Every year at this time, I’ve published a post recounting new (and reconfirmed) lessons from the past year. It is a way to mark the anniversary of another year away from living the corporate life in a Fortune 500 company.

I tried stopping last year, but had requests to keep going the annual article going.  This year, however, I think is going to be the last one.  I’ve been realizing how much I’ve changed since living the corporate life full time. My frame of reference for recognizing new lessons isn’t the same as it used to be.

25 Lessons Learned (or Reconfirmed) in Year Six Away from Corporate Life


For at least one more time though, here are my twenty-five lessons learned (or re-confirmed) in the year six away from corporate life:

  1. You can afford to take your eyes off of some balls, but needing to take your eye off the business development ball is killer.
  2. Not all DIY initiatives make sense. I’ve learned a lot about using Hubspot but feel like I’m barely scratching the surface and not getting far enough, fast enough.
  3. There are some things you do even if they make absolutely no sense.
  4. Going to confession once a week can have an incredible impact on your life.
  5. Even when they don’t get used as much, those old event planning muscles get right back into shape – even when you’re doing it from home and not in Las Vegas.
  6. Taking more speaking risks always seems to lead to rewarding experiences.
  7. You can tell how good a conference is by how many blog posts it inspires on the way home.
  8. It’s great to have a navy suit in the closet.
  9. Just as you accumulate stuff around the office you think you’ll use but never do, you also accumulate prospects that talk about wanting to work with you but never do. I need to clean out both more frequently than I have been.
  10. God will withhold what you think you need right when you don’t really need it as a distraction.
  11. You’ll never be able to harvest when you need to harvest if you haven’t planted a lot more seeds when it didn’t seem you needed to plant seeds.
  12. If a situation doesn’t look like it’s going to provide sufficient value, don’t hesitate to re-frame it to create a more equitable value distribution between your brand and others.
  13. It’s not always easy to know when patience has outlived its usefulness, and the time to definitely act has arrived.
  14. Just because every situation seems like it is different from every other situation doesn’t mean it really is.
  15. Judging whether you are making progress can be way more abstract than you would think it ever should be.
  16. The mind games you play on yourself can go from helpful to harmful with little notice.
  17. Some people will simply never speak up no matter what.
  18. The little, mundane graces God is willing to give you are almost more incredible than the big ones.
  19. In this day and age, attention seems to be less like a dimmer switch and more like an on-off switch.
  20. Starting over seems like an attractive option, but it’s scary. More power to those that are able to do it successfully.
  21. Every time I see a picture of the Director of Enthusiasm, it makes me stop in my tracks.
  22. Trying, even trying earnestly, only goes so far.
  23. You can adapt yourself so far you don’t even recognize yourself anymore.
  24. This has been a year of multiple homecomings, although none were the formal kind of homecomings that happen at football games. I like the surprising, informal ones a lot more.
  25. A lot changes at your old corporate home, but a lot seems to stay the same.

Mike Brown

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Each year around this time, I’ve been running a post with twenty-five lessons learned from the past year away from full-time corporate life. With prompting from a Brainzooming blog reader who is a long-time friend and incredibly kind supporter, here’s this year’s edition of lessons from another year away from corporate life.

