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Chuck Dymer and I presented to a group of logistics managers in Chicago last week. The topic was how to handle uncertain times successfully.

Tomorrow, I’ll be closing the Nature Explore and The Outdoor Classroom Project Leadership Institute with a comparable message. The conference theme is building resilience and joy in uncertain times. The audience for the presentation consists of educators, landscape designers, government officials, and others involved with creating outdoor classrooms for children. It’s all about getting kids outside to experience nature, interact, and learn. The closing presentation will be about staying strong as an idea magnet even you are uncertain of what is ahead.

Next month, Emma Alvarez Gibson and I will be delivering a couple of workshops for the Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites. The message will once again be similar: carrying out your mission when times are changing in ways you have not previously experienced.

Yes, dealing with uncertain times (while facing fewer or nonexistent resources) seems to be in the forefront for many different types of organizations these days.

25 Infinitely Renewable Things in Uncertain Times

One theme for the Leadership Institute presentation is finding the blue sky – the open opportunities – even amid what seems to be an onslaught of constraints and limitations. That took me to the idea of abundance thinking, one of the fundamental strategies of idea magnets. These creative leaders recognize constraints but turn their attention to the available resources that are plentiful and can always be grown.

Wanting to leave the Leadership Institute participants with a starting list of ideas, here are twenty-five things that are abundantly available – even in hard-nosed business settings.

  1. Affiliating with Others
  2. Asking Others for Help
  3. Asking Someone If You Can Help
  4. Caring for Others
  5. Cheering Each Other On
  6. Coming up with another idea
  7. Creativity
  8. Determination
  9. Doodling a Smiley Face or Heart
  10. Enthusiasm
  11. Focusing on Your Core Purpose
  12. Forgiveness
  13. Good Humor
  14. Good Intentions
  15. Hugs
  16. Humility
  17. Imagination
  18. Jumping for Joy
  19. Positive Thoughts
  20. Prayer
  21. Reaching Out to Others
  22. Remembering Successes You’ve Already Had
  23. Sharing Stories
  24. Smiles
  25. Trying One More Time

What else is abundantly available in your part of the world? If your team could use some ideas and motivation right now with handling uncertainty, we’d love to come spend time with you to share strategies that are working!  – Mike Brown

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.
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It is possible that great ideas are expressed very clearly and distinctly so that everyone understands them right away and sees the appropriate value they deliver and the impact they might create.

More often, however, it seems great ideas come along with a variety of other things that are not going to add tremendous value to creating great strategy. That’s when having the strategic thinking skills to extract the great ideas from everything else is so vital to them seeing the light of day and getting the consideration they deserve.

9 Strategic Thinking Skills to Create Clarity for Great Ideas

Thinking about some of the strategic thinking skills involved in that task, here is a handy checklist you can use with yourself and others to see how adept you (or they) are at surfacing great ideas. How good are you at…?

  1. Organizing ideas in a logical way
  2. Being able to organize ideas in multiple logical ways (and a few surprising ones, too)
  3. Removing things that don’t fit so that great ideas are more apparent
  4. Identifying what is important from among lots of details
  5. Finding common threads others will understand, even though they cannot originally identify the threads
  6. Focusing attention on the few things (whether results, ideas, costs, issues, etc.) that account for most of the overall impact
  7. Adding in overlooked things that fit with other ideas to make them all better
  8. Sorting out what matters from what gets attention
  9. Hearing the ideas people mean to say even if they don’t say those ideas exactly

Do you stand out at these strategic thinking skills? Or do you potentially squander lots of great ideas because they don’t get the attention they deserve?  – Mike Brown

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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


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Cyndi and I went out for dinner last night.  We were originally heading to a favorite restaurant that has been doing heavy discounting lately. They sent us each a 20% off coupon during the day, grabbing our top-of-mind attention as the best choice. Right before we left, we suddenly changed plans. Cyndi wanted to go somewhere she could eat a salad, so we chose a locally-based chain pizza restaurant instead.

At the counter, we ordered a large salad and a full-sized pizza. We paid the full price since we had just missed the happy hour specials.

A Bait and Avoid Customer Experience Strategy

Taking our seats, I noticed a tabletop card listing the regular daily specials. The Wednesday special was a large salad and a full-sized pizza for $15 – exactly what we ordered. Checking the bill, we paid for them separately to the tune of more than $20.

