Working on a creating strategic impact exercise the other day, I typed the words “Challenge” and “Change” on a Powerpoint slide.

Suddenly, it struck me that the only difference between challenge and change is the “lle” in the middle of challenge. Take the “lle” out and you get “change.” Add the “lle” to change, and you get “challenge.”

I think it was late at night (or some other time I was mentally exhausted), so I put messages out on Twitter and Facebook calling out the three-letter difference in challenge and change, commenting, “. . . Not sure what to do with that quite yet.”

By the next morning, I had several replies on Facebook and Twitter about what “lle” could represent. The most compelling answer came via Vincent Tobias on Twitter, who suggested the acronym could stand for “lots of little excuses.”

What a brilliant answer suggesting the potential for creating strategic impact and change if you can pull out all the “lle” – lotsa little excuses.

While I took a little liberty in turning “lots of little excuses” into “lotsa little excuses,” the collaborative quote stands as a great reminder that excuses are all too convenient ways to avoid challenges and stay stuck in the status quo of what you’ve always done.


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.

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Applause is a wonderful part of any conference event. Applause makes the speakers feel better. Applause signals the attendees are enjoying the event. Applause keeps things lively.

None of that means applause always happens spontaneously, however.

How many conference events have you been to where speakers start or finish with no applause?

I’ve been to plenty.

Sometimes there’s no applause because of the audience. Often, though, it’s because event organizers aren’t actively enabling applause as part of the event strategy.

5 Event Strategy Ideas for Generating Applause When You Need It

Want to make sure your event strategy maximizes its applause opportunities? Here are five ideas for doing the most with applause at your event, whether it’s a big conference or a small association luncheon or dinner.


1. Identify upfront where you want applause.

It’s easy to know you want applause when someone takes or leaves the stage. What are other places where you want applause? After videos? Following a certain big statement a speaker makes? When the event ends and people are prone to wander off? Create a list of all the places where applause will pump up the program and make it part of your event strategy.

2. Make sure there is always an applause starter in the audience.

This Individual (or potentially multiple individuals), is stationed off to the side in an inconspicuous spot. Your applause starter will do what the title suggests. This person is ready to start applauding at every point you want applause. Hand the applause starter the list you’ve developed, brief them on what will be happening throughout the event, and turn the applause starter loose to applaud in all the right places. The great thing an applause starter (trust me on this) is the audience will join in and readily applaud once someone takes the lead.

3. Invite the audience to applaud.

This may seem crass, but it needn’t be. When writing intros for speakers, add a line that says, “Please welcome,” “Help me welcome,” or “Let’s have a warm welcome for our speaker.” A line as simple as that along with the person doing the introducing actually starting light applause will ensure there is applause for a new speaker.

4. Keep presenters close to the stage.

It’s awkward when a speaker takes the stage from so far away that the audience’s applause dies long before the speaker arrives on stage. Position speakers close to the stage so they get where they need to be before the applause ends. If need be, make sure your speakers understand to move quickly and can reap all the benefits of the applause you are instigating for them.

5. If you’re a speaker, pause at your applause line.

Some speakers deliver applause lines (big messages that elicit audience affirmation) right and left. Other speakers do it occasionally. Either way, an effective applause line should be followed by a hard stop and a sufficient pause to allow the audience time to respond. If you’re a speaker who only occasionally has applause lines, take an applause line-type pause at other points in your presentation. With this, your real applause line pause doesn’t appear to be too needy. You may also want to arrange your own personal applause starter who knows where your applause lines are coming and gets things going.

Can we get some applause for these event strategy ideas?

I apologize if these five ideas seem basic. Based on the number of events I attend where there is far less applause than there should be, however, I suspect even these basic ideas are overlooked. – Mike Brown

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Learn all about how Mike Brown’s workshops on creating strategic impact can boost your success!

