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We were set to work with a client team exploring the customer experience strategy they’d introduce to their internal customers. As we thought about how many of them there were (about twenty), the two of us from The Brainzooming Group, and the value of having an inner circle of informal facilitators, we hit upon an idea: create roles for a small group of clients to play during our two-day branding workshop.

Each of the four roles were intended to help push the group’s thinking on its customer experience strategy in varied ways.

4 Roles to Push Bold Customer Experience Strategy Thinking

We met with them the afternoon before the branding workshop started to provide background information and answer questions. Rather than tromping on others’ ideas, we asked them to look for ways to build on and expand ideas the group was sharing in positive ways. We provided strategic thinking questions of their own to use, including:

  • “That’s great and how can we do that _____________?”
  • “What if that were ________________?”
  • “Oooh, can we enhance that by ______________?”
  • “What would it look like if we also _____________?”

We assigned four roles to shape the customer experience strategy thinking:

On the second day of the branding workshop, we added another role: The Queen of Intrigue. That role went to the group’s senior executive to focus us on transformative ideas during a strategic thinking exercise involving imagining Chick-fil-A designing their customer experience strategy. Maybe you had to be there to appreciate that one!

We asked the group to pick the roles they wanted to play without telling other participants or us.

Now, for two admissions:

  1. All the while as we were creating this, I was thinking of Chuck Dymer letting me know these roles were accounted for in Six Thinking Hats (affiliate link). That’s the problem of me never having taken one of Chuck’s Six Thinking Hats workshops. My mistake, definitely!
  2. Emma Alvarez Gibson and I consciously tried to forget who we talked to about the roles. We didn’t want to interact with them differently or rely on them unduly as we facilitated the small groups. The result? We can’t tell you definitively whether the role playing created greater success or not.

If nothing else, the customer experience strategy roles provided a handful of participants more to think about and something extra to do to make our branding workshop the success it was! – Mike Brown

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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


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Struggling to be creative?

Think about reigniting your creativity as a day at an amusement park.

You walk in, and you’re going to ride a bunch of different rides in different parts of the park. You might ride some rides multiple times, but the day is mainly about as having many fun and exciting experiences as possible.

All the ways you have been creative up until now are the amusement park rides. Make a list of them. Start pursuing them, one after another.

Don’t worry about the pattern.

Don’t worry about what it all means together.

Don’t worry about creating a body of work.

Just start and keep having fun throughout the list.

You’ll have your creativity back!

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It’s that time. Organizations are reviewing budgets for the year ahead. While everyone hopes these meetings are smart, strategic, and have a meaningful impact on the business, that rarely seems to be the case.

 12 Reasons Budget Meetings Aren’t Strategic

Too often, budget meetings aren’t strategic. From personal experience, these twelve reasons all contribute to the disconnect:

  1. The meetings are adversarial, as if the people inside the company are trying to rip off the company by requesting money to run it.
  2. The focus is only on numbers, without any stories of success and aspirations for what the dollars are expected to do.
  3. They are handled out of context strategically, looking at the business by department instead of by initiative.
  4. General managers and non-financial executives are placed in unfamiliar and poorly-performed accounting roles.
  5. Budget meetings are not integrated with strategic planning and business strategy.
  6. Accounting and finance act as if they control the business and are integral to generating revenue and profit.
  7. Budget meetings solve for numbers and do not solve for business results.
  8. They prioritize overly precise discussions about inconsequential aspects of the business.
  9. Budget meeting length isn’t matched to the strategic complexity or importance of the area.
  10. They are awkward and challenging to prepare for to ensure they are as productive as possible.
  11. Since they only happen once a year, the formats and discussions are unfamiliar.
  12. Preparing for them creates an organizational drag on getting things done to drive the business forward.

Because of these factors, business and department leaders often focus on escaping budget meetings with some semblance of a budget that makes sense. This behavior obscures looking at their areas and the entire organization strategically, comprehensively, and with a smart investment perspective.

3 Ways to Fix Budget Meetings

Turn Budget Meetings into Strategic Activities
If you’re interested in changing the strategic disconnect of budget meetings – whether you are in finance and accounting or not – we have a guide!

Download our FREE eBook, 3 Ways to Turn Budget Meetings into Strategic Activities.  In it, we share actionable ideas for turning tactical accounting reviews into strategic conversations balancing business results with the financial underpinning necessary to achieve them.