When a different person other than our original server delivered the salad, I had a look on my face. I was trying to decide whether to ask her or the young woman I thought was our server about the discrepancy. She saw my odd expression, walked back, and said, “You look like you have a question.”

I showed her the receipt and asked if our order did not qualify as the Wednesday special. She said it did, took the ticket, and promised to fix it.

Upon her return, I asked if the system doesn’t automatically recognize when someone orders a daily special. She said it doesn’t. In fact, the only way the cashier triggers the daily special pricing is if a customer asks for the special. As she flatly explained, the restaurant doesn’t want to leave money on the table (literally, I guess) when a guest visits the restaurant without knowledge of the special deal.

Her example was their all-day Happy Hour on Sundays. They wouldn’t want to give money away on appetizers and drink specials if people weren’t there specifically for the special prices.

Avoiding Doing Right by Customers

Stop there for a minute. Think about the customer experience strategy implications of this bait and avoid policy. The restaurant chain’s policy is to offer special prices to lure guests to the restaurant. If you weren’t drawn there by the lure of special prices and ready to mention that reason to the cashier when you order, the restaurant’s policy is to avoid extending the special offer it doesn’t think you deserve.

Stop again and consider whether this bait and avoid customer experience strategy is smart. I’m a member of the restaurant’s loyalty program. I presented my loyalty card when we ordered a food combination qualifying for the daily special. Despite my loyalty, the restaurant’s spin on its policy is that the best customer experience strategy is to not offer me a roughly 25% discount because I didn’t know about the offer before ordering and alert the cashier.

And just to strengthen the strategy’s avoid element, the restaurant doesn’t inform customers about their expected upfront role in signaling they qualify for discounts.

Choosing a Horrendous Strategy

As a customer and someone helping companies develop attractive customer experience strategy plans, this strategy is horrendous.

Bait and avoid lets the restaurant keep more revenue from customers like me, thereby boosting margins. At the same time, though, they provide the information at the table so customers can easily discover they got gypped. That triggers having to ask for money back, and creates a situation of heightened frustration.

If you are employing a similar bait and avoid customer experience strategy, do yourself a favor: ditch it and give all who qualify for deals the deals they deserve. That’s what builds loyalty; not fixing one-off situations AFTER customers discover your brand doesn’t stand by what it offers.

Always remember that bad customer experience strategy is NEVER good for business and brand building.  – Mike Brown

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Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

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“Do you see any returns from all the blogging and social media stuff you do?”

People routinely ask some variation on that question about our social-first content marketing strategy.

I understand why they ask.

If they follow the Brainzooming blog or our presences on Twitter and Facebook (where we are most active – so go follow us there, please!), it’s only natural to speculate about how much time it takes, what it is doing to help grow our business, and whether they stand to see comparable benefits from investing time, energy, or dollars in creating content.

23 Content Marketing Strategy Benefits for an Emerging Brand

The simple answer to the question is we certainly see returns from the blogging and social media sharing we have been doing since before the Brainzooming brand existed as an independent organization.

Thinking about the list of impacts for our emerging brand, our content marketing strategy:

  1. Built and and continues to cultivate a global audience for the brand
  2. Paved the way for transitioning a capability inside a Fortune 500 organization into the separate and standalone Brainzooming brand
  3. Provides credibility with human and search engine audiences that the website is a worthwhile place to go for information on strategy, innovation, and branding
  4. Attracts audiences on social media networks
  5. Demonstrates how and what we think
  6. Helps new people begin to understand what we do
  7. Allows us to demonstrate what we know and what we can do without having to beat down doors or pester people with phone calls they don’t want
  8. Offers a reason for people to come to the website or subscribe to our content (which leads to them seeing information about what we do and can offer them)
  9. Keeps our name in front of people interested in our brand that develop into clients later
  10. Has created (and continues to create) fans for the brand
  11. Sustains relationships with current and future clients until they are ready to buy our services
  12. Attracts potential partners
  13. Provides the ability to create new formats (such as custom tools for clients) in a fraction of the time that creating brand new content would require
  14. Creates interest in our services among social media audiences, leading to new clients
  15. Leads to speaking opportunities, which create income and new blog readers and then lead to additional new clients
  16. Sends a message that the brand has substance
  17. Lets us rapidly answer questions for potential clients with little incremental time or dollar investment
  18. Is a source for new presentations, workshops, and keynotes
  19. Turns into diagnostics that become core pieces of our service offering
  20. Interests like-minded people in wanting to work for us
  21. Opens the door for us to compete for and win work against some of the world’s top strategy and branding consultancies
  22. Allows us to deliver on client projects more quickly and efficiently than we otherwise could
  23. Feeds into creating downloadable eBooks that attract major new clients

