Bloomberg Businessweek featured a pitiful review of the book “You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles after the Breakup,” by Peter Doggett in a recent issue. The theme of the rather tortured review (and one can assume of the book) was whether something could have been done to keep the The Beatles together, primarily because of all the money they left on the table.

As a point of comparison, the Rolling Stones (essentially Mick Jagger and Keith Richards) were cited for having kept their creative partnership together in the face of impending bankruptcy around the same era The Beatles disintegrated.

That’s certainly one point of view – keeping your failing creative partnership together solely for the money – but it’s a messed up one. I’ve always admired The Beatles for calling it quits before the complete collapse of their collective creativity. It was readily apparent the group wouldn’t ever work creatively anywhere close to the levels of just a few years earlier.

Sure the Stones had some musical highlights in the early 1970’s, and they’ve grossed a lot of money since, but is there anything in the Stones’ creative output of the last thirty-five years you couldn’t live without (remember 1981’s Tattoo You was largely recorded much earlier)? Answer: NO.

Here are two other examples from my personal favorite bands:

  • The Who reunited several times to try and keep John Entwistle out of financial trouble despite the fact they were artistically and creatively bankrupt through the ravages of drugs and without the unique drumming style of Keith Moon.
  • As much as I love early R.E.M., the group said they’d break-up if any member ever quit. Yet drummer Bill Berry (who been credited as being a songwriting strength within the band) came and went as the band continued. Sure they continued to get paid on a huge recording contract, but there’s been little fresh material from the group a fraction as strong as their early catalogue.

Are those enough examples to move on? Great.

Sometimes creative energy gets used up, never to be replenished. That’s part of what was magical about The Beatles. We didn’t have to live through (much of) their crappy output. We have their best work to remember them by without years of subpar filler.

Take this lesson to heart in your own creative life. You may be a part of a magical creative team, but chances are it will run its course – which is completely normal. When it happens, enjoy your memories, and let your former creative partnership be. – Mike Brown

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Last Friday, July 9 was “Cow Appreciation Day” at Chick-fil-A. Customers dressing up as the company’s signature cow icon were rewarded with free meals (for a head-to-toe cow costume) and sandwiches (for any part of a cow costume). While there was a microsite set up for the day to allow customers to find locations and a Facebook page to upload photos, the interactive brand strategy was clearly geared toward a real life visit to a nearby Chick-fil-A restaurant.

We headed out for dinner on Cow Appreciation day and saw many customers more than happy to turn themselves into Chick-fil-A brand icons for a reward valued at less than $5.

What a brilliant interactive brand strategy to get your customers to jump through a pretty easy “brand” hoop in exchange for what a restaurant might give away on a typical “buy one get one free” coupon requiring no customer brand interaction other than showing up at the restaurant.

In this case, turning couponing into an interactive brand strategy delivering a memorable brand experience creates all kinds of residual brand value in stories, pictures, videos, and likely, increased people per ticket as we witnessed large groups routinely entering the restaurant we visited.

And what about my Cow Appreciation Day participation? We’ll I love free Chick-fil-A as much or more than the next person. I put on my Ben & Jerry cow socks and a cow beanie and collected my free sandwich as well!  – Mike Brown

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The other day, I described a conference call I’d been on as “interesting.”

By “interesting,” I really meant “completely whacked out that the client didn’t understand why we were doing what we were doing which was exactly what they had asked us to do.”

It struck me just how versatile a word “interesting” really is. I use it a lot in situations where I’ve really meant something or someone is:

  • Off strategy
  • Full of possibilities
  • Ugly
  • Hot
  • Boring
  • Intriguing
  • Completely unclear
  • A great solution
  • Inappropriate
  • Banal
  • Exciting
  • Pathetic
  • Interesting

I’ve also used “interesting” when really thinking:

  • “That’s exactly what you told me yesterday.”
  • “I wasn’t listening to what you just said.”
  • “Huh?”
  • “I don’t think I would have said that.”
  • “I have no idea, but maybe saying ‘interesting’ will buy me time to think of something to say.”

No way around it: “interesting” has to be one of the best multi-use words out there. Maybe it’s just behind the “F” word, which I gave up using (except for the occasional slip-up) a dozen years ago.

How about you – what’s your favorite all-purpose word?Mike Brown

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If you’re blogging, are you getting together with your readers in person?

If you’re reading a blog, are you reaching out to the author to share ideas?