25 Lessons Learned in Year Five Away from Corporate Life


  1. Some things aren’t going to change. Lots of things will get worse; change the hell out of all those things.
  2. When it comes to business development, there’s a huge difference between enough business and enough possibilities to yield enough business exactly when you need it.
  3. You have to replenish the wind in your sails . . . you can’t afford to simply coast forever.
  4. It’s nice to have someone who will call B.S. on you in a constructive way.
  5. Someone new and unfamiliar with what you do may be exactly the right person to throw you the huge challenge you’ve been avoiding even considering.
  6. It’s fine to have a positive attitude and firmly believe you won’t deal with the same issues that other entrepreneurs do in their companies. When reality shows your positive attitude to be ill founded, get over it and learn quickly how others dealt with the issues now befalling you.
  7. Sometimes your family obligations are going to have to take a back seat to doing what you need to do for your business. Other times, family obligations will be so important that you’ll turn your back on business without even a thought. There’s no hard and fast rule (at least that I’ve found) for predicting in advance which will be which.
  8. When a future opportunity goes away for no apparent reason, be vigilant for the often subtle demonstration in the future that reveals exactly why the opportunity had to go away.
  9. Make very few statements about how you will ALWAYS do something or NEVER do something. Things will change. Then you’re left figuring out how to make a graceful change to what you’ve been proclaiming with such certainty.
  10. It’s vital to improve your skills at saying no to the right things.
  11. Maybe I can only write in less than 1,000 word chunks. And putting together one hundred 500 word chunks doesn’t seem yet like it’s a practical way to create a book. But, I did say, “Yet.”
  12. There have been many more opportunities this year to teach people how to do their own Brainzooming. Those experiences have been invaluable in shaping how we present the material and helping to realize “teaching” may be the important piece of the business that didn’t seem nearly as important when we started.
  13. If you would have ever asked me before we started, I don’t think I’d ever have included nonprofit organizations as an important client group for us. Yet, our relationships with the nonprofits we’ve worked with closely have been tremendously rewarding. It’s one thing to work with someone who is looking up two or three layers in an organization to get things done vs. an executive director who may have fewer resources, but can make things happen once the direction is created.
  14. I never thought it would get challenging to write either list posts or recaps from conferences I attend (considering I’m typically generating 100 or 200 tweets as a starting point). But for some reason, both of these forms became real blocks in the past year. It’s important to recognize, however, I’ve stuck with blogging as a form of creative form expression longer than I have probably any other form in my life. It seems as if it’s time to reinvent the boundaries and what’s within them.
  15. This is the year where I feel I’ve done less practicing what I preach than at any time since the business started. Thus, the renewed importance of surrounding myself with people who will keep me honest in doing for ourselves what we’d readily recommend to others.
  16. The coming year has to become the year of recasting content. There is value to deliver from the body of work in blogs, presentations, and workshop material. The job now is to create it.
  17. Feeling alone and not liking it isn’t a new lesson. In fact, it was one of my biggest concerns in starting the business five years ago. In several ways, however, this past year was the year of feeling alone.
  18. Easy answers and good answers aren’t going to be the same. When I wade into social media channels, it seems people are much more intrigued by easy answers than good answers. That leaves me focused on the smaller portion represented by where the two intersect. I just can’t pump out easy answers that aren’t good ones.
  19. I’d never considered the possibility that the golden egg may be golden inside and look plain outside. If that’s common, how many golden eggs have I walked by in my career?
  20. If you want to learn things you would never suspect about your business, categorize and re-categorize information about what you do. Simply putting different labels and different sorts on even skeletal data can tell you volumes.
  21. As much as some people get excited about paying attention to things that are changing, I get excited about paying attention to things that aren’t changing.
  22. I wrote perhaps the most revealing post about myself ever this year. It was the one about the twenty-five steps I go through on every presentation. Now that all the steps are spelled out, I can actually tell where each presentation is and how far away it is from reaching a happy place.
  23. I never realized how often I’d be thankful for my ability to act oblivious when I’m really not oblivious to what’s going on around me.
  24. When you’re getting four hours of sleep on a consistent basis, it’s harder to shift mental gears whenever you need to do so.
  25. It only takes one reader writing a very sweet and completely humbling email to get me to do just about anything differently. This one’s for you, Jennifer Nelson! – Mike BrownMike-Brown-Gets-Brainzoomin

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4yr-CupcakeEvery year around this time, I do a column looking back at twenty-five lessons learned or reconfirmed during the past year of The Brainzooming Group. Since we’re approaching four years away from corporate life, we’ve now reached one hundred lessons.

While I’ve spent a few weeks putting together the list of twenty-five lessons in previous years, this list came together – with twenty-five lessons plus one – in perhaps thirty minutes. This was surprising since I was originally going to write a column about client lessons for this year’s anniversary of being away from corporate life. The client lesson post will just have to wait

And if you want to see lesson number 26, you’ll find it on our Brainzooming Facebook page. Please check out the Brainzooming Facebook page, and Like us while you’re there. We share Brainzooming blog posts and other items on strategy throughout the month.

25 Lessons Learned (or Reconfirmed) in Year Four Away from Corporate Life

Here’s this year’s twenty-five lessons list:

