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Say you have a conference call scheduled with geographically dispersed parties. You decide to email the multiple documents needed for the conference call 2 minutes before it begins.

Don’t assume:

  • I’m in my office.
  • I have a clue why this conference call with no agenda is being held.
  • The meeting before this didn’t put me behind schedule.
  • You have my undivided attention, especially when things are frantic.
  • There’s a computer in front of me – with current versions of the necessary software.
  • If there is a computer, it’s functioning properly.
  • Your email is the most important thing I’m dealing with right now.
  • There’s time for me to print the documents for the conference call.
  • Someone’s available to print and retrieve the documents if I’m running behind.
  • You won’t be sitting around waiting for me to open / save / print / retrieve documents for the conference call which could have been handled more efficiently with adequate prep time.

You know what? All these assumptions are manageable by sending the documents in adequate time.

So manage the situation, make sure we have the information, and are setup for strategic thinking and productive work.

Stop playing the “we don’t want you to look at the documents ahead of time” game. Please. – Mike Brown

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Next time you get a new assignment, project, or question to answer, ask yourself: Who knows more about this than I do? Consider all the possible answers you can think of to the question:

  • People you know personally
  • People you know online
  • People networked with people you know
  • Current experts
  • One time experts
  • Journalists, authors, bloggers
  • Anybody else?

Now, get lazy, and reach out to the people you’ve identified and see if they can do a better job than you in helping complete the task more effectively.

I’m not completely advocating being lazy, because you still have to distill their insights into a coherent response. But there’s nothing wrong with letting real experts weigh in with perspectives when they’re better informed than you are. – Mike Brown

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So what do you think? Brainzenning started as a summer feature, and it’s now Labor Day weekend. Would you like to see more Brainzenning videos? Let me know via email or in the comment section.


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We’ve spent time on Brainzooming talking about recycling ideas, yet haven’t touched on recycling physical materials. That changes with today’s guest post from Nancy Martini. She’s an Art Director and EcoArtist (as she’s known on Twitter), working with reclaimed materials.

Nancy’s currently working on a collection called, “Lessons from the Dinner Table.” All the pieces contain environmental messages translated from simple lessons learned at the table. Her work consists of 95% upcycled materials: plastic bags, soda cans, coat hangers, plastic bottles, bottle caps, foil, wire, cereal boxes, egg cartons, tin cans, and gift wrap tissue. You can see her process through videos on her YouTube channel.

Today, Nancy provides her view on the need for creativity as the concept of upcycling expands:

Reduce, reuse and recycle are three words that haunt me everyday. How can I use less? What can I do to reuse what I already have? And, what more can be recycled? Now, the latest environmentally conscious word “upcycle” has proven to be even more of a challenge. It is easy to understand the process of recycling by means of breaking down a material then using that material to make something new. However, the idea of creating a second life for a package or product from its inception is a complex concept that needs more explaining and exploring.

Ten years ago, you didn’t see many people bringing cloth totes to the grocery store. I remember having to explain my totes repeatedly to cashiers. Sometimes they would even pack my groceries in a paper sack and then put it in my cloth tote. Change does happen, but it takes time and education.

When I see people bringing their own totes to the grocery store now, I can’t help but wonder if they think about all the plastic in their purchases. What happens to the packaging after we use its contents? Recycling should be the last resort, not a justification to buy whatever we want because we can always toss it in the recycle bin.

Recently at the grocery store, the early morning staff was stocking shelves. Each worker had a few garbage bags filled with plastic shrink-wrap and cardboard from unpacking merchandise off wheeled crates. “All the shipping packaging is going to be thrown away,” I was told. Disheartened by this obvious disregard for the environment behind the backs of the consumer, I thought about products and their packaging and pondered:

  • What if containers were designed with an upcycled second life for the packaging so it wouldn’t go to the recycle plant or landfills?
  • What could we build or create with discarded packaging?
  • And, what if we could then change the way food companies produce packaging?

As I continue on my quest to upcycle packaging to create art, I encourage you to think of the possibilities that upcycling brings. I would love to hear your comments – the more creative collaboration, the greener the path. – Nancy Martini

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The past few weeks, I’ve been schlepping around fabric stores since Cyndi wants to recover several pieces of furniture. This is unfamiliar territory for me, which usually means an opportunity to hunt for different takes on Brainzooming-related ideas.

One can imagine the most asked question in a fabric store is, “How much material is it going to take to reupholster __________?” With many ways to fill in the blank, store staff must spend a lot of time answering the question, especially since customers could likely struggle to accurately describe (from memory) items they’re looking to recover.

That’s where this photo shows such an innovative services marketing idea: a poster depicting 60 pieces of furniture with the approximate square yardage needed to recover them.

With the poster in place, the exchange on “How much material is it going to take to reupholster __________?” becomes a smile and a finger point to the nearest poster where a customer can find the item and the answer with much greater speed and certainty.

The poster creates higher performing customers which turns into time savings for customers and staff, which leads to better service and lower staffing costs. That’s a strategic idea put into practice.

So what stumbling blocks to efficient customer-employee interaction exist in your business? What simple ideas might be lurking to address these issues as effectively as this poster does?
Spend a few minutes thinking about it and see what you can do to improve how you cover the situations you face. - Mike Brown

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Not sure where I learned this originally, but it’s a great, simple strategy for business meetings where you’re voicing a position contrary to someone else’s: never sit across from them.

Try sitting next to, or at least on the same side of the table as, whoever might be an adversary. The arrangement makes it so much harder to employ confrontational body language. Instead, you’re likely forced to discuss your differences strategically rather than posturing about them.

And while we’re at it, here’s one more strategy for arranging seating: if there are going to be two or more distinct “teams” represented in a meeting, consciously keep them from sitting in groups. Forcing group members to intermingle helps break up confrontational group body language.

These two strategies may sound silly, but I’ve seen them work too many times to not try and carry them out in every situation where they’re appropriate.

So come sit over here by me! – Mike Brown

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“Forecasters who extrapolate from today inevitably get tomorrow wrong…(but) by pitting multiple scenarios of the future against one another and leaving many different doors open, you can prepare yourself for a future that is inherently unpredictable. Brainstorming pays off. And the more possibilities you can entertain, the less likely you are to be blindsided.” - Peter Coy and Neil Gross, Business Week, August 30, 1999

I use this quote often in presentations because it has so dramatically shaped my thinking. It’s at the heart of the philosophies, disciplines, and tools I’ve sought to learn, compile, and develop in the past 10 years.

And when nothing is getting more certain, there’s even greater value in bringing smart, multi-disciplined people together to expand your view of the future, work through possibilities, and act on them.

Ideally, you’re finding that’s what Brainzooming is all about. - Mike Brown

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