Get your copy of 3 Ways to Turn Budget Meetings into Strategic Activities and grow your strategic leadership to drive better business results!

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Mike Brown

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Matt Britton, a millennial generation expert, spoke about the anticipating the Class of 2025 as the keynote speaker on the closing day of the October 2017 Social Media Strategies Summit in New York. His keynote got us thinking about how today’s ten-year-olds (the Class of 2025) will change the landscape for brands, following in the wake of the impact millennials have created.

A Future-Looking Strategic Thinking Experiment

Reviewing the copious notes, here are strategic thinking starters for thought experiments as you imagine your future organization and market.

A Radically Different Audience Base

Britton discussed the fact that younger millennials (born between the early 1980s and late 1990s) and Generation Z (born mid-1990s to mid-2000s) are the first generations to grow up with the internet in their households. Because of the lifelong availability of the web, Britton contends their brains are wired to think and consume differently.

For the class of 2025, it goes further: they were born with phones in their faces. They are developing collaborative projects online in grade school. The availability of learning outside traditional schooling structures will change the training and pool of employees, leading to greater diversity, fewer people with traditional college degrees, and a need for specialization vs. careers as generalists.

Strategic Thinking Experiment Starters:

  • If none of our employees had college degrees and were instead DIY or technically-trained, how would our business model and processes change?
  • What could we do better in this scenario? What would we do differently?

Talking to Machines, Not People

Changes in how we interact with computers, robots, and other devices are already underway. Instead of typing, we’ll increase voice interaction – or mind control. Britton’s claim is “hardware is the final mile.” That’s why Amazon and Google are moving to hardware, because it will dramatically impact online search results.

Where people once might have viewed several search pages to find answers, now it is about a brand needing to be among the first ten recommendations on Google. With voice delivery, people won’t listen to more than one or two options. If the voice hardware doesn’t mention your brand, you are out of luck; thus the importance of shaping how the hardware works. With devices talking directly to devices, the dynamic changes even more.

Strategic Thinking Experiment Starters:

  • What will it take to set up a marketing innovation team to understand how voice technology changes our marketing, sales, and customer service? Where should the team start exploring?
  • If we don’t have a team looking at the impact of the Internet of Things on our business, what do we need to do to get on it by early 2018?

Download Disrupting Thinking

Renting vs. Buying

Britton combined several trends to explain why millennials (and later, the class of 2025) will want to rent things instead of buying and owning them:

  • City and downtown living is a pull for millennials. As demand and prices rise, they can’t afford bigger places. The result is they won’t / don’t have room for as many things.
  • Parking is an issue. The greater density of amenities in downtown areas makes walking, biking, and public transit more attractive. Thus, there is no need to own a car.
  • In a gig-based economy, organizations will downsize offices. Gig workers will look increasingly to collaborative workspaces to rent a desk or place to congregate and work.
  • As having more things is less attractive, experiencing more things (and documenting the experience digitally in photos and videos) is all the rage. The goal becomes pursuing experiences just to be able to take a picture and show it to others, with the expectation that the experiences and images are life changing and defining.

There are numerous examples: massive valuations for Uber and WeWork, the popularity of Color Runs, and Get the Flight Out (GFTO offers last minute flights deals so going to exotic locales to take pictures is more affordable).

Strategic Thinking Experiment Starters:

  • What changes in our business if most customers want our product or service on demand versus owning it?
  • How do we move faster to introduce a self-disruptive business model before another brand does?

Abandoning the Middle

Britton predicted a continued move toward a “barbell economy,” where the middle class and mid-range products are being “wiped out.” He points to a major potential brand implication: the best growth opportunities are for luxury and value brands. Luxury brands can create high-impact, premium-dollar (potentially convenience-rich) experiences (see the renting vs. buying impact) and value brands can uncover supply chain innovations, taking costs out, and maximizing simplicity (Brandless sells essentially generic, but “better” food products, all at $3).

Strategic Thinking Experiment Starters:

  • If we have a middle-market product or service, what will be left of our business if it dries up?
  • What does the ultimate, premium, high-end version of what we produce look like? What does the generic, everything costs the same version of what we do look like?

Old Hat, Old Thinking, or Both?

Whether these predicted trends feel old hat or impossibly far off for your business, you should take Matt Britton up on one of his ideas: creating a shadow board of millennial employees to advise your Baby Boomer and Generation X senior leaders on what’s coming. Create this type of group, and spend time with them imagining what your brand and marketplace’s future looks like.

