.

44. You can use XMind to create unique mind maps that are well-organized and show relationships.

45. ScreenCastOMatic allows you to record your screen or webcam and create a mini-movie to share. Some of the tools are only offered through a $15/year subscription. The free service limits recording time to 15 minutes.

46. Solvr allows you to collaborate in real time with others you invite on a specific problem.

47. To animate 3D renderings, Blender offers free software that has made many improvements in the quality of designs it produces.

48. If you need to mashup a bunch of photos or videos into a hip music video (sorta), then you have to play with Animoto. Love their service.

innovation tools

49. Dropbox allows any files (data, video, text, and sound) to be shared across computers and with colleagues and clients. They offer a free two-week trial.

50. Freeplane is found on a wiki but offers mind mapping functions including post-its, password protection, ad-ons, and tasking.

51. Look at 12 real business models and get access to more from Board of Innovation. Some great downloadable tools for paper prototyping, posters, and brainstorming kits. Mostly free stuff.

52. A slightly odd innovation tool is called Personality Poker: The Playing Card Tool for Driving High Performance, Teamwork, and Innovation. This game helps identify personality types and shows how everyone can contribute to the team effort. One deck/book works for up to 6 people. Five star reviews on Amazon.

53. If you decide you need a lot more people in your innovation jam session, then check out the paid version of join.me which allows you to hold an online meeting with up to 250 participants.

54. SkyDrive Pro is a Microsoft product that allows you to sync files between Office SharePoint users. Get your share on.

55. Sometimes, you want a unique font for that special project. You find it, but have no idea what it is called. Try submitting it to WhatTheFont. If the automated search doesn’t work, you can post it for other people to identify.

56. Microsoft OneNote is part of the Office Suite. It acts as a whiteboard and allows you to share through SkyDrive and SharePoint. I also love using Evernote with the Skitch add-on app.

57. Comapping uses mind mapping to manage and share information through files, notes, and organizational tools. It keeps everyone on the same page.

58. Another 3D rendering software that is free to download and use is Art of Illusion.

59. If you are looking for a secure private social network, you can try Yammer. It uses Internet domain addresses to identify the computers you want to collaborate on your project.

60. Intellinote allows you to take and organize notes on any device, collaborate, share files, and execute projects.

61. Metasequoia is 3D modeling software with both freeware and shareware versions. The advanced version gives you the ability to print to a 3D printer.

62. The Brain is mind-mapping software that allows you to access quickly the information you need.

63. You may find that all these innovation-type sites have made you batty and maybe just a bit frustrated with being “innovative.” I highly recommend you download and play Fruit Ninja, then.

Share your favorite innovation tools for keeping it creative in the comments.

Save money on shipping costs for your Amazon purchases. Plus, enjoy thousands of titles from Amazons video library with an Amazon Prime membership. Learn more and sign up for a free trial today.


TJ McCue TJ McCue served as Technology/Product Review Editor for Small Business Trends for many years and now contributes on 3D technologies. He is currently traveling the USA on the 3DRV roadtrip and writes at the Refine Digital blog.

16 Reactions
  1. Of all of those, I think the visual thesaurus would be the most useful for me in my line of work.

  2. As I have had experience working on Autodesk before, on the 3D modeling and scanning front, Autodesk app: 123D Catch for iPad seems interesting to me.

  3. TJ,

    This is a fantastic list. I love apps, so I’ll be having fun trying some – if not many – of the apps you mentioned.

    I am a long-time user of Thesaurus.com, mainly to look for word combination for domain name candidates for a new site. They have Visual Thesaurus, but not anymore, alas. A helpful tool.

    Fruit Ninja is a great game especially after dealing with a difficult customer 😀

  4. Great post TJ. I’m really fascinated by the tools I just saw. Most of the tools listed are really interesting for me. I have used some of them like Dropbox, Quora and LinkedIn. Pretty much the basics. 🙂


  5. TJ: Wow what a list! How long time did it take to compile it?

  6. Wow, this is an awesome list. I like the concept of Animoto. Thanks for sharing TJ – will spread the word!

  7. Daniella Zimmermann

    Hi TJ, great list! Thanks a lot. Many new tools to check! I started an online brainstorming website some months ago where you can visualize ideas in word clouds. Have a look: http://www.airtypr.com Its meant to be collaborational as well- unfortunately not fully in real time yet (manually saving and reloading page). But I work on it 🙂 I am looking for feedback on what to improved next. So if anybody likes the idea of the website and has feedback let me know! Thx Daniella.