That’s a quick list of what all the blogging and social media sharing (in short, our content marketing strategy) has done for Brainzooming as an emerging brand. We’re a brand that started from scratch and bootstrapped into a viable business and an emerging brand, largely based on a content marketing strategy.

So yes, we do see results from all our content. Moreover, we are committed to the strategy and benefits we can deliver with our social-first content. Thanks for being a part of it!  – Mike Brown

Boost Your Brand’s Social Media Strategy with Social-First Content!

Download the Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy. In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we share actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises to:

 

  • Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  • Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Start using Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content to boost your content marketing strategy success today!

 

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From experience, the worst time to decide on how to decide things is when you are ready to decide things.

When you are ready to a make decision, an entirely new set of issues emerges. People have already developed their vested interests in certain outcomes. They are either overly or underly-inclined to point out data gaps to try to push the group to choose a certain outcome.

If, however, you can figure out what will shape the decision before it happens, you have a fighting chance of making a solid business decision for an organization.

5 Strategic Thinking Questions to Answer Before Making a Decision

Here are five strategic thinking questions you should identify well before you are on the verge of making a decision:

  • Who owns making the decision?
  • Who will the decision impact?
  • Who should contribute to making the decision?
  • What criteria will we use to make the decision?
  • What levels or conditions across the criteria will signal making one decision or the other?

If you answer those strategic thinking questions early, your decision making will likely be more simple, clear, and streamlined. And all of that means you can fast forward more quickly from debating and deciding into implementation and results!

Fast Forward: Successfully Implementing Your Plan! 

In the FREE eBook, Fast Forward, we highlight ideas, tips, and checklists you can quickly use for implementation success:

  • 10 ways to simplify and strengthen the language you use to communicate strategic priorities
  • 9 ideas for introducing your strategic plan with style and impact to engage your organization
  • 4 keys for selecting the right collaborative leaders during implementation
  • 12 questions to better launch your successful strategy implementation process
  • 4 strategies to navigate typical execution challenges
  • Using mini-plans to increase implementation flexibility

If you’re on the hook to move your organization from strategy to implementation ASAP, Fast Forward is for you! Download it TODAY!
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What can you expect from a strategic planning process?

That question was the topic of several recent conversations.

As I explained it, our objective when leading a strategic planning process is to make sure the result is an innovative, implementable strategy.

9 Things to Deliver in a Strategic Planning Process

That specific phrase (an innovative, implementable strategy) is very important to a strategic planning process. It creates a definition and set of expectations around what the process we’re facilitating needs to deliver.

With innovative, we look to deliver ideas that:

  • Are better than current strategies
  • Are differentiated relative to competitors
  • Create exceptional benefits and value for important audiences

In terms of implementable, the strategy needs to:

And if it’s a solid strategy, it:

These specifics help determine what we need to prioritize within any strategic planning process:

As you look ahead toward strategic planning, think about where you legitimately need to concentrate your efforts. Where do you need to focus to create an innovative, implementable strategy for your organization’s success? – Mike Brown

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An April story in Fortune suggests, in so many words, that TED Talks are enough to break open the flow of ideas in your organization. It detailed how TED and its CEO, Chris Anderson, are trying to aggressively penetrate the corporate event strategy and production market. Targeting Fortune 500 companies for revenue, TED is pitching its event strategy production capabilities (with full conferences and Salon events), popular TED Talks speakers and TED fellows, speaking workshops, and even space at its headquarters to immerse in the TED vibe.

Rubbing elbows with the TED brand is pricey. The article reports the cost of the TED crew’s producing a one-day conference for your organization starts at $1.5 million. That involves a healthy premium for the TED brand and the halo from its well-known production look and feel.

