Last Friday’s post came from the TEI President’s Forum in Kansas City. Today’s does as well, featuring some strategic thought starters from Danny O’Neill, the Bean Baron at Kansas City’s The Roasterie:

  • We learn more from failures than successes, and they usually make more fun presentations.
  • In Iowa, you don’t get accolades for just showing up.
  • Live in the moment; say “yes” to invitations. You never know how doing so will change your life.
  • When you’re looking for something (i.e., a job or business opportunity), tell everyone you know.
  • There’s inherent stress in choices. When starting a business, you don’t have a lot of choices.
  • It’s a lot easier to bet the farm when you don’t have a farm.
  • Wisdom from Henry Bloch as The Roasterie was starting: “You don’t know it, but where you are now is where it’s most fun. Building is the most fun.”

Pick one or two of these and think this weekend about how they apply to where you are now or are headed in the future. – Mike Brown

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Last week, our priest shared a quote from another priest suggesting a good missionary “takes people where they are.” The comment was shared in relation to a Bible account I’ve always enjoyed where St. Paul, walking the streets of Athens, discovered a place of honor devoted “To an Unknown God.” He used this as his point of departure in telling Athenians he was there to reveal to them this unknown God.

The quote and story provide a great business strategy lesson for change agents trying to catalyze significant innovation:

Before you do anything, listen and observe.

It’s critical to first get a sense of the people you are trying to transform. A great strategic observer will be able to readily detect instances where people desire (or are already leaning toward) a new approach.

Starting your transformation strategy by absorbing people’s mindsets and dispositions allows you to structure your change agenda to begin with areas of agreement, not areas of conflict. This strategy allows you to gain credibility, build trust, and typically uncover further insights as others begin to open up and share more personal hopes and concerns. All these inputs allow you to better tailor your message and successfully take people from where they currently are.

This is why smart turnaround people conduct listening sessions and tours before trying to implement huge transitional change. Don’t interpret this as suggesting big changes have to be put on hold for extended periods of time. It simply means that observing first will allow you to sequence and implement changes with the greatest likelihood of success.

One of my favorite stories from having watched business turnaround CEO specialist Maury Myers occurred during his first few weeks at our company. It was a corporation in shock, with its first truly significant leadership change in 40 years. People were down in the dumps and wanted something signaling management was in touch with what was happening. At his first town hall meeting, Maury told the corporate office staff he knew the senior management group had been debating adopting an all business casual environment. It made sense he told us, so the next Monday, it was business casual five days a week.

In one move, which cost the company nothing, Maury demonstrated he was listening, was there to rapidly make big changes, and was going to make smart decisions. Despite challenging conditions, and Maury being a very challenging guy at times, it was absolutely the right way to take his audience where it was and start moving forward.

What examples have you seen (or done) in starting change by taking people where they are? – Mike Brown

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Some blog posts are written with the intention of helping you become more innovative and successful. Some, quite frankly are written as reminders to myself to do things to be more innovative and successful.

Today’s post is one of those.

Be prepared to capture ideas as they come to you. Great ideas arrive out of sequence, at odd times, and evaporate easily.

To contend with that, some people recommend a strategy of having a single “capture” tool to get all your ideas down in one place. For me, the way to go is using a multi-tool (ideally multi-media) approach to capturing ideas: a small notepad, a Flip camera, a smartphone. That’s the mobile toolset.  When not on the move, I use multiple writing and drawing pads since different sizes and formats tend to stimulate different types of ideas for me.

The problem currently?

I don’t seem to be using any of them very effectively. So this article is intended as a personal strategy prod to get back on the idea capture program.

If you’re currently doing it effectively, go ahead and mock me. If not, let’s both get restarted and not lose any of those little fledgling ideas full of possibilities! – Mike Brown

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Is your current job using your full mental, creative, innovative, or other type of skill that’s really important to you for being fulfilled in your career?


Want some advice?

Quit complaining and really exploit the situation. At least for right now.

Seem like a bizarre strategy?

In the past I would have thought so, but not anymore.

At one point, I considered a less than mentally taxing job something to be avoided at all costs or quickly fixed if it happened to develop. Having experienced a little more of life, however, my perspective has changed.  Now, I’d recommend using your current situation as an opportunity to apply your untapped talents and energy into innovating your next phase of life.

Discussing this topic with several people uncovered quite a few instances where being able to deliver results while mentally coasting in a day job allowed someone to devote extra mental capacity to develop a new product, business model,  or talent. Those efforts led to much more exciting and stimulating opportunities. Plus, being able to do the building with the cash flow a regular gig provides made risk taking that much more manageable strategy.

