- Part 2 – page 2

Are you in the midst of boring strategic planning meetings?

Lots of people are right now enduring dreadful strategy meetings with all the same people, issues, and annoying behaviors they have been putting up with year after year. One executive facing the prospect of another round of boring strategic planning meetings asked what ideas we had for putting some fun into strategic planning?

Beyond sharing how we’d use insights from a broader employee group to shake up the group’s stale old interactions, the question got me thinking about other ideas. How else could we create fun strategic planning meetings for the group?

I started looking at ideas for how to get the spark back in a romantic relationship. Amazingly, the advice for couples falling into dreadful patterns with the same boring conversations and daily routines was easily adaptable to changing how senior executives engage in strategic planning. Yes, amazingly, there are many similarities in adding spark to tired, old relationships, no matter whether they are taking place personally or professionally.

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11 Hot Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

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11 Hot Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

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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Yesterday marked a momentous day professionally, that seemed big on the day it happened, but not as life-changing as it has become.

On October 22, 1997, I wore orange socks for the first time.

Current Orange Socks

The occasion was presenting our first strategic market plan at Yellow Transportation (whose name was Yellow but whose color was orange) to the senior leadership team. The presentation took place at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs play. Before the day was done, we debuted our new vision video on the Jumbotron followed by live actors from the video barging in to interrupt the proceedings.

In the vision video, the Yellow sales person wore orange socks. Before the big meeting with the senior executives, our boss, Greg Reid, asked Brenda Price (our department “mom”) to dye white socks orange so the entire Marketing department could sport orange socks.

After the meeting, I went on the hunt for more orange socks. Before we got them in our new company store, I found them at the Gap and started accumulating them.

Over time, another guy in the department and I got into an informal competition for who could have more orange stuff. Wearing orange socks was an easy way to make sure I always was wearing SOME orange daily.

Fast forward to last summer 2001: Chuck Salter of Fast Company was preparing an article on the turnaround at Yellow. Greg brought me along to a group interview with the senior executives to introduce me to Chuck as his internal fact checker. The orange socks came up in conversation, but they were tangential to the interviews with the top leaders. Chuck and I talked afterward by phone, and he asked about the socks and how long I had worn them.

When the Fast Company article appeared in January 2002, someone came to my office to ask if I’d seen it. I said I hadn’t. He let me know I was all over the article. I was horrified! I was the fact checker, and that was it.

In the article, Chuck Salter mentioned, “Without a doubt, vice president Mike Brown is the Cal Ripken Jr. of Yellow fashion. Brown has worn orange socks to work nearly every day — “99% of the time,” he says — since October 22, 1997.” With that statement – my entrée to Fast Company – there was no turning back on orange socks. The last day I didn’t wear orange socks at our Kansas City headquarters (after one of our cats died and I wasn’t in the mood), a co-worker went to the company store, bought me a new pair of orange socks, and insisted I change into them in the building’s main lobby.

Later, when Yellow bought companies whose colors differed, I’d wear blue, green, or orange / blue / green socks, as appropriate. At one point, I had five different types of orange / blue / green socks. When a senior sales VP with the company saw my multi-colored pair of argyles, he exclaimed, “I’m color blind, and I can tell those socks are ugly.”

Fast forward a few more years later. I got the go ahead to start speaking to external groups about what we were doing to involve large groups of employees and speeding up strategic planning. The restriction was, I couldn’t talk about Yellow, yet, I needed to wear the orange socks, because they are what got me into Fast Company. Googling “orange,” I discovered it is the color of creativity and innovation. Thus, even before The Brainzooming Group was emerged, it was obvious orange would be the brand’s color.

So, yes, I still wear orange socks daily.

At last count, my inventory of unworn orange socks was somewhere in the thirties. I’m not sure how many pairs of socks are in the currently worn mix; the number is probably comparable.

Orange Sock Inventory

Reflecting on the orange socks story, I still receive the question all the time, “Are you wearing orange socks?”

My response is always, “Yes, why in the world would I NOT wear orange socks?”  – Mike Brown

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Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!

Download Your FREE eBook! Big Strategy Statements - 3 Steps to Collaborative Strategy

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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I delivered a Brainzooming workshop on “Budget-Extending Social Content Strategy” at the Social Media Strategies Summit this week. We had more than forty attendees, which is a lot for a three-hour, interactive workshop. We adjusted our approach to maximize the interaction among the participants. During the time together, we worked through various Brainzooming tools to develop and implement social content strategy that is smart online and drives results for a brand.

Little did I suspect that covering career strategy would become an offshoot topic during the workshop.