An Event Strategy to Tell Your Stories and Ideas

While the multi-million-dollar investment takes many organizations out of the TED Talks event strategy market, the need for high-impact corporate events exists in many companies. Some get it right, too many don’t. That is why too many conferences with the potential for game-changing impact fizzle: they fail to embrace an event strategy incorporating the important basics that TED delivers in its conferences.

If you are looking to an event strategy that creates impact but TED is not the answer, try these practices TED masters. You can emulate all of them to improve your internal meetings:

1. Pick a Theme and Use It for All It’s Worth

TED events feature intriguing themes that set the tone for the featured presentations. You can use a theme to help your audience understand the presenters and the overarching message you want them to take back to their daily work. The easy part is placing a theme on slides, lanyards, and posters at the venue. The challenging, and much more important aspect, is developing the right theme and using it to drive EVERYTHING you do with the conference.

Here are several suggestions for exploring the right theme:

  • Don’t delay selecting a theme until late in the conference preparation. Invest time early to develop the theme so it drives all your event planning and execution.
  • Create a theme that ties both previous and future activities within your organization. It should feel as if it springs from your culture, but also challenge and inspire your team to future successes.
  • Strategically tie everything to the theme leading up to, during, and after the event. Repeatedly communicate it from the stage, using it to link the speakers and the messages they share. Doing this elevates a theme from a few spiffy words to a powerful communication tool that helps instill and align strategy.

Remember: a great meeting theme will work hard to align your activities and reinforce your messages during the meeting and afterward.

2. Feature People with Untold Stories

The easy answer for any organization’s conference is putting all the executives on stage, whether they are dynamic presenters or duds. That’s not the TED approach. To paraphrase its direction, TED looks for stories that haven’t been told and ideas worth sharing. That’s a very different direction than essentially turning the company organization chart into a conference agenda.

Look for untold stories and shareable ideas inside and outside the company that effectively convey the theme. Reach into your organization for stories of successes, learnings, innovations, and personal accomplishments. Not every story has to be fact-driven. Emotion is a major component of TED events. An audience will remember personal stories carrying messages of struggle, hope, and overcoming challenges far longer than a senior executive’s PowerPoint full of business statistics!

Sharing the stage with new presenters featuring relevant, albeit different types of stories, introduces risks. You will be putting untested people on the stage. Lower this risk by working with the presenters to hone their stories and delivery. Identify what they want to share, and find ways to help them streamline messages, linking ideas to the theme. Simplify talking points, eliminate text-based PowerPoint in favor of compelling images, inject emotion, and help them practice many times to gain comfort and familiarity with presenting. You will find that the right speakers with strong stories will carry the day, no matter their organizational titles.

3. Develop a Format and Flow that Works for Your People

TED employs a couple of standard talks, the longest of which is eighteen minutes. While that strategy is great for later packaging thousands of talks as videos, it creates a monotonous in-person experience. The take-away from TED is to plan for brief, focused talks compared to typical corporate meeting presentations. Whether it’s ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, select shorter speaking times, ditch the podium (as TED does), and give speakers some flexibility to use a format that showcases individual speaking talents.

While you may want to start the conference with the CEO delivering his or her message, we suggest caution. The best conference flows mimic frequently-used patterns in concerts, comedy routines, and firework shows: start with the second strongest element you have and end with the strongest one. In between, arrange other elements to maximize moments of excitement, drama, surprise, and quiet. Within this framework, look for the best places to showcase senior executives delivering messages tied to the theme.

TED events do a stellar job in staging and production. Never underestimate how these variables shore up speakers that might not be as strong as you would like. Even if your meeting budget falls FAR short of the $1.5 million TED price tag, using a solid outside production company is generally money well spent. The right production team will bring experience across conferences along with lighting, sound, and other resources to maximize your event’s impact.

Developing Your Event Strategy for Impact!

Obviously, this doesn’t cover everything you need to know to create a TED-like event. It may surprise you (or maybe not), that strategic creative production for corporate events is something The Brainzooming Group regularly does for clients.

If you are facing this type of challenge, contact us, and let’s chat about ideas. We love see an organization chart a new course and succeed dramatically with a breakthrough event! Mike Brown

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