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In the past few weeks, we’ve had several discussions with potential clients about facilitating their strategic planning processes for 2015. (Yes, we’re already working on 2015. I KNOW, but that’s what planning people start doing months before others do!)

In each of the calls, we’ve discussed the concept of “producing strategic conversations.”

Producing Strategic Conversations?

Strategic-ConversationsThe phrase, “producing strategic conversations,” actually predates the creation of The Brainzooming Group.

We started using it to describe what we were doing internally in a Fortune 500 setting. It was an apt description of how we were helping marketing managers and senior leaders quickly (as in one day) explore, articulate, and document their strategic plans. We delivered this efficiency by avoiding a typical strategic planning approach: handing participants a slew of confusing or vague planning templates and expecting them to complete the templates on their own.

Instead, we were creating strategic impact by leading them through creative structures and strategic thinking exercises. These exercises helped them efficiently and actively explore and discuss opportunities and challenges in new ways within groups of their internal collaborators. We captured the details and themes emerging from the “strategic conversations,” using the output to document plans within a very brief time frame.

It was during hundreds of these sessions (many conducted in the hotel meeting room shown here) that we honed the Brainzooming methodology.

Facilitating a Strategic Conversation

In terms of facilitating strategic conversations, it’s not the typical facilitation used in a market research or focus group setting, although that might be what it resembles.

Instead, we facilitate in a style that both encourages and challenges participants. To put it in a sports setting, we act as both cheerleaders and tough coaches. All the while, we earn and honor the trust that allows us to move back and forth between these two contrasting roles.

Specific fundamentals we employ in producing a stimulating strategic conversation include:

  • Demonstrating sincere excitement for participants’ contribution
  • Not letting a participant flounder when trying to contribute (esp. when just starting to share ideas)
  • Making only productive interruptions, i.e., those that help guide them and draw out additional comments
  • Physically leaning in to the discussion to signal interest and anticipation for what participants have to say
  • Smiling as a way to demonstrate our connection with a participant

Again, the differences are subtle relative to typical facilitation. But coupled with the wide depth and variety of tested strategic thinking exercises we bring to the table, it works very differently, and it works wonders.

Are you thinking about next year’s planning yet?

If you’re already thinking about next year (and we know SOME of you are) and would like to get a huge head start that will even benefit your current year results, give us a call or email. Let’s see how we can work together.

Now is definitely the time to get started! – Mike Brown

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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 strategy and implementation efforts.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Love-IdeasIt’s easy to fall in love with a new idea you have hatched.

It’s yours (which makes it seem great right off the bat), and the more time you spend with it, the more you can become completely enamored with your creative thinking.

It’s helpful in most cases, however, to challenge your own creativity before you start loving your new idea TOO much.

Creative Thinking and 6 Challenges to Consider

How to challenge your creative thinking in healthy ways? Here are six possibilities:

  • Share your creative thinking with someone else to get their reactions.
  • Start over with the original objective and a different creative thinking approach, seeing if you come out with the same idea or something different.
  • Consciously begin adding other elements to your idea that fit strategically to see if it can work better.
  • Scale back your idea by 50% to see what you would keep and what you would scrap.
  • Expand your expectations for the idea by 2X and see if it holds together.
  • If a competitor were to implement your new idea, would it look different, and if so, how would it look?

The point of challenging your creative idea isn’t to turn you into being a “NO” to innovation.

It is simply to provide an opportunity to strengthen your creative thinking before loving your idea too much blinds you to weak spots it may have.

Once you have challenged your creatie idea sufficiently, and it holds up, you can get on with loving your new idea way too much as you start implementing it! Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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The past eighteen months, I’ve participated in several life changing Bible studies produced by Jeff Cavins.

The point of this blog, however, is not to share the impact they’ve had on me. The objective is to share intriguing learnings about visual thinking and the value of organizing content and infographics the courses have taught me.

Visual Thinking and Organizing Content

Bible-Timeline-InfographicAt the heart of Jeff Cavins’ “Bible Timeline” series is a visual thinking and teaching method.

He organizes the books of the Bible based on the type of literature each represents. To help readers understand the “story” the Bible contains, Cavins focuses on fourteen narrative books. These books span twelve specific historical periods. Other books are slotted to fill in details or expand understanding of what happened during each period.

To visually communicate this multi-faceted content, Jeff Cavins developed a color-coded infographic. The Bible Time infographic illustrates multiple patterns within the Bible’s content.

Cavins creates additional insights into the content by highlighting and organizing content in multiple ways. These include the following organizing concepts:

  • Sequential – A beginning to end arrangement of selected content to create a story
  • Chronological – An earliest to latest historical timeline of broader events
  • Thematic – Specific related message and content grouped together
  • Purpose / Function-Based – Arranging pre-existing content in new ways to highlight more subtle patterns (i.e., geographic movement within the Bible)

I had an opportunity to see Jeff Cavins present in November 2013 and videoed part of his talk where he discussed the strategic thinking behind developing the Bible Timeline infographic.

If you’re interested in creating visual thinking insights from complex content, it’s worthwhile to view Cavins’ discussion about organizing content and using an infographic to communicate his message.

While you may think this is far afield, if your organization has a wealth of content that’s been created by multiple people at various times for different purposes that would benefit from SOME type of organization to make it easier to use, there’s a lot to learn here.

As a blogger with more than a half million words written (vs. the Bibe’s nearly 800,000 words), I definitely think about the lessons learned in creating the Bible Timeline and how they apply to adding value to our Brainzooming content.

What about your organization? What lessons are there here for organizing your content to better tell your story? – Mike Brown

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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If you’re looking for ideas on what to blog about, how about spending a few minutes looking at the blog topics in your social feeds?