Several attendees during and after the workshop recounted how their senior executives (typically from an earlier generation), don’t want to talk about their brands online. The reasons range include a corporate stance to not talk about what they do, relationships with suppliers and customers, fears of violating regulations, and a general skepticism that anybody that follows a brand’s online content EVER buys anything.

Yes, these concerns are ALL still out there.

Taking with several attendees about strategies to change these opinions, and the roadblocks they continue to expect, I finally suggested, “Maybe it’s time to find another job?”

That comment led to at least one powerful set of conversations with a young woman who realized that her future likely doesn’t include the brand where she is now. We talked about the importance of developing the next thing while the current thing is still paying the bills. On the conference’s second day, we talked about her passion for learning from and helping to mentor and develop strong woman in business. It all started to come together that this passion is her platform for changing the world. She’s committed to start blogging about it. And it’s not hard to see her writing a book and speaking about this, beyond all the individuals she’ll help in person.

13 Career Strategy Articles to Help Develop Your Next Job

When I pointed her to some background articles on the Brainzooming blog, I realized they were not in one place and easily findable.

Maybe you are in a comparable career position, where your skills are stagnating because your current brand’s executives can’t be convinced there are new and better ways to do things. If so, you may want to start thinking about whether it’s time to find another job (and act on it if it is).

Here are thirteen career strategy articles to help your exploration:

Keeping Things Going in Your Job Right Now

9 Ways to Understand the Political Fray and Stay the Hell Out of It

3 Strategies for Navigating a Political Environment

Career Challenges – 6 Ideas when Losing the Love for What You Do

Career Success – 7 Ideas If You Don’t Care About What You Do Anymore

Strategic Thinking Exercise – Simply Making Big Decisions

Corporate Sociopaths and Horrible Bosses – 7 Ways to Survive Them

Doing the Work to Start Finding another Job

The 4-Step Career Advice Nearly Everyone Ignores

Career Change – 4 Career Tips for a Mid-Career Professional

Is Your Personal Brand Portable to Another Job?

The Strategy for Exploiting Your Mindless Job

Career Strategy: Dear Job, I Can’t Quit You

Career Success Strategies – 6 Steps When You’re Laid Off by Anonymous

Career Strategy Challenge – 5 Ideas When You Lack Résumé Metrics

Mike Brown

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Learn all about how Mike Brown’s Brainzooming workshops can boost your success!

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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I stopped by the grocery store to use the ATM the other morning before leaving for New York to deliver a content marketing strategy workshop today at the Social Media Strategies Summit.

I decided to walk around the store to find something for lunch before getting on the plane. Finding nothing even remotely appealing, I headed for the door, not expecting to witness a solid customer experience strategy lesson.

Passing by the checkout aisles, I noticed a customer starting to unload her cart. Based on the checkout area’s configuration, the checker couldn’t see where the customer was or that she was beginning to unload her groceries. Since the store was dead this early in the morning, the checker came around to the front of the lane to wait for customers. By this point, the customer had moved further into the lane, but after the checker left her post.

The result?

The customer had her groceries all out on the belt. She was ready to have them checked, pay, and get out. The entire time, the checker was at the front of the aisle looking for customers heading her way to see them early and run around to her station to provide quick service.


Via Shutterstock

Watching this scene develop, I stopped by the front door to see how long it was going to take for either the customer or the checker to realize there was a problem! It took so long, and I was in a hurry, waiting thirty seconds wasn’t enough time to see how long it finally took to discover the mistake.

Is Your Brand Making this Customer Experience Strategy Mistake?

Turning to go, I realized I have been guilty of doing the same thing as the checker. Many a brand is guilty of this as well: so eagerly trying to track down a new customer that it is missing all kinds of opportunities to serve and accommodate the customers it has.

Poor visibility into customer interactions or faulty customer experience strategy design could both be issues. That was the case in the grocery store. Other times, it may be that there’s more thrill in the hunt for a new customer than in tending to those you already have.

No matter the reason, it’s a good idea to step back and ask: Are we treating our current customers with all the enthusiasm and attention we show to the new person that is just walking through the door!

Well, are you? – 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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I used to always ask the same question at the end of every job interview: Is there anything you want to talk about but didn’t based on the questions I asked that you want to talk about now?

The question helped create a focused opportunity for nervous, hesitant, or distracted candidates to say whatever they wanted that they thought was important in selling themselves.

I dropped a variation of the question into an online collaboration workshop for a client’s strategic planning process. Based on the results, it has a new role as a strategic planning question.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

The organization is going through a major leadership transition. Based on our interactions up to this point, honest, open conversation in a group setting is a clear problem for many individuals throughout the organization. While you hear some issues in a group setting, you hear more of the issues and story in one-off conversations.