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Are you still trying to finish your strategic planning process for next year?

Is it to that point where your biggest worry is being about to call the plan strategic without making other executives fall on the floor laughing hysterically?

If this sounds like your situation (and we know, based on searches many of you are using to peruse Brainzooming strategic planning content, that at least SOME of you are facing this challenge), then the new eBook from The Brainzooming Group is the answer: Right Now! 29 Ideas to Speed Up Strategic Planning.

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FREE eBook: 29 Ideas to Speed Up Your Strategic Planning Process Right Now!

This brief, but information-packed FREE strategy planning resource lays out 29 ideas for streamlining, speeding up, and shortening the time between starting and completing your strategy plan. These ideas will help you keep your strategic planning comprehensive while recognizing you don’t have any extra time for long strategy meetings.

The twenty-nine ideas in Right Now will speed up what is typically a long process and move you through strategic planning more swiftly:

  • 10 Ideas to Speed Up Strategic Planning
  • 5 Things to Do If You Haven’t Started Planning
  • 1 Question to Focus and Speed Up Strategy Meetings
  • 13 Possibilities for a More Efficient and Effective Strategic Planning Process

We are confident that this quick-to-read, easy-to-use resource will get your strategy planning done more quickly whether you need to complete it in one day or you still have a few weeks left to finish it.

Are your anxiety levels running high based on how impossible it seems to complete a solid strategic plan in the time you have remaining?

If so, don’t hesitate a second longer!

Download Right Now immediately and get the oomph and ideas you need to start AND FINISH your strategic planning process for next year in record time!

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Ten years into the Brainzooming blog, it seemed right to have someone else tell the story from a fresh perspective. Emma Alvarez Gibson, who helped shaped the Brainzooming brand before it even launched, is exactly the person.

Ten Years Now and Mike Brown Has a Blog – Emma Alvarez Gibson

It’s 2009, and I’ve just gone into business for myself, doing branding and copywriting. Thanks to Twitter, which is at that point still a place to have thoughtful conversations with smart people, a great-sounding gig has fallen into my lap. This guy I’ve never met has just hired me, after a couple of emails and a single phone call, to help launch his company. He’s kind of shockingly sincere, but he lives in Kansas City, and maybe that’s just how they do there. He’s about to leave his job as a strategic planning and marketing VP at a Fortune 500 transportation company and he’s got this whole other direction mapped out for himself—he’s been blogging now for a couple of years in preparation for this move.

“I don’t think I had any clue, at the start, about the impact the blog would have on my life.”

We work well together. He says I really get what he’s trying to do. And he pays promptly, as the best clients do. I wish him well, and we follow one another on Twitter. Every now and then we exchange pleasantries and silly jokes, sometimes an email or two. We tweet, we message, we leave comments on one another’s Facebook updates. I sign up for his blog posts, which are astonishing in their frequency as well as their depth.

“The blog paved the way for me to create a brand-new business identity. It allowed me to create a new present and future that built on, but wasn’t beholden to, my experience in the transportation sector.”

And so it goes for the next three years. By 2012 I’m no longer working for myself, as I’ve discovered that I’m terrible at it. I’ve got a capital-J job, and excellent health insurance, and tons of banked vacation time. One afternoon in 2014, I’m in my office with not a lot to do, and a message pops up: the guy from Kansas wants to know if I have a couple of minutes for a phone call. I’m a little weirded out, but say yes. He’ll be in San Diego in a month, he says, and wonders if I’m available to help facilitate a workshop. I am.

The evening before the workshop, I drive down from LA immediately following a Neil Finn show, accompanied by a girlfriend, just on the off chance that it’s all a setup and I’m meeting up with an ax murderer. (Spoiler: I’m not. The guy from Kansas is exactly as he represents himself online.) But despite it being our first time meeting face to face, it feels like we’ve known each other for years. Probably because we have.

“It gave me an identity beyond Mike Brown, which is in the top 5 most nondescript names.”

The workshop goes well. It’s fun, and challenging, and so gratifying to see that we’re giving people tools and resources that will continue to improve their work lives and also have the capacity to improve their personal lives. This work calls to me on a deep level.

Back in LA I keep thinking about how naturally we worked together and how our skills and expertise complemented one another. What if that could be my job? But I can’t really allow myself to venture too far down that path. There are too many variables and it isn’t as though he’s hiring tons of people—particularly not people 1600 miles away. I’ve got a child, a chronic illness, a mortgage, and my husband and I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country. I climb back down into the salt mines, so to speak, and focus on making things go.

