Despite some good friends who can’t believe this is the case, it’s challenging for me to talk to new people, especially in a large group setting. After working to improve, it’s a little more natural than previously, but it can still make me very uncomfortable.

That’s why the Freelance Exchange of Kansas City Portfolio Showcase was a reach for me last week in more ways than one. Beyond having to stand in one spot and attempt to strike up conversations with people walking by our table, it also meant it was vital we further refined the Brainzooming elevator speech. Getting our message down to a few words has been a challenge since what we do can seem very intangible to people. This has been especially true for those who haven’t been exposed to how Brainzooming helps organizations  rapidly expand their strategic options and create innovative plans.

Interestingly though, it was actually easier to hone our business message among people less familiar with what we do. Approaching it with fewer preconceptions, we got the messaging down much more effectively than we had previously. One key difference was removing a constraint we all often cling to: sticking to the situations in which we’re the most comfortable. – Mike Brown

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Working on a client project last week, an unusual constraint was placed on the project. The marketing lead for the multimedia presentation dictated there be no narration on the 3 to 5 minute piece. As each creative team member pointed out how narration would be such a help in getting the message across, he would reiterate his statement, “That’s great. And maybe narration will put it over the top, but it has to work without any narration at all.”

While it seemed to be a frustrating and potentially very unnecessary constraint, there was clearly a strategic rationale for his statement.  The narration would be the last element within an incredibly time-sensitive project. The voiceover itself would be a highly variable creative element where subjective opinions about its quality or tone could completely undermine the deliverable, i.e., if the CEO didn’t ultimately like the voiceover, the whole project could fall apart at the last hour.

By imposing what seemed like a ridiculous constraint, he forced stronger, more complete performance on other creative aspects of the production. He also left the possibility of a voice over as a bonus and not a possibly vulnerable critical element. What an interesting strategy, and one worth considering when you want to protect yourself from the potentially weakest variable in your equation. – Mike Brown

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This week will focus on various types of constraints. At first, constraints seem to be big NO’s to innovation. Applied at particular times (i.e., after implementation has been started) that can be true. Early on in ideation, however, constraints can force considering radical and innovative alternatives which would have never been considered under more typical circumstances.

Some constraints are so insidious they absolutely blind us to simple and very obvious decisions we should be making to improve our situation. Other constraints are there to drive stronger performance from a narrower list of variables. Frequently, defining a certain business model strategy for your brand poses constraints which stand in the way of best serving customers.

The key, ultimately, is being able to be innovative and successful irrespective of the strategic constraints you face.

This week’s topic was inspired recently when thinking about how to fit more exercise into my day. Having a 9th floor office with the nearest ice machine 3 floors away, it was easy to walk 20 or 30 flights of stairs daily simply through bypassing the elevator several times. Now, in a first floor office, there’s no comparable opportunity, or so I thought.

I start nearly every weekday by attending mass. When traveling for business, this has created the opportunity to visit to some of the country’s great cathedrals and some pretty intimate little churches as well. Often with no rental car, I think nothing of walking two to three miles roundtrip to get to the nearest church with an early morning service.

Yet after going to daily mass at home for more than 11 years at a church that’s about a mile away from our house, I’d not walked to mass one time! For whatever reason, my perception of time limitations in the morning precluded me from even considering walking.

Recently, however, I saw a 70+ year old fellow parishioner walking home from church. She wouldn’t accept my offer of a ride as a major thunderstorm moved into the area. Her perseverance though opened my eyes to the meaningless constraint which had prevented me from walking.

The next day I tried it the first time. It was a prayerful 12 minute opportunity to start the day in a new way, along with registering two miles of exercise before 7:10 in the morning! All because of finally realizing how I was unnecessarily constraining myself. – Mike Brown

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This commercial which debuted earlier this week from AT&T as part of its “Rethink Possible” campaign is a great visualization of an idea we’ve talked about before: a big part of creativity is being able to return to how you viewed the world as a child when everything was new to you.

Having seen it on the Talladega NASCAR race today (not sure how it fit with the demographic), I wanted to get it posted for both its message and visual treatment. – Mike Brown

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As the Tuesday post highlighted, we participated in the Freelance Exchange of Kansas City Portfolio Showcase yesterday. It was an experiment with some clear positives and a lot of “we’ll sees” based on recapping our strategy and implementation during the drive home.