Since the online collaboration is anonymous and knowing that there were likely other issues that leaders STILL hadn’t felt comfortable introducing, I added this strategic planning question on the fly: Is there anything else we haven’t covered that we should address?

The question generated a healthy response and surfaced several of the “elephants in the room” that certain leaders within the organization typically clamor about and bemoan because they are never addressed.

While we didn’t tackle the elephants in the online collaboration, at a subsequent in-person strategic planning meeting, one leader voiced a hope and expectation that we would tackle the elephants in the room. During a break in the conversation, I returned to the online collaboration results and copied the elephant issues on a big easel pad. With that move, the elephants were visible. We used the list during the in-person strategic planning workshop to make sure we tackled all of them.

While tackling the issues led to some drawn out and uncomfortable moments (at least for facilitators focused on productivity and getting through a certain number of exercises), the leader most vocal about the elephants had to acknowledge at the end that we had addressed them all.

Using the “what didn’t we cover” strategic planning question in a subsequent online collaboration workshop identified many great questions that another organization’s CEO could address before we ended the online collaboration.

With that, “what didn’t we cover” is now in our regular portfolio as a very productive strategic planning question. We suggest tucking it into yours, too. – Mike Brown

Download our FREE eBook:
The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation

Download Your FREE eBook! The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

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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We are back from the Inbound 2017 conference sponsored by Hubspot.

Last week’s Inbound conference was intense and productive. For a quick summary of the week, here are quotes pulled from across most of the Inbound 2017 keynotes and breakout presentations I attended.

Creative Thinking Skills

“It is easier to correct errors than to try to prevent them all.” – Ed Catmull of Pixar

“Every picture you’ve ever loved from Pixar sucked for a year.” – Brené Brown on hurdles that stand between an idea and celebrated creativity

“We didn’t like the media landscape, so we changed it. Don’t fight the systems that exist, create new ones.” – Piera Gelardi of Refinery29 on unabashedly reinventing monoliths that don’t suit you

“What seems ordinary to you may be extraordinary to others.” – Kareem Taylor of Headnod Music on the reason you need to stop that inner voice saying, “You’re not special.”


“Your network is who knows you, not who you know.” – Emcee Mark Jeffries explaining why everyone seems to want to be a star

“Companies are more likely to die from overeating than starvation.” – Hubspot Co-Founder Brian Halligan relating advice from a board member advocating for starting fewer things

“Always test the assumptions you are making about your audience. The goal is results, not guessing.” – Garrett Moon of CoSchedule with an important reminder for freewheeling startup types

“What do people do before they reach out to you?” – Matthew Barby of Hubspot offering a suggestion for attracting your prospects EARLY in the buying process


“What story will you tell about your brand?” – George Thomas of Sales Lion 

“Listen to your audience’s exact words, write them down, and then test them. Bucket them into dreams, pains, and barriers.” – Scott Tousley of Hubspot with a powerful suggestion for outside-in language


“If you’re going to lead, you have to lead with grace.” – Former First Lady Michelle Obama telling it like it is

“Stop doing stupid shit.” – Leslie Ye of Hubspot with the “duh” QOTD

Marketing Chops

If you’re going to do video, you “need to think like a film editor.” – Salma Jafri pointing out a critical step all video must go through to fit a specific social platform

Today, you need marketers with “broad experience and the ability to go deep in a few areas. You need a Jack or Jill of all trades, and a master of some.” – Stefanie Grieser of Unbounce with hiring advice – 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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“Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence  featured an article this week with strategic planning questions based on Amazon. Inspired by an article in The Wall Street Journal by professor Scott Galloway, they lay out five strategic imperatives Amazon uses to disrupt markets and grow. For each strategic imperative, they suggest strategic planning questions to adopt an Amazon-like perspective in devising a company’s strategy:

Bringing Amazon-Based Strategic Planning Questions into Your Planning (via Inside the Executive Suite)

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal featured an article by Scott Galloway, marketing professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, and author of The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Galloway shares market dynamics, the DNA behind Amazon’s success strategy, and his view that Amazon (of the four companies) is positioned for a scenario where it “takes over the world.”

Via Shutterstock

We participated in conferences and client discussions recently where Amazon and its aspirations were an overwhelming focus. Wherever players in retail, consumer goods, transportation and logistics, and technology (among other industries) are grappling with uncertainty, Amazon is part of the conversation.

The Amazon Strategy DNA

Working from Galloway’s analysis, let’s look at how to incorporate a strain of the Amazon strategic success DNA into your own strategy development.  For several imperatives Amazon pursues, we extract questions you can use to frame explorations at your own organization.