  1. Past performance is no indication of future performance.
  2. Cash remains the undisputed king despite the message at social media conferences that, “Content is king.”
  3. When you’ve lived with a certain structure for a long time, you can easily miss the benefits of new-found flexibility.
  4. Some things simply take time to figure out and become clear no matter how much you want to figure them out right away.
  5. It makes strategic sense to start with the things that will take the longest to develop, but you also have to launch the other things to maximize the payoff from your planning and efforts.
  6. You can and should learn from every encounter. Not all the learning will be equally valuable, though.
  7. You may multi-task to save time, but you’re not likely to get the same benefit as if you address tasks one at a time.
  8. People other than you are always going to be able to see things you can’t see about yourself.
  9. No matter what someone thinks, says, or promises, there’s still a high probability it won’t happen; plan accordingly.
  10. Not asking someone to commit at a relationship’s start will help form more relationships, but it won’t lead to many relationships that survive challenges.
  11. Even when you know better, if you don’t change your situation, you’ll repeat the same mistakes again because the situation will trump your knowledge.
  12. Not all b.s. looks or smells like b.s., which is why you either have to have a good b.s. detector or just assume most of what you see and hear is b.s. and act accordingly.
  13. People complain WAY too much about travel because it’s an easy target for grousing. If you hate travel SO MUCH, pursue a different line of work.
  14. NEVER and ALWAYS are used WAY too much for effect. The answer is somewhere in the middle, and finding where in the middle is the whole deal.
  15. “Bluff while you learn” isn’t at the top of my “Favorite Strategies” list, but in the right circumstances, it works.
  16. Droughts end, but you won’t know when and may not be able to tell why one ended.
  17. There’s HUGE financial value in a well-placed pause in a conversation.
  18. While there is benefit to concentrating on what you do best, you can’t let yourself off the hook from doing important things where you aren’t your best.
  19. When fretting about what seems like an unbelievably long sales cycles, I need to remember we talked to a branding agency during corporate life and only decided to work with them nine years later. We’re into year three with some potential clients. Guess we have a ways to go.
  20. Great friends may go away from you. Let them go. Find new great friends, and cherish even more the ones that don’t go away from you.
  21. You don’t always have to react to things that go awry right away. Put them on the list, pay more attention to them, but don’t over-react. Some stuff will simply fix itself.
  22. Structure is so valuable because it can help you perform and do what you need to do even when you don’t want to do it or aren’t performing well at all.
  23. Depend on God more. Trust more. Act on it more.
  24. Even when you’re well into your career, you may have to completely re-work some long-ingrained behavior patterns. Doing this is HARD, so start as early as you can.
  25. By the time you let someone know you’re going to ask them for help, know what you’re going to ask them for already, even if it’s not immediate. If you don’t, chances are you’ll never get around to figuring out what you need to ask them.  – Mike Brown

Previous Year’s Lessons Learned (or Reconfirmed)


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Around this same time the past two years, I’ve published a list of twenty-five lessons learned or reconfirmed during the previous year since leaving corporate life. Here’s another list reflecting on the past year as The Brainzooming Group marks three years as a full-time venture.

Here’s Year Three in Review

How about Joining Us as for Year Four for The Brainzooming Group?

Thanks for reading the Brainzooming blog the last year. And if you’re getting ready for 2013 and need a fresh, innovative perspective for how you’ll continue (or re-start) your success, email me or give me a call. We’d love to help you find new pockets of success you might never have imagined previously!

As one last note, today marks fifteen years since the first day I put on a pair of orange socks. For those who don’t know the orange sock story, here it is! – Mike Brown


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It has now been about 2 years since I left corporate life to make The Brainzooming Group a full-time effort. Last year on this date, I shared 25 lessons learned and reconfirmed during the first year of The Brainzooming Group. Here are 25 more lessons from year two away from corporate life, although it’s hard to say some of them didn’t originate in year one!

  • Peoples’ priorities, especially in corporations, change quickly. Things can go from hypercritical to off the list in what seems like minutes. Inside the corporation, you may not even notice. As a vendor, it can be crushing.
  • A lot of corporate life was filled with meetings. The absence of so many needless meetings creates a lot of time in your day.
  • Keep experimenting with pricing and other parts of the marketing mix ALL the time.
  • Taking a “friends and family” approach to business development is a good start, but it is hardly sufficient.
  • Get out of the office and see people.
  • I’d underestimated the business potential of Facebook. Now, I’m playing catch-up.
  • Go for unique, higher-risk opportunities than predictable, lower-risk opportunities that promise they’ll get better.
  • R.E.M. did things in their own way, at their own pace, in their own style. That’s a pretty solid long-term business strategy.
  • I’m not sure if absence makes the heart grow fonder, but 24/7 togetherness doesn’t.
  • If you’re willing to surrender your will to God, he’ll put you in the places you need to be.
  • When you’re in a big corporation, the last thing you may want is dealing with more people. When you’re an entrepreneur, that changes.
  • Frugality, frugality, frugality.
  • A one-tier cost structure is a recipe for failure at worst or stagnation at best.
  • At some point, you have to stop thinking you’re average at everything you do while still maintaining a strong sense of overall humility.
  • There were things I could afford to stay out of or not do in the corporate world that I can’t afford to avoid anymore.
  • You can’t over-estimate the impact of being able to stay calm during challenging times.
  • As difficult as it might be, you have to let go of previously strong professional relationships that turn non-reciprocal. Really cultivate the ones that do remain vibrant, though.
  • Go out of your way to meet new people you would never have expected to meet. Go out of your way to re-meet people who pass through after long absences. You never know how your life will be changed by it.
  • Don’t wait for someone to join you. Go ahead and try it yourself.
  • As important as a tight team is, go to unfamiliar people for reactions, because you’ll get a much more accurate perspective.
  • It’s okay to take the risk that something you walk away from will hit really big for someone else. You can’t pursue everything.
  • Life is really incredible if you allow it to be incredible. Many times “incredible” materializes because you haven’t directly intervened in mucking up the ordinary.
  • It’s easy to slide backward – really easy. If you’re going to slide backward, do it consciously, not accidentally.
  • You need a business model, not just an idea. A business model can sustain you for an extended period of time. Ideas have to be continually replenished. Continually replenishing ideas for an extended period of time can drain you beyond recovery.
  • Wait for it.

Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your brand strategy and implementation efforts.

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I find it surprising when someone discusses the advantages of entrepreneurship and mentions, “You don’t have to work for somebody else.”

This sentiment seems incredibly naive.

Amid this second round of entrepreneurship in my career, it’s clear you certainly DO work for somebody else

In fact, if you serve multiple and varied clients, an entrepreneur works for more somebody elses than is ever typical in a corporate job.  That’s been the case for me without exception. Despite a variety of competing interests and priorities in the corporate world, it was easy to separate the one or two people I was working for versus all the other people who thought I was working for them.

Such clarity isn’t necessarily there as an entrepreneur.

Serving a B2B market, I’ll admit that it’s not always clear what is going on inside a client’s four walls. It’s easy to be on the outside and NOT looking in as internal politics, cumbersome processes, and questionable motivations slow down what should seem to go more smoothly and quickly.

I realized the other day, however, what people are really talking about as the “not working for someone else” advantage entrepreneurs have.

Talking with someone who works for a company that provides services in the B2B market, she was reflecting on a recent client interaction. The client hadn’t provided solid planning information upfront. As a result, there was confusion about how vital processes and decisions would proceed. Her sense was that she, as the client contact for a relationship her employer held, couldn’t set the client straight. She wound up biting her tongue on multiple important issues because it was a client. The best she felt she could do in challenging the situation was to offer two strong suggestions to attempt to correct the situation.

Having my own business, however, I’d have been in a different position to act. If pushing back to the client resulted in losing the business, I would be in the position to fully understand that impact and shoulder the full ramifications of it. As an employee, she wasn’t in a position to do that.

If you have someone paying you, you are working for somebody else whether as an entrepreneur or as an employee. Maybe what people really mean about not working for somebody else is that an entrepreneur can talk back and take action against the whoever is paying more effectively than an employee.

In that case, I’d have to agree with them. – Mike Brown

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Audio-recorderUnless something has happened to prevent it, I have audio recorded every presentation I have given since 2005.

That date coincides with starting to more aggressively search out presentation opportunities and build my repertoire of content. The overall objective was to gain as much speaking experience as possible before leaving corporate life.

7 Reasons to Record Every Presentation

You may ask why you should record every presentation you give.

Here seven reasons why you should record presentations:

  1. The recording will allow you to hear your presentation in a relatively similar fashion to how the audience members heard it. This gives you a much stronger sense of the experience for the audience.
  2. Being able to review the audience reactions to the content provides a better sense of what worked and didn’t work throughout the presentation.
  3. You can revisit specific content where audience members sought clarification or more information, providing opportunities to deepen or refine your content in future presentations.
  4. You can confirm audience questions and your answers so you are able to more easily develop them into online content.
  5. You can edit the audio into small segments to share through a podcast.
  6. You will be able to detect the bad speech patterns you use (i.e., ummms, slang, mispronouncing words) so you can begin to work on eliminating them.
  7. Before the next time you give the same presentation, you can listen to previous versions to refresh yourself on the content and all the things you say that aren’t on the slides.

That’s really just a start to the list.

Another benefit for me is that the recordings capture unplanned stories I drop into presentations based on the interaction with the audience. Being able to listen to the presentations later helps turn those stories into more permanent fixtures in the content.

If you’ve been recording your presentations, what other advantages do you find? And if you haven’t been recording your presentations, what else will it take to get you to start doing it? – Mike Brown


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