Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 190 – page 190

Singer Amy Winehouse died this weekend at the age of 27. Her creative talent and music were both wonderful and tragic at the same time. How ironic and prescient that someone who continually battled deadly addictions will be best remembered for her biggest song, “Rehab,” about how she refused to stay in rehab. Talk about life and art converging.

Having learned of Amy Winehouse’s death Saturday on Google+ (which is perhaps the start of a shift away from learning about celebrity deaths on Twitter), I shared the news with the comment, “Talent isn’t always visited upon those who are prepared for it.”

In today’s society where widely recognized creative talent seems to be equated with everything that’s valued, it got me thinking about an important reminder:

There are many characteristics we associate with creative talent which, in reality, have no correlation to it.

These characteristics include:

  • Psychological stability
  • Broad intelligence
  • Goodness
  • Beauty
  • Love
  • Respect
  • Education
  • Fame

All you have to do is go through a quick mental inventory of celebrities we’ve seen rise and fall in the past decades to confirm this truism. Yet, it’s all too natural for us to link creative talent with these favorable personality traits and skills which simply aren’t related.

I really enjoyed Amy Winehouse’s music. And Kurt Cobain’s. Yet the public adulation for their creative talents was not only not enough to save them, an inability to deal with adulation may have been a significant part of the early demises each of them faced.

So for as much as creative talents can make us feel full of life, today, unfortunately, feels pretty hollow.  – Mike Brown

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This video on the creative thinking-based strategy TESCO employed to penetrate the South Korean grocery market was shared on Google+ recently by James Fraser. With TESCO using an alternative name, Homeplus, it was able to become the number two player in the South Korean grocery market even though it suffered a deficit in the number of retail locations.

If you jump to framing the business objective as “we have to get more stores,” the answer is easy, self-evident, and all too routine: build or acquire more stores.

Instead, the grocery chain remained focused on the real business objective (grow sales) and based on consumer insights (South Koreans are incredibly busy and the in-store grocery experience is a nightmare), Homeplus used (or approximated the results of) creative thinking exercises to look at the opportunity in reverse: take the in store buying experience to where shoppers already are with a virtual subway store!

Homeplus created the virtual subway store with displays identical to those in actual stores, QR codes for online ordering by phone, and home delivery. Putting the virtual stores where potential grocery shoppers already are in subways increases personal productivity and maximizes their free time. The virtual store campaign led to online sales gains highlighted in the video.

All this success by sticking to the fundamental business objective, but re-framing the business issue in a very different way.

That’s creative thinking for business success at its best! – Mike Brown

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” for help on how to be more creative! For an organizational creativity 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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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There’s a business phenomenon when someone in an organization says, does, decides, or advocates something one day, only to conveniently forget about it later, when it doesn’t serve their personal interests. My good friend, Tony Vannicola, labeled this business phenomenon, “corporate amnesia.”

Corporate amnesia infects different organizations and different people at different rates. How frequently corporate amnesia happens varies based on how much pressure there is in an organization and the underlying political environment.

We ran into major case of corporate amnesia during a combined conference call and in-person meeting recently. An individual who had provided very specific direction previously sat quietly, letting silence disclaim any responsibility for having made a decision contrary to the direction we were now receiving from another person.

I was on the phone without an ability to see faces and body language. This made it difficult to manage the business conversation back to our previous meeting and the very specific direction we’d received. Our challenge was compounded because we hadn’t laid the strategic groundwork to protect ourselves, so shame on us.

What could we have done differently during the project to better combat corporate amnesia?

