For the first six years of The Brainzooming Group, I published a list near our anniversary date with twenty-five lessons learned or reconfirmed in the most recent year away from full-time corporate life. I skipped the article for two years as the pace and focus of business expanded.

When things took a dramatic stop, turn, and figure out how to regroup recently, I revisited the idea, figuring I HAD to have learned or reconfirmed many lessons during the two-year hiatus for this previously annual article.

35 Lessons Learned (or Reconfirmed) in the Last Two Years Away from Corporate Life

Here is what I have from these last two years away from corporate life:

  1. Be careful about being too exact in what you pray for, thinking that is what you want. You may get it only to find it is exactly NOT what you wanted.
  2. If you’re an entrepreneur coming up with an idea, the core is built around you, no matter how much you want to open the doors for a group to collaborate.
  3. After you run on so little sleep for some time, it seems (at least for me) that daily activities and interactions do not have enough opportunity to imprint on the brain, making them even more of a blur.
  4. Build the things that make sense for the heart of the business. Find the team that makes sense with the core, not the other way around.
  5. You can’t blindly depend on what you have depended on before.
  6. Work your ass off more, but talk about it less.
  7. Even if you don’t write down a strategy, have a strategy to shape all the decisions you make.
  8. If you can remain strategic, things continue to fit together even if you had not been thinking through how they might fit together. That does not mean it happens as quickly as you might like, though.
  9. Many things seem to be easier for others to do for you than for yourself.
  10. You’re not going to have all the talents you need, but you may have some talents that you’ve never given yourself credit for having.
  11. It’s one thing to have the foundation in place, but you need the talents to take advantage of the foundation and to build on it.
  12. Don’t settle. Maybe you wait, but don’t settle.
  13. If someone checks out, they are not likely to check back in.
  14. It is easy to say you are thankful to important people. It is not as easy to clearly demonstrate your thankfulness to them.
  15. Get the resources you need to be able to make better long-term decisions. That may be money. It may be something else. But if you are having to make huge compromises because of missing resources, you’ll be compromising long-term success daily.
  16. I learned early on in a professional services business that your time is your inventory and you can always create more inventory. There is a limit to that strategy, though. At some point, it is not worth your time to sacrifice your time to create more time inventory.
  17. Say no more often (all the time?) to off-strategy opportunities.
  18. Once you learn something solidly, it’s comfortable to put yourself into positions where you are subtly re-learning it. AVOID THAT AT ALL COSTS. Skip the 1% confirmation learning and go for the 65% learnings that come from new situations.
  19. Don’t over-leverage on any resources: financial, people, a customer, capabilities, etc. As difficult as it might seem to avoid over-leveraging, an entrepreneur can’t afford the crippling downside effects if things go wrong. There are OTHER ways to scale.
  20. Seeing a mistake and understanding a mistake are distinctly different activities versus actually going back to fix the mistake. That is where successful people set themselves apart from everyone else.
  21. Try to be ready to cleanly cut the cord on anything at any time you might need to do so. It would be great if that were a 100% (ALWAYS BE READY AT ALL TIMES), but hey, you’re an entrepreneur. You’re working on the margins.
  22. It is disconcerting to realize there is a reality around you that you have no idea exists until someone clues you in to what it is.
  23. It is very possible to re-set your personal story. It does not happen by accident, though, and it requires more concerted effort than setting your personal story the first time.
  24. Get to meetings early and keep your back to the wall.
  25. When you smell a problem, keep forcing the issue.
  26. Shit doesn’t always happen for a reason, but there is always a reason to get your shit together and keep moving ahead.
  27. The lyrics in that one Christina Aguilera song. All of them.
  28. Some important conversations ALWAYS begin the same way.
  29. Once you’ve founded something, no one is EVER going to be co-anything with you.
  30. Your initial ideas on timing and when things should happen are probably right. Stick to them.
  31. People dump growth stocks. Be prepared for your version of a micro-market crash.
  32. You may never realize the important people that love what you are doing until you need them most because you are all out of options.
  33. The corporation you left will hardly notice your absence. It carries on just fine without you. That does not mean it is not great to go back and see the people you worked with and reconfirm that it was the right thing to leave when you did.
  34. That development that seems so crushing? You’ll move on. Believe in that. YOU WILL MOVE ON.
  35. There is an inherent value to ordering your life around a set of interdependent priorities to keep everything in check. Having deliberately walked away from that order the past two years, I can attest that I am weaker overall, even though the one area where I concentrated remains solid.

As I said, that’s what I have from the last two years. Let’s see what the next year holds. If you have reactions or thoughts on what you’ve learned moving away from corporate life, please share them over on our Facebook page. – Mike Brown

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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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It’s been about 1 year since I left corporate life to pursue The Brainzooming Group full-time. Here are some of the strategic lessons I understand now that I didn’t understand nearly as well 1 year ago.

  • You’re better off to not think someone else in business shares your same performance standards.
  • You’re definitely better off to not openly assess your own performance in light of your overly-high standards. Give yourself a break.
  • A lot of the same problems exist in lots of companies, so don’t think your crap is so special.
  • Despite preparing as much as you think you can to get ready to do something new, you’ll discover things you didn’t prepare for the minute you actually commit to doing it.
  • All that stuff they tell you about the importance of networking (especially when you don’t really need the network)? It’s all true. And then some.
  • It’s possible to get by without caffeine, but you better get some more sleep if you’re going cold turkey.
  • Slow pay is the first step in slow death. Cash is (and always will be) king.
  • Business development is more rewarding than I ever imagined.
  • Most things happen about when they should happen.
  • The corporate hierarchy doesn’t necessarily flush out sociopaths. They can get, and apparently hang on to, really good jobs. And even if they get fired, somebody else seems ready to hire them again.
  • There are great, trustworthy people all over that are wonderful to do business with.
  • People don’t necessarily know or even have a remote idea of the major impact they’ve had on others.
  • Sometimes, you do have to jump.
  • Too many people don’t seem to look for the learning opportunities in uncomfortable or apparently bad situations. Do yourself a favor…shut up and go to school right away.
  • It’s easy to give away what you do for free. Some of that’s okay. Some of it isn’t. Figure out which is which in a hurry.
  • The good results from taking a chance aren’t necessarily going to happen right away. It may take months. Or longer. If it was important enough to do in the first place, it’s important enough to be patient about it.
  • Sometimes telling you, “No” is the biggest favor someone can do for you. Quit trying to convince them to tell you, “Yes.”
  • Short naps during the work day really help you be better at what you do. We’d all be better off if we admitted that.
  • When things are going really well for a prolonged period of time, you need to think about walking away and letting somebody else have their shot at new-found success.
  • There are projects portrayed as “sure things” which are very important and have very tight timelines that have no chance of happening.
  • “Does this really matter?” and “Will this ever matter?” are two of the three best questions you can ask.
  • “What are we trying to achieve?” is the other one.
  • If you’re not able to portray yourself as successful at something, you’re not defining “success” in the right way.
  • Getting up to go to mass each weekday at 6:30 a.m. provides the most important reason in the world to get up along with creativity and tremendous structure to the day.
  • People (and pets) will step up and try to fill voids when they exist. What’s really cool is they’ll probably fill them in very unexpected ways. Sit back and see what happens.  – 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.  To learn how we can structure a strategy to keep you ahead of your customers, email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320.

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