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Nearly five years after launching The Brainzooming Group as a full-time strategy and innovation firm, we are honored by the Brainzooming blog readership growth. We appreciate those of you who have been diving in to the Brainzooming blog mid-stream to join us. Based on new readers asking about the Brainzooming backstory when I’m out speaking, and the fact there are now nearly eighteen hundred articles on the Brainzooming blog, an “in case you just joined us” recap highlighting all the different perspectives woven into the Brainzooming backstory seems helpful.


A Left Brain and Right Brain Start

I grew up enjoying school, including both left- brain (math) and right-brain (writing, art) subjects out in Western Kansas. Along the way, there was an opportunity to get involved in music, producing concerts, and working as a DJ. All of those find their way into what we do now.

By the time graduate school was finished, however, I still was not sure what I wanted to do.

Hearing Bill McDonald on a Kansas City radio talk show discuss his firm doing research for other companies sounded like my dream career. It was the epitome of small business life, and a few years there were like earning a second MBA degree focused on business analysis, writing, and the realities of living on a business shoestring.

Corporate Life at a Fortune 500 – From Marketing Analyst to Marketing VP

When the small business route was not helping make ends meet sufficiently, I landed a job at a Fortune 500 B2B services company right around the corner, serving for most of the time as Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Marketing Communications.

Starting corporate life as a marketing analyst, I was fortunate to rise quickly and gain exposure to a variety of marketing and business disciplines, thanks to another important strategic mentor. How often does a market research guy get to take on marketing communications, NASCAR sponsorships, strategic planning, conference production, and online marketing (with a healthy dose of music, art, and public speaking) – all at the same time? Rarely, I’d guess.

In the midst of this, our corporation tripled in size (to $10 billion) through acquisitions within just thirty months. I was deployed to help our new subsidiaries improve marketing and strategy while being told I couldn’t tell them what to do. This intriguing challenge led to blending all the creative thinking exercises, strategy templates, and innovation tools I had created and gathered over the years into what became the Brainzooming methodology.

While that was happening, I started blogging and tweeting to share the lessons learned with both my team (at least the smart ones who subscribed to the blog) and others outside the company.

Starting The Brainzooming Group

After several years of honing this rapid, question-based planning methodology called Brainzooming, I had a “couldn’t pass it up” opportunity to leave corporate life and make the move to growing and sharing the methodology full-time as The Brainzooming Group.

The Brainzooming Group now serving clients in business-to-business and business-to-consumer industries, including public, private, and not for profit organizations. We help them quickly and innovatively expand their marketplace views and strategic options. Our work can entail developing and implementing business strategy, marketing strategy, branding initiatives, revenue building efforts, marketing communications campaigns, and social media launches.

And through all of it, we are still blogging on strategy, creativity, innovation, and social media.

Thanks for joining the Brainzooming journey. We would love to work with you! Let us know what business opportunities and challenges you are trying to better address. Across our core and extended team, we have broad experience and well-tested tools to get your business, improving, growing, and moving forward quickly.

Working with us will make you feel you are Brainzooming – guaranteed! – Mike Brown

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You’ve heard the strategy. You’ve heard the strategy’s promise. Heck, you may be knee-deep or even waist-deep in the strategy.

What’s the strategy?

Giving away what you do for free in the hope of building an audience that will eventually pay you for what you do.

Strategic Thinking Question – When Does Free Become Getting Paid?

A lunch discussion the other day, however, was when and how do you start getting paid?


One intriguing answer to this strategic thinking question came via Jonathan Field as he addressed moving from free speaking to paid speaking. He tied the getting paid or speaking for free question to the size of the speaker’s “brand hand” relative to the event sponsor’s brand hand. In effect, whoever has the stronger brand sets the stage for how value (i.e., money) is divided, shared, and flows between the parties.

My answer to the strategic thinking question was you start getting paid when you are more willing and able to say, “No.”

When you’re in a position to turn down the people who expect things for free, you start setting boundaries about what’s free (i.e., maybe the first hour of consultation and listening is free before the meter starts running).

When you’re in a position to turn down the people who expect things for free, you address the “getting paid” conversation right away regarding how you’re delivering value with what you know and can share.