So if you’re feeling stuck in your job, redefine your situation. Get on top of whatever “box” you think you’re stuck in, and use it as an innovative strategy development platform from which you’ll leap into whatever will be your incredibly innovative future!  – Mike Brown

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“Be interactive” is certainly popular advice for brands right now. Engage with your audience. Get them involved to build a relationship.

All great strategy advice. WHEN it makes sense. But many times, how it’s implemented makes NO SENSE at all.

A great example from this past weekend was ABC’s Good Morning America trying to find the best breakfast in the US. And by “best,” they mean “highest calorie.” After narrowing it to four choices, the TV audience was offered brief vignettes showing how each breakfast is prepared followed by a segment where we watched the show’s cast eat the four breakfasts.

Then, because interactivity is great and we all want to be engaged and have a relationship with Good Morning America, we were encouraged to hurry to the GMA website to vote for our choice for the best breakfast!!!


The breakfast that looks the best? The breakfast that the hosts drooled over the most? The one with the most interesting recipe?

Last I checked, food mostly is about taste. So while this might have been an engaging interactive experience for fans of the 4 restaurants who might have actually EATEN one of the delicacies, it’s stupid for everyone else. That’s especially true since clicking the vote link on GMA’s website took you to a list of the breakfasts, with none of the “additional information” promised on the show.

I repeat: Interactivity, engagement, and building relationships are incredible strategies, when they make sense. When they don’t? They’re just stupid strategies and a waste of time, with or without social media. Agreed? – Mike Brown

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On Thursday, I participated on an innovation panel at The Entrepreneurship Institute President’s Forum at the Kauffman Foundation Conference Center. The panel featured leaders from three outstanding Kansas City business innovation successes, each using a different strategy to break through typical business innovation barriers:

Gina Danner, CEO of Mail Print Rather than defining the business as a “printer” and riding the secular decline of printed matter right into the ground, Gina has defined her business based on the assets, talents, and tools it has (or can put to use). As a result, Gina pursued technology and variable printing capabilities well in advance of competitors. Mail Print is thus positioned to not simply print things, but to drive revenue for its clients. The company has also looked to electronic delivery of messages because it’s part of the right answer to an important client question: “What are you trying to accomplish?”

Brian Weaver, Founder and CEO of Anthem Media Group – A key aspect of the Anthem Media Group back story is Brian’s former employer essentially telling him to stuff his new business ideas. After enough NO’s, Brian (who describes himself as a serial entrepreneur) took his ideas and started his own business. The ultimate comeuppance was several years later when he bought his former employer. Brian talked about going against conventional wisdom to strategically start and acquire businesses in the midst of the 2008-2009 economic collapse. By refusing to listen to the NO’s thrown in his way, Brian’s built a successful multi-media publishing business.

Aaron Zack, CEO of SunlightenSeveral years ago, Aaron thought his company had a clear product advantage with its saunas. A trip to China and visits to several factories manufacturing inferior quality knock-offs of his product changed that perception. His response was to harness the internal expertise of his team, but not just the typical innovators. Aaron brought together a truly cross-functional group (even the accountants) to work on the product innovation challenge. With a diverse team and an intuitive understanding of what customers might want, Sunlighten is introducing a truly unique sauna product using the full infrared spectrum to provide different types of health benefits. After several years of development, the sauna’s launch is imminent.

Great stories and three entrepreneurs with strong strategic handles on their respective businesses. – Mike Brown

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I check KnowEm, a site to track the availability of user names across social media applications, frequently to see how many social media websites they tout. The current number is “more than 350.” A little more than a year ago when I discovered an earlier incarnation of the website, the number of social media applications listed was closer to 100.

That’s incredible growth, making it challenging to keep up, even if you’re immersed in social media.

What can you do to stay current on social media if it’s not your full time gig?

Here are two strategies to use:

  • Make sure you have strategic teammates very immersed in social media, i.e. they’re constantly staying on top of even more new social media applications and what they’re used for than you are. Ask them questions and let them guide and keep you informed on the latest innovations.
  • Pick out a new social media application from one of the fifteen social media categories on KnowEm, sign up, and spend the next week or two gaining some familiarity with it. When you feel like you’ve got a sense of that social media application, strategically select another one from a different category to try.

I put these two ideas together last week to pick up from Nate Riggs’ advocacy for location-based applications and finally forced myself to try Foursquare more aggressively. Doing so led to insights about the value and related opportunities of Foursquare, thoughts on the potential challenges of motivating participation, and interestingly, mayorship of three churches – guess that says a lot about where I spend my time!

At one new social media application every week or two you’re not going to wind up trying all of them. But really, the more important point is to have a current sense of what’s out there. Pick out your new social media application to try, and while you’re at it, don’t hesitate to let me know what my next one to try should be! – Mike Brown

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