“The body of work is a personal one. But it allows us to compete with the biggest consulting firms in the world.”

When the guy from Kansas asks if I’d be interested in the occasional editing gig, I am; soon it’s a weekly thing. I think, often, about what it would be like to do this full-time. One day, the guy from Kansas says, hesitantly, Hey, I don’t know how you’d feel about this, but when I’m in a position to extend the company’s base outside Kansas City, I’d really like to hire you full-time. I’d feel pretty great about that, and tell him so. And then it’s back to the salt mines for me, but now the work I’m doing when I’m not at my day job includes several long-term projects, and we’re presenting workshops and keynotes at conferences in San Francisco and on an island off the coast of Georgia.

Now it’s the fall of 2017. I have a block of time in the middle of my frenzied day that doesn’t belong to anyone else, and I shut my office door and call the guy from Kansas to discuss a couple of the projects we have going. When he answers the phone, I say hello and ask how he is. He says, Wonderful. I’m just finishing up your offer letter. Within fifteen minutes, I’ve given notice.

“The busyness of the business, driven in large part by the blog, has had a tremendous impact across my life.”

This month marks the tenth anniversary of what became the Brainzooming blog. I tease Mike about the sheer volume of content he’s created across these ten years. He must have content running in his veins where we mere mortals have only blood, I say. Oh, no, Mike Brown forgot to write a blog post for tomorrow! Not to worry – just hand him that letter opener! The wound will heal; the content will live on! The truth, of course, is simpler and more complicated than that. The truth involves a different kind of sacrifice, and hell of a lot of hard work.

It’s two months to the day since I joined Brainzooming full-time as Director of Brand Strategy. I can’t quite shake the sense that, at any moment, someone’s going to show up at my door and order me back to the salt mines. Because this kind of work isn’t work: it’s a calling. And that makes all the difference in the world, and to my world. (As do the excellent Beavis and Butt-head impressions Mike and I are prone to when in the same city. Or on the phone. Or, okay, via email.)

We’ve now met in person five times, and next year will bring more opportunities to get together to address problems, create solutions, and bring people together in ways they would not have thought possible. I can’t wait to see where Brainzooming goes next.

Happy blog anniversary, Mike. Happy blog anniversary, Brainzooming. Here’s to the next ten years. Emma Alvarez Gibson

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Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help  generate extreme creativity and boost your creative thinking skills! For organizational innovation success, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative growth strategies. Contact 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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What strategic thinking skills are important in helping find agreement for action amid a big, unstructured conversation?

That was the challenge during a nonprofit board call. The call was an opportunity for board members to react and share perspectives for the first time as a group about a critical business topic. The meeting objective involved identifying actions the board supported and would collectively recommend. We found our way to three target recommendations after two hours of conversation.

One board member remarked later how easy it was to get lost in the back-and-forth without identifying anything the group would recommend.

5 Strategic Thinking Skills to Lead Groups to Action

How then did we find three areas for the board to agree to as action items? Here are five strategic thinking skills you can employ in comparable group situations:

  • Listen for verbs. Verbs suggest action. Listen especially for actions you imagined before the call that the group might embrace and advance. Having a list prepared ahead of time helps you focus and piece together answers from snippets of conversation.
  • Figure out who the leaders are historically and on the call (if they are different). Listen for when a group leader voices something that agrees with someone who is less vocal. If you can find agreement there, it’s a powerful combination: the leader picking up on a more marginal player’s strategic thinking.
  • If you can identify a core idea for action, listen for other suggestions that build on, complement, or enhance the original idea. Highlighting other strategic thinking lets you keep returning to the core idea. Doing so grounds the group in hearing the core idea repeatedly and focuses their strategic thinking on that idea vs. pursuing unrelated directions.
  • If you modify an action-oriented idea with different strategic thinking, return to the person with the original idea to see if that makes sense for them. You want to improve the recommendation and build on it, but not at the expense of losing your original supporter.
  • Don’t linger too long if the group reaches some level of agreement. You don’t want to try to work for total agreement and risk seeing what agreement you had unwind through additional discussion.

Employ these five strategic thinking skills when you need to give a group room to talk, but also to move toward action.

It won’t necessarily be easy, but it should speed up getting to agreement. – Mike Brown

Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

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