One of the “interesting” items in our Plus-Minus-Interesting-Recommendation review was the number of people familiar with Brainzooming through Twitter. For a brand that was a part-time effort until late last year, it’s evidence of the impact social media channels can have in building awareness and creating a perception of what a brand stands for in its initial stages. It certainly helps get an in person conversation started when someone has a sense that Brainzooming is focused on helping organizations be more successful through more innovative approaches to their strategy and its implementation.

This opportunity to create familiarity through social media underscores the importance of thinking about what you tweet or post, and its consistency with your brand – be it a personal or business one. Ample reason to ask before you hit enter, “What might a current or potential client read into or think about my brand based on this message?”

And while you’re at it, if you’re representing yourself directly in social media, ask the same question relative to your mother, spouse, children, current employer, future employer, and anyone else who’ll make a decision about you in the future.

Yes, it’s social media. Yes, it can be fun. But be sure you’re strategically tweeting, blogging, and sharing out there! People ARE listening. – Mike Brown

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We started the week talking about keeping a creative and innovative perspective going amid dramatic change. The seven lessons below, originally shared in an abbreviated form on Twitter, were written across several days of thinking strategically about how Brainzooming is progressing and how to move it ahead even more dramatically.

If you’re in a situation where you’re contemplating making a dramatic change, consider these ideas and how you can get a head start now, before the change takes place:

  • Flexibility is freeing. Design your life strategically to create future options for yourself. You never know when you’ll need them.
  • Create situations where you can make as many of your learning mistakes as possible before it really matters. While the intensity will naturally be less, you’ll be that much more ready when everything counts.
  • It’s one thing to build a network. It’s quite another to effectively use it to benefit others and yourself. Beyond simply helping others in your network, work on how you can and will ask others for their mutual assistance as well.
  • Never depend on any one thing as a “sure” thing. Always be prepared for what you’ll do “just in case.”
  • You may not have your elevator speech down pat the first time you get on the elevator. It may take a lot of elevator rides to refine it. Start the process now.
  • Borrow liberally and tweak ideas. But be sure to extend credit even MORE liberally than you’re borrowing!
  • Don’t be crippled by someone telling you, “It’s the worst time in the world,” to do what your attempting to do. In reality, it’s the worst time in the world to tell someone it’s the “worst time in the world” to pursue their dreams. – Mike Brown

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We had two Brainzooming articles and great comments last week on personal branding strategy. The subject reminded me of a recent exchange underscoring the memorability a great personal brand can create.

Last month, Cyndi and I were having her second free birthday dinner at Houlihan’s (and BTW, although they messed up the first dinner, Houlihan’s performed outstanding service recovery, really overcompensating for the servce failures taking place initially). Both nights, the same two women were eating nearby. One looked so familiar, I was sure I knew her.

At the end of the second dinner, my curiosity took over. I approached the table and asked if she were Evelyn Young. Yes, she replied, wondering why I asked. I told her I’d bought several pieces of jewelry from her years before. She asked with a twinkle in her eye if they’d been for my wife or a mistress. I assured her they’d been for my wife, as Cyndi showed her one of the rings, which Evelyn examined, commenting on its beauty.

She then asked if she made me spend more money than I’d wanted. I told her she had; Evelyn smiled and noted I had looked familiar to her as well. A variety of pleasantries and stories ensured, including one about getting a husband planning to spend a total of $100 on a 25th anniversary chain to spend $100 PER YEAR (or $2500) instead.

Evelyn reminded us that she is now 86 years old and gave me a business card, which she admitted wasn’t any good since the jewelry store where she worked had closed and the mall torn down.

She may not have ever heard of the term “personal branding,” yet Evelyn is a great example of everything you want to do in terms of personality and engagement to create incredible memorability and loyalty.  I always returned to Evelyn for jewelry purchases when she was working, and if I needed to buy something now, she’d get a call to see if she’d go shopping with me. And since she told us she and her friend eat at the neighborhood Houlihan’s every Sunday night, we’ll even try to schedule our return visits to coincide with seeing Evelyn.

Beyond how-to’s on personal brand strategy, what matters is the positive impact you make on others. Boy, has Evelyn done that! The question for all of us: are we doing as well as Evelyn? – Mike Brown

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