Innovation Cuts Like a Knife (Literally!)

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Keynote speaker and author John Sweeney realizes that a 12-inch steel bladed knife in the forearm is not the best way to illustrate innovation. Last week, the long standing knife throwing routine that has punctuated Sweeney's speeches for several years went amiss, coming to an abrupt and painful end in an ambulance.

Sweeney prepares for knife throwing; cucumber positioned and waiting

It happened so fast, I’m not sure I realized I’d been struck. Not until I tried to move my arm away from the board and the knife came with it did I realize we’d added a new element to our innovation equation.

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In his quirky, never know quite what to expect fashion, Brave New Workshop owner and keynote speaker John Sweeney gave his audience a once in a lifetime, cutting edge experience and ended his tenure as a human knife target. Sweeney, who for years has used knife throwing to recap learning points in his innovation-focused keynote speeches and training events, added yet another chapter to the odd and novel life he has created. Last week, while giving a speech to more than 400 people at the Ottawa Centre for Innovation and Research (OCRI) Leadership Conference, the long standing knife throwing routine took an interesting turn, specifically a turn that drove a 12-inch steel bladed knife into the inside of Sweeney’s forearm and out the other side. Reaction by the audience was mixed; some believed Sweeney’s sudden departure from the stage was standard practice and part of the interactive speech they had just experienced and others checked the stage for a severed forearm and called 911. Knife thrower Caleb McEwen, artistic director of the Brave New Workshop and member of the well-known dare devil trio, the Danger Committee, quickly finished the presentation and thanked the audience for a great session.

Sweeney is quoted as saying, “It happened so fast, I’m not sure I realized I’d been struck. Not until I tried to move my arm away from the board and the knife came with it, did I realize we’d added a new element to our innovation equation.” Sweeney maintained his calm until he reached a backstage hallway, where he flopped down on a bench and waited for paramedics to arrive. Despite a full-on sweat fest and a knife still in his arm, Sweeney was able to fill the time with somewhat timely and slightly inappropriate humor.

Hours later, after an ambulance trip, a “Canadian” health care experience and several stitches, Sweeney was back in his hotel room creating a message of civility and innovation to the attendees of the OCRI event. In his video, Sweeney shared that he was happy and healthy and in the tradition of the Brave New Workshop comedy theatre, “the show must go on.” He thanked the attendees for a wonderful day and mentioned, “There are lots of great things that came out of today for me...I’m grateful for the wonderful Canadian kindness and hospitality... and I’m grateful that we’ll sit down at the theatre tomorrow afternoon and create a pretty large brainstorming list... titled ‘Other Things We Can Do To End Speeches That Don’t Involve Knives.’” With that, so ends the days of cutting a cucumber on Sweeney’s forearm with a knife traveling 50 miles per hour. Surely, it was innovative, but in hindsight, we should have left the statement “it cuts like a knife” to Canadian rocker Bryan Adams!

About John Sweeney and the Brave New Workshop
John Sweeney is an author, speaker, trainer, improviser and owner of the Brave New Workshop, home to the longest-running satirical comedy theatre in the country. As the driving force behind the company’s business-related services and products, Sweeney bridges the skills and behaviors of improvisational theater to business, helping companies improve employee productivity and workplace innovation. As a world-class speaker and trainer, Sweeney works with some of the largest companies in the US; he also has a soft spot for a number of Canadians and a growing respect for their health care system. More information about Sweeney is available at

About Brave New Workshop Creative Outreach
As the business services arm (no pun intended) of the Brave New Workshop, the Creative Outreach team applies the improvisational theatre mindset to business. Whether addressing process, culture, or behavior, the team works with clients to incite change, address specific challenges, generate enthusiasm, increase loyalty, improve productivity, build better teams and spark innovation and creativity. Sweeney and his team offer a variety of professional services including keynote speeches, interactive training, master of ceremonies, scripted comedy, live performance, video vignettes and messaging. All are punctuated by the Brave New Workshop’s historic brand of humor and professionally delivered by savvy performers with keen business insight and unmatched experience. More information is available at


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