9 Blogging Ideas from Blogs in Your Social Feeds

When you’re feeling creatively stuck coming up with blog topics, the answer to what to blog about might be to write an answer post to a blog in your social feeds. If the topic fits your blog’s content strategy, you can use the original blog’s subject as a point of departure by writing a blog post in response to any of these nine questions:

  1. What would someone need to know before reading the original blog?
  2. What would someone still need to do after they read the other blog?
  3. How can you go into more detail with more steps?
  4. How can you simplify the topic to feature fewer steps than the original blog?
  5. How might you extol the author’s smarts since you agree with him/her so strongly?
  6. What would you talk about as the opposite point of view (i.e., you don’t HAVE to do any of these steps)?
  7. What links can you feature to previous stories you’ve written on the original blog’s topic?
  8. What links can you share to stories other authors have already written on the topic?
  9. What would it look like to rewrite the article with the same subject but a different headline and your own point of view in the copy?

Remember that your blog post can be a “secret” answer post. Using all but one of these questions (number 5 is the exception) your blog post doesn’t HAVE TO make a big deal out of being an answer post.

9-Ideas-Two

An Efficient Answer to What to Blog About

Nine potential blog topics is a wonderful set of possibilities from simply scanning your social feeds.

And if you have created a list, column, group, board, or feed filled with content related to your content categories, it’s even that much more efficient!

Other Brainzooming Blogging Links

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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There is a line in the movie “The Big Chill” that has stuck with me: “Sometimes, you just have to let art . . . flow . . . over you.”

That’s a great strategic thinking for art – and life.

Letting life flow over you, however, is easier said than done for most analytical people.

But it is wonderful advice you CAN extend to other situations in life.

The benefit of doing so will be a calmer demeanor and a lot less angst than sweating every detail.

If you can let the “art” that is part of your life flow over you, you can also:

  • Appreciate the bigger picture without overlooking the subtle, unexpected details that make life special
  • Adjust your time and effort expended on projects to ensure the biggest overall impact across everything you do
  • Tolerate and enjoy unplanned variations that can lead to new creative paths
  • Worry less, especially over things you are never going to control

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

So take my strategic tinking advice.

Try letting life flow over you more today than you did yesterday. - Mike Brown

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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imageWhen it comes to creative thinking exercises, I’m typically a proponent of introducing people to incremental creative thinking before trying to dunk them into extreme creativity.

That preference is predicated on getting people more familiar and comfortable with smaller creative steps. In that way, the first creative step you ask them to take isn’t such a doozie.

Sometimes, however, when it comes to creative thinking exercises, starting small is not the best strategy to follow.

We were using a combo creative thinking exercise recently. We had asked creative thinking session participants for three progressive creative leaps. For the first step, it was okay for their response to be a conventional idea. We wanted to stretch the creative thinking, however, for steps two and three, with the third answer being a strong example of extreme creativity.

While that was the plan, the mindset we first set was too incremental creatively and too lasting.

Our initial question got them too stuck on what’s happening today.

Subsequently, absent very strong and clear extreme creativity inducing questions for steps two and three, we had to work extra hard to move everyone toward more outrageous ideas. We eventually pushed toward extreme creativity in their responses, but it was much harder than it needed to be.

The lesson?

While it’s not always the case, sometimes you do need to go big creatively right from the start before you are forced to go home with overly familiar ideas. – Mike Brown

 

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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A topic among my Friday lunch partners was whether a blog post would emerge from our conversation about strategic planning and creating strategic impact.

They were pretty sure one would, and they were right.

Tic-Tac-Doe-MatrixWe were discussing strategic planning challenges within a matrix organization. Issues emerge when multiple groups with line responsibilities (i.e., product lines, business units, geographic units, etc.) need to coordinate separate planning activities.

Ideally, one group goes first and the other follows to coordinate their strategic plans. This requires more time, however, since groups are planning one after the other instead of concurrently.

Additionally, if actual planning falls behind, the departments supporting the line organization that also need to plan and prepare for line organization activities are even further behind.

Another alternative is for the two line groups to plan at the same time. That can result, however, in plans that do not fit together well, expect more resources than are available, or simply are not in sync strategically. Typically then, it falls on support organizations (i.e., marketing or finance) to try reconciling the discrepancies that surface.

3 Strategic Planning Ideas in a Matrix Organization

What are potential approaches in a matrix organization to both increase strategic planning coordination and minimize how long planning takes?

Here are three strategic planning ideas The Brainzooming Group tries to implement in these matrix organization situations:

1. Create meaningful strategic conversations between line units

While line units may be talking throughout the planning process, that talking is likely NOT speeding up planning appreciably. Facilitating meaningful strategic conversations gets them discussing issues that will provide the insights each unit needs to better coordinate its plan with others for the coming year.

2. Provide early, simple strategic planning deliverables to signal strategic directions

Important strategic decisions are discussed and made well before the final strategic plan is written. There is no reason these decisions should be new news when the plan document is done. Creating interim planning deliverables that are simple to complete and designed to be shared before the plan is done can boost important strategic coordination.

3. Concentrate on big plan differences

Much of what goes into a strategic plan seems important. Incremental changes in plans from one year to another, however, likely have little material impact on the decisions and plans of other units in the organization. As a result, if separate parts of a larger organization can share their major strategic plan changes earlier, much of the incremental detail is fine to be shared later.

Turning Strategic Planning into Creating Strategic Impact

Getting ahead of the typical strategic planning cycle allows you to refine, simplify, and shorten planning and place more emphasis on creating strategic impact.

Are you thinking about what needs to happen with your next plan?

If you are not sure which strategic planning direction is best, let us know you would like to talk about the topic. We have lots of ideas for making strategic planning better! – Mike Brown

 

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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 strategy and implementation efforts.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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