Here are nine strategies available to us and you if you’re facing a business situation where you think corporate amnesia will surface:

  • Stay super organized and focus on project management. Maintain very complete files with easy-to-locate drafts and interim documents.
  • Over-communicate, especially for someone who “loses” documents. Make sure you can retrieve key documents whenever you need them for verification.
  • Avoid one-on-one conversations with the person who has corporate amnesia. Pair up and have joint conversations so you have someone else to corroborate what transpired in a business meeting.
  • At the start of business meetings, review or post a list of decisions made previously.  Reference the list whenever you need it during the meeting.
  • Instead of waiting for approval deadlines which may be ignored, identify dates by which, if input isn’t received, you will continue to move forward with the current strategic direction.
  • Complete post-discussion and business meeting recaps highlighting decisions, relevant information shared, and any other agreements. Distribute it to everyone involved.
  • Only pin someone down publicly for corporate amnesia if you absolutely must. It’s much better to do it privately.
  • If you must call someone on corporate amnesia in a bigger meeting, introduce what really happened with a shred of uncertainty (I.e., “If I recall correctly, I think what happened was . . .”). This allows someone to regain their memory while saving a little face.
  • Never forget people who display corporate amnesia and set your strategy accordingly when working with them.

Have you had to deal with “corporate amnesia”? What’s worked for you? – Mike Brown

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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help enhance your marketing strategy and implementation efforts.

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I was in Lawrence, KS yesterday for the latest SocialIRL program created by Ben Smith and featuring HARO-creator, Peter Shankman. The day’s underlying theme was customer service in the age of social media. That’s actually a bit of a misnomer though, because so many of the principles Peter Shankman shared are solid customer service and communication strategies even if social media weren’t around.

As opposed to a lot of presentations you see, Tuesday’s Peter Shankman SocialIRL session was more about storytelling, entertainment, engagement, videos, and technical glitches. You probably couldn’t have a better translation of what happens in social media to an in real life setting. From that standpoint then, the day definitely fulfilled the event theme!

As a recap, here are 11 take-aways from SocialIRL:


1. “Embrace the concept, not the brand.”  – Peter Shankman

Absolutely. Brands (in this case, social media platforms) may come and go, but underlying concepts (i.e., mobile marketing) have more staying power and can be the strategic foundations for marketing plans.

2. “Social media is all about quicker, faster, and better. People do the quicker & faster, but forget about the better.” – Peter Shankman

If you’re not getting attention for your content, then you have to look at what you’re creating and how to make it more relevant and meaningful to your audiences.

3. “If you don’t listen to your customers, someone else will.”

Even if you can’t sell-in a social media program in your organization, you have to start listening to understand what customers, prospects, and others active in your industry are saying about you. Social media listening is both the source of opportunities and the way to head off more serious problems.

4. “Let us not underestimate the power cool has. Any time you can make your customers feel cool, they will do your PR for you.” – Peter Shankman

Give your audience things that make them seem cool and cooler than the audience they’re sharing your content with online.


5. Good customer service kills online problems before they become problems online.

Finding links between brands with strong customer service and successful social media efforts (i.e. Southwest Airlines) isn’t a coincidence. A cultural orientation toward understanding customers and going out of your way to meaningfully engage with them translates from offline into the online world much easier than trying to create a new attitude in social media.

6. There are 3 critical steps in addressing customer issues online.

Relative to customer issues, the three key steps are to listen, analyze, and personalize your reply. The analyze step is especially important. While there’s a need for a timely reply (Shankman claims 1 to 3 hours response time on Twitter is adequate), your person responding should understand the service recovery options available and know what steps they’ll be using to address the customer issue.

7. If legal concerns are an issue for social media in your organization, use the 80-20 rule to be able to interact more effectively online.

When it comes to having a two-way conversation, many organizations, especially regulated ones, can look at what customer service issues come up most frequently and craft 5 or 6 messages which answer a majority of questions and point people in the right directions.


8. In answer to a question about what he sees brands doing wrong in social media, Peter Shankman offered these:

  • Not acting quickly enough – This is a result of fears from legal implications or other potential issues, or the need to get more people involved. By the time everything is ready to go, opportunities are lost.
  • Afraid to offend anyone – Lots of humor isn’t being used because brands are afraid of it. When a brand uses humor, the humor needs to tie to the brand and its audiences. As Shankman puts it, “Funny stuff equates to viral.”
  • Not learning from mistakes – He suggests Googling the top social media mistakes and learning from what mistakes others have made in social media.
  • Not listening enough (or well enough) – Peter Shankman recommends more listening and less talking. And when listening, brands need to do a better job of responding.