#1 – Strategic Imperative: Pursue the market’s “most enduring wants”

Amazon Approach: According to Galloway, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos remains strongly focused on putting money into addressing the “most enduring consumer wants – price, convenience, and selection.”

For Your Organization:

Amid uncertainty, there’s tremendous benefit in focusing investment and market penetration initiatives on the enduring wants among your customers and prospects. Does your organization know the enduring wants in your market for the foreseeable future? How are they strongly shaping and prioritizing your business strategy decisions?

Ideally, your organization can go beyond speculation in answering the first question, using a history of quantitative data on what drives customer decisions. Our experience has demonstrated that having a statistically-projectable view of customer behaviors is strategically beneficial. If that is unavailable to your team, explore the most permanent and behavior-driving structural market dynamics. Regulations, resource limitations, and other factors can all play a part in making some decision customer factors more lasting into the future.

#2 – Strategic Imperative: Target narrow, disproportionately profitable niches to dominate

Amazon Approach: While Google leads in overall search market share, Amazon is the major player in product search. Searching for products is the more lucrative market, putting Amazon in a prime position to dominate a profitable segment Google’s core market.

For Your Organization:

Talking with executives about focusing on specific markets or niches frequently reveals a sense that targeting implies giving something up, rather than gaining. Surrendering bigger market size for greater profitability, however, is typically a winning move if you understand:

  • The profit mix within your business by product, service, and segment
  • The extent to which profitability is linked within areas of your business (vs. having generally discrete cost bases and pricing strategies in separate business lines)
  • The way the profitability mix in your organization parallels (or doesn’t) profitability in the broader market

Answering these questions is integral to identifying profitable opportunities and trying to over-penetrate lucrative market segments your brand can own definitively.

#3 – Strategic Imperative: Leapfrog on what’s next or what’s after what’s next

Amazon Approach: The 700 million Apple iPhone users give it the number one position in the voice-controlled market through the Siri app. The next largest (and emerging segment) is voice-driven home computing. There, through Echo, Amazon leads with a 70% share.

For Your Organization:

It is typically easier to successfully anticipate incremental innovation than innovation targeted two leapfrogs ahead. Forsaking near-term innovation for leapfrogs will entail significant failures. One conference presenter this summer shared the sizable list of Amazon innovation failures. While the brand has developed formidable successes, it’s investing in and walking away from leapfrog innovations that aren’t panning out as hoped.

Questions to ask in your planning include:

  • Where do we target innovation strategy exploration: making incremental improvements to what you do today, to what will be next in the marketplace, or toward the market(s) after that?
  • How much effort do we put into anticipating market developments five and 10 years from now?
  • Who are our leapfrog innovators?
  • What innovations are we exploring that can be potential leapfrogs?

Push to integrate a leapfrog element into your strategy, if it needs more innovation.

#4 – Strategic Imperative: Take your critical capabilities to market

Amazon Approach: Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the number-one player in the computer industry’s fastest-growing segment: cloud computing and storage. The genesis of AWS sprang from Amazon’s internal computing capabilities as it powered its multi-faceted online offerings.

For Your Organization:

As you focus on selling what you offer, there may be supporting capabilities within your organization that could deliver value and growth if companies outside your own could purchase them. If your leadership team hasn’t explored this possibility, it makes sense to do so periodically:

  • What core competencies allow us to deliver the best product or service we can?
  • Among these competencies, which ones are important to your competitors?
  • Which of our top competencies are sought after by companies beyond our competitive set?

If you can identify market-caliber capabilities, they can provide strong spin-off business opportunities.

#5 – Strategic Imperative: Sell-in and stick with your differentiation story

Amazon Approach: Jeff Bezos has made the case to the financial markets that vision and growth are as valuable as, if not more valuable than, near-term profitability. The financial flexibility this provides allows Amazon to play a more disruptive role.

For Your Organization: Executives love to guffaw at messaging as so much business fluff, but Bezos’ big vision and messaging are integral aspects of the company’s success.

Does your organization have a big, consistent differentiation message that ties directly into your business strategy? If not, it deserves time on your strategic planning agenda for 2018.

Picking What Makes Sense for Your Organization

You won’t hear us advocating a strategy just because another organization is pursuing it, and that’s not what we’re doing here. What we do suggest is identifying one or two areas to explore for your organization’s strategy: either what it is today, or what it should be fur the future. In those cases, go to school on Amazon and explore what a comparable approach means for your organization’s future. – via Inside the Executive Suite

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.
Download Your FREE eBook! 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times

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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