When you’re in a position to turn down the people who expect you to do things for far less than they are worth, you become much more explicit about what things cost. That applies to both what you charge and the costs to potential clients of not using someone as knowledgeable, proficient, and reliable as you.

What puts you in the position to say, “No,” to doing things for free?

It comes from addressing whatever weaknesses exist in your business.

That could mean, you have more than enough prospects or cash to sustain NOT doing business with the next potential client that comes along.

It might be you have reduced your overall business risk so you can take on the risk of saying NO.

It could also mean you really do have a better brand hand than the other party that wants you to do things for free or for much less than they are worth.

Or it may be something else.

Whatever it is that makes you say, “Yes, I’ll do that for free,” or give away things without ever having the conversation about free or paid, figure out what you need more of so you can say, “No,” to all the free work requests that are toxic for your success. – Mike Brown


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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.

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Have you seen this commercial about bad decisions people make in horror movies? It reminds me of the typical strategic planning process, where people KNOW it’s not going to be productive, yet they approach a kickoff strategic planning meeting the same way every year and think things will be different.

10 Signs of a Strategic Planning Meeting Nightmare

If you’re invited to a strategic planning meeting to prepare for next year or you are doing the one inviting to this type of meeting, look at the materials sent to participants.

Want to know in advance if the strategic planning process is going to be a nightmare?


See how many of the descriptions below apply to what’s being sent to participants to prepare for the strategic planning process:

  1. The organizer isn’t a strategic thinker
  2. People or whole areas of the company that SHOULD be included are absent from the invite list
  3. A bunch of blank pages were sent out for people to complete in advance about past performance and future strategies
  4. Invitees are expected to come up with ideas, issues, strategies, and/or forecasts outside their expertise that they are supposed to fit into complex templates and forms
  5. The first time anyone will see what everyone else is working on is when they show up at the first strategic planning meeting
  6. The meeting is too internally focused, with insufficient time to address customers, competitors, markets, and important external factors
  7. There are lots of presentations, but no time for the group to work collaboratively
  8. Not enough time is set aside (within the meeting or across the whole planning process) to create a plan that meaningfully (and not just incrementally) improves things
  9. The person leading the strategic planning meeting has too much authority over the participants and will sway their perspectives
  10. It’s not clear how decisions are going to be made about priorities and what to do for next year

Do any of these sound familiar?

I’m not sure how many of these descriptors completely tip the scales toward ensuring your strategic planning process is going to be a nightmare.

If more than four or five of them describe your upcoming strategic planning meeting, however, you can pretty much rest assured it’s going to be a nightmare.

Want to change your strategic planning process for the better?

Contact us (info@brainzooming.com or 816-509-5320).

There’s still time (yes, there is still time) to make a course correction and turn your strategic planning meeting into something productive and beneficial.

Think of us as the running car in the commercial, and you can leave all your horrors to the horror movies!

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In reponse to a re-share for a Brainzooming post on the negative impact on the creative process of 29 phrases used in business, Ying Ying Shi reached out to expand on the idea, mentioning the starkly different impacts of periods and commas on the creative process.

Her ideas expanding on the creative process impact of  punctuation intrigued the heck out of me, and I asked her to share her thinking for Brainzooming readers, which we’re featuring today.

Ying Ying Shi is a multilingual international manager currently working at Clueda AG, a big data start-up. Previously, she was an M&A and strategy advisor to small, medium and transnational companies. She shares her experiences and musings on leadership, business and self-improvement at www.yingyingshi.com

Here’s Ying Ying!


Creative Process – How Using Periods Harms You by Ying Ying Shi

Ying-Ying-ShiIn a previous Brainzooming post on the creative process, Mike listed 29 phrases blocking innovative ideas. The phrases listed are necessary, but not sufficient conditions to block our creativity. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging limitations or existing problems; this is part of life and the improvement process. It is how you deal with these observations subsequently that has an irrepressible consequence: either halting you from solutions or opening new roads and views.