9. The killer social media skill is writing.

Peter Shankman’s stat was that we have 2.7 seconds (or essentially 3 sentences) to reach our audiences. Doing that successfully depends on knowing how to write, and knowing especially how to write headlines. He encourages his employees to take as many writing classes as they want to continually improve.

10. When you have a speaking element that works, repeat it often.

One of Peter Shankman’s most effective speaking approaches is drawing comparisons to yesterday’s world by linking it to things people under 30 are familiar with. Examples: “The radio is like Pandora before the Internet” and “Madonna is like Lady Gaga with more kids.” Not only are these similes effective for all age ranges, the familiarity of hearing them throughout his talk added both impact and anticipation.


11. Peter Shankman may be the Forrest Gump of web 2.0.

The day opened with stories form Peter Shankman about his move from being 18 hours short of a degree in California to being at the center of a variety of online blow–ups, including HARO. He didn’t really offer any rules or strategic lessons learned for accomplishing this, other than to create strong content, have a brilliant idea, and plan for outrageous success. Absent any easy lessons, it seems to be either a numbers game (create enough content and hope for brilliance), dumb luck (Lance Armstrong RTs an xtranormal video you did), or some apparent combination of the two. – Mike Brown

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 or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we’ve developed integrated social media strategy for other brands and can do the same for yours.

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This post has been kicking around since early June. On June 11, I saw a tweet (or maybe it was a retweet – I don’t remember) recommending people watch a TED video about someone who had survived a suicide attempt 8 years ago that day. Compelled to click on the link, I was amazed the video was done by someone I went to high school with in Hays, KS.

Listening in Your Past

Dave Schramm was a year behind me and editor of the school newspaper when I was writing and drawing editorial cartoons. I haven’t spoken to Dave in years, but all the news about him in recent years was of his career at Stanford and his success as a communications educator.

I never had a clue about the challenges Dave (now known as JD) faced.

In the video, JD references a high school English teacher who had committed suicide. I’ve written several times about our teacher, Dave Wessling, who was such a tremendous personal influence.

Right after Dave Wessling’s death, I spoke about our high school years at an alumni reunion dinner, tying the whole talk to lessons Dave had taught us. The closing story was how, during my senior year, Dave had asked me to lecture to his junior lit class about Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant’s poetic reflection on death. It was only at the reunion dinner, after Dave’s death, that I was finally ready to reflect on death and satisfy his request. While the news about Dave’s death was probably intentionally sketchy, I could never personally reconcile how someone who had been such a life force in high school could ever feel anything different.

Listening in Your Present

Flash forward to Saturday night, and two conversations going on – one on Twitter, the other on Facebook. On Twitter, I was DMing with a friend facing incredibly difficult medical decisions with a spouse on whether to go through further treatment for cancer. On Facebook, it was with a friend who went through a horrendous divorce, an extended period of unemployment, and only in the past year secured a new job which ended unexpectedly Friday. That plus the individual my friend started dating late in 2010 turned out to be serially unfaithful.


Saturday afternoon, I read a story in our diocesan newspaper by Fr. Mark Goldasich about the importance of “listening” with more than your ears. He talked about listening with your eyes, making it a practice to notice when something is wrong with others even when they don’t say something and giving them your full attention.

It’s great advice. And easier said than done.

Listening in Your Future

To the extent you can’t accomplish listening with multiple senses, you need to conquer a separate and equally difficult skill that’s all about compassion. As one of my friends put it Saturday night, “I always say go easy on people because you don’t know what private hell they are living in.”