Language is our main tool of thought. When you speak out loud or write things down, you organize your thoughts and bestow them with power. Care is, however, needed. The words you speak cannot be retrieved; there is no ctrl+z. The words you think and write have an impact on your brain; there is no escape from that.

Psychology has been telling us that positive words have a positive effect on us and that we can be primed by these. Some psychological studies even point out to the fact that our genes are modified by positive words.

The other language constituent (besides words) that is often neglected is punctuation marks. These are essential in our communication. Had I used not punctuation until now in this post, you would have probably had a hard time understanding it.

Punctuation assigns a certain meaning to our expressions. Is this a question? Or perhaps just a wonderful example! You can know that this sentence hasn’t come to an end, unless you see a period.

As opposed to the mere grammatical function of punctuation marks, they can also trigger different thought channels. Periods define the end of our thought process, whereas commas or even ellipsis leave us open to different options and ideas.

The phrases on Mike’s creative process post were written without punctuation marks. It is up to you to decide which ones to use.

Compare the following (the original number of the phrase in parenthesis):

  • Initial observation (3): We don’t know how to do that
  • Period: We don’t know how to do that.
  • Comma: We don’t know how to do that, but we can hire an expert.
  • Initial observation (7): We’ve done something similar before
  • Period: We’ve done something similar before.
  • Comma: We’ve done something similar before, but the circumstances are different now, and we should try again.
  • Initial observation (13): I don’t know anything about that
  • Period: I don’t know anything about that.
  • Comma: I don’t know anything about that, and I am willing to take this challenge.
  • Initial observation (15): It’s too new for our market
  • Period: It’s too new for our market.
  • Comma: It’s too new for our market, and we know it’s a great opportunity.
  • Initial observation (29): We don’t have time for that
  • Period: We don’t have time for that.
  • Comma: We don’t have time for that, though we could prioritize it for the next period.

While the phrases with periods killed a creative thought process, blocking creativity, the commas have given way to limitless possibilities of which I have only written one.

Remember when you were disappointed or feeling down? You were most probably using a period. Maybe you thought: “I failed.” Yet it really should have been “I failed, I learned, and I moved forward.”

Try replacing periods more often in your thoughts, especially when you are identifying a problem.

While the correct punctuation usage might not yet modify your creative genius, it will certainly prevent your thoughts from being stopped by a period. With the right use of punctuation marks in life, your options can be infinite . . .

Ying Ying Shi


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.


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.

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Data about your website is great.

Data patterns related to your website are even better.

Having big data to tell you how people react to different scenarios and situations on your website is the best yet.

When you are just launching a website, however, you may not have any data.

When that’s the case, either you can design something that fits a design aesthetic, or you can take what you know, answer sound strategic thinking questions, and design a website that makes strategic sense.

Strategic Thinking Questions – 3 Questions for New Website Design

We were looking at a new website the other day designed for the user to “scroll, scroll, and keep scrolling.” The nagging strategic issue was, “Why in the world would an audience member want to keep scrolling?”

To help the website creator through the strategic thinking to answer this question, we put together the strategic thinking exercise below. It lists each of the main pages of the website down the left column. Across the three columns to the right are three strategic thinking questions, all asked in the voice of the user:

  • “Why should I stay interested?”
  • “Why should I keep looking for more information?”
  • “Why should I buy something now?”

We used these three questions to quickly review the copy and design of the new website. Our objective was to have a solid, compelling answer to at least one of the three questions based on the first look at each of the website’s main pages.

Strategic Questions to Improve Design and Copy on a New Website


We used the three strategic thinking questions on a first pass review of the website. The questions helped us strengthen copy, make decisions on where to place key features, and changed perspectives about whether certain functionality made sense or not.

Our decisions weren’t data-driven because we don’t have any data on the website. The three strategic thinking questions definitely proved to be hard workers, however, for checking whether a brand new website offers compelling reasons for users to engage.

If you’re in a similar situation, grab a copy of this strategic thinking exercise and see how hard it can work for you! – Mike Brown

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“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question.

Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social  Strategy.”

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