Make sure you’re listening with your ears, your eyes, and as tough as it might be to do in the social media world, with your keyboard. You don’t know who you know who is living with potentially life-crushing challenges you’d never imagine if you aren’t really listening.  – Mike Brown

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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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I drew  this chart Friday night to attempt to figure out how to beat my creative doldrums. As depicted in the chart, I was definitely suffering “creative apathy” vs. creative block. I had plenty of creative ideas, but was struggling with generating sufficient interest in any of the ideas to do something about the ideas I had.

One thing I did in trying to get something going creatively was to share an early version of the chart on Google+ to see what reactions others had to it. Amy (Dixon) Drouin asked about an “implementation block” option.

My response was that when drawing the chart initially, the “Creative Apathy” quadrant represented where implementation blocks would fit. Using the word “apathy” may suggest “interest level” too strongly,  but the upper left basically represents having ideas, yet being frustrated by the inability to turn them into productive output.

Another motivation for creating this chart is being in the midst of putting together a compilation book on dealing with creative blocks. As I’ve been wading through the material and various recommendations to beat creative blocks, it seems there are other types of blocks at work as well. While creative thinking exercises can help you move out of the lower left “creative block” quadrant, they aren’t necessarily the answer when it’s “creative apathy” or an “implementation block.” In these cases, it’s more about effective use of convergent thinking, project management, or shoring up implementation capabilities.

What do you think?

I’m always curious about your reaction to these quickly drawn charts. Does this one fit with your experiences? Do you have specific approaches you take to move yourself toward “creative nirvana”? If this chart doesn’t correspond with your experience, how would you recommending changing it? – Mike Brown

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” for help on how to be more creative! For an organizational creativity 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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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Following up two presentations I did on creativity and innovation at CreativeBloc, I ran several posts answering follow-up questions from audience members. One of the questions was from Betsy Caszatt. As Betsy and I corresponded, she mentioned sharing the creativity content from CreativeBloc with her team at Adfinity Marketing Group in Cedar Rapids, IA, where she is co-creative director and senior writer.  Adfinity Marketing Group is an advertising agency specializing in the food industry. Betsy, who reports that her brain “tries to zoom daily…with jumpstarts from this site,” was kind enough to provide a very gracious recap of my CreativeBloc presentations and how she passed along the creativity learnings to maximize her company’s ROI in sending her to the CreativeBloc conference. That’s a great practice to follow in any organization, so here’s Betsy’s guest blog post on using “Creativity Drano” to open up creative blocks:

Operating on the premise that an alarming number of brains can be blocked at any given moment (why you’re perusing this blog post instead of designing the next killer campaign maybe?), let me put in a few words about the roto-rootering that Cedar Rapids’ ad community got a few months ago.

The scene: CreativeBloc11 … 8 AM, lots of coffee, 16 sessions and a couple-hundred of the Walking Clogged. As karma would have it, headlining the plumbers du jour was Mike Brown from Brainzooming – who later spent a week on this space answering residual creativity questions sparked by his two sessions. This begins to illustrate the beauty of a day-long immersion in ways to open the mind – it releases a flood. And, boy, do we know about floods in Cedar Rapids.

Given Small Shop Syndrome (whereby a large percentage actually has to be there working), I was the sole attendee from our agency. As it turned out, it was too good to bottle up in one person, so a week or two later we had a download session with our own gang of six. Over a Cinco de Mayo lunch, a quick PowerPoint of highlights, a smattering of handouts, and a YouTube clip of Bill Gates getting a pie in the face – Mike’s prescription for unblocking creativity with something that makes you laugh – everybody got the spirit of the six sessions I’d gone to. Talk around the table was spontaneous, engaged and specific to us.

With companies struggling to extend training time and dollars, having fun and building on ideas from a conference are great ways to spread the benefits. These kinds of insights into the wackified ways we creatives think and the walls we come up against are what any creative “training” should be. I got what resonated with me and was able to rain it down upon our internal team. Ideas bubbled to the top at lunch and we’ve kept ‘em coming.

So in the spirit of shared creativity, here’s something our art director saw and shared. Open it, marvel at it, pass it on, unleash your neurons. And have fun. – Betsy Caszatt.

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