If you’re on either side of these questions and answered “no,” here are five reasons why a strategy of bloggers and readers meeting in person makes sense:

  • You learn what messages have registered with people – I’ve often said I’m singularly unable to predict what material people will respond to most strongly. Talking with actual live blog readers helps better understand how they’ve reacted to material – even if it doesn’t help in predicting what they’ll like in the future!
  • New blog ideas get triggered by the conversation – Talking recently with a reader led to discussion about his job, his role and title, and business development strategies. All aspects of the conversation were rich with future topic possibilities, including the inspiration for this post! For readers, it’s a great opportunity to shape and participate in content creation.
  • You can find out how people are reading the blog – I’ll admit….I don’t always look at the Brainzooming email or RSS blog feeds; I go to the website directly. Not everyone does that though. Talking with readers helps develop a better idea of the varied ways people are taking in the material, including getting a sense of how current readers are sharing it with new readers.
  • Guest post opportunities get considered – I haven’t been soliciting guest posts as aggressively as in the past, but I should be. Guest posts add variety to the blog, provide additional visibility for cool strategic thinkers, and help to extend the blog’s reach. While Twitter has been a fairly effective means to reach out to potential guest bloggers, asking a reader for a guest post (or shooting a video post) in person has much more impact.
  • You re-think what you’ve written lately – I used to write weeks in advance. Now it’s usually a week ahead. Even so, between client work for The Brainzooming Group, articles for the Brainzooming blog, and guest posts at other websites, it’s challenging to remember what’s being published where. Answering questions and discussing current (and past) blog posts about strategy, creativity, and innovation makes it come alive for me as well as for the reader.

So if you’re a Brainzooming blog reader in KC, get in touch, and let’s meetup! – Mike Brown

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Reader Chris Reaburn introduced me to Prezi, “the zooming presentation editor” in the summer of 2009, and it remains on my list of things to dive into and better understand. Notice, it’ still “on the list,” with little progress toward accomplishing the task.  As a result, when I saw previous guest author Lesley Heizman tweet the other day about doing a Prezi presentation, I immediately asked her if she’d write a Brainzooming guest article to share what she’s found with the application. So thanks Lesley for sharing your expertise!

Prezi is not your mother’s presentation tool. If you want to keep on doing your old boring presentations with the 500 slides that nobody reads and the graphics that you can’t really see and the bullet points of everything you are going to say out loud… then stop reading.  If, however, you want to switch to a cool presentation style that will get people’s attention and focus in on your main ideas instead of falling asleep on you, then Prezi is for you.

The theory behind Prezi isn’t new…people have been talking about good presentation style and how to effectively present for years. It’s the actual execution part that Prezi excels at. By taking away the concept of slides, it changes the way you approach your presentation. What Prezi forces you to do is sit down with your ideas and distill them into the basic foundation of what you want to convey. What I tell people to do is sit down with a piece of paper and “map” out what your presentation would look like…what are your main talking points? What would the groupings of these topics look like? Do you have any media/pictures/documents you might want to share about these topics? This is a good place to start.

Without boring you with the details of the step-by-step use, you can go online and create a free account on the Prezi home page. Create your Prezi and start throwing in your ideas and text into your Prezi canvas (Hear that people? We are all artists with a blank canvas!!!).  Then re-size the text bigger for main ideas, group like text together, and unite portions with frames. Add any images, sounds, or videos you like.  Make it look pretty with a theme.  Finally, give your ideas a “Path” (your journey through your presentation), so it navigates through the ideas in a way that makes sense.  Prezi is web-based, so you can do it from any computer at any time.  If you’re not sure if the location where you’ll be giving a presentation has web access, they offer a for-purchase version of the tool you can download to work on and give presentations offline as well.

If you need help, there are some great learning tools and videos available on the Prezi site to get you started and see what Prezi is capable of producing. You might also want to check out this great Ted talk where James Geary used Prezi and discusses his thoughts on the tool.

Now, get busy people!  Start developing those fabulous presentations! – Lesley Heizman

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I was in a recent meeting where a junior person challenged a senior leader over something the executive had supposedly said. The executive was now experiencing, at least in the view of the junior person, corporate amnesia and denied ever making the statement.

Last week, someone told me about a meeting where a junior person thought he had tripped up a senior leader.  The executive had neglected an expected duty, at least in the view of the junior person, so the junior manager challenged the executive for being negligent.

Maybe both these mini-attacks happened because its summer, it’s hot, and moods are agitated. No matter the reason, here’s some career strategy advice for junior people:

You won’t get ahead in your career trying to embarrass senior leaders in group settings.

I hope that isn’t news to anyone, but having heard two instances of it in quick succession, it just needed to be said. If you think a senior executive has wronged you or screwed up, there are much better ways to deal with the situation than a “gotcha” style, direct confrontation in a group setting!

How about trying any of these strategies?

  • Note the potential issue (if it’s absolutely necessary to) non-confrontationally so you can come back and discuss it privately at a later time.
  • Offer your differing point of view in a way that acknowledges you MIGHT have it wrong (even if you KNOW you don’t).
  • Turn your challenge into a much softer question that allows the executive to talk, potentially admit a mistake, and still save face.
  • Simply drop the issue and move on if it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things.

These strategies let you register the appropriate level of concern in the immediate group setting without putting a senior executive in a position where the only face saving move is to turn around and publically question your performance or point of view (which happened in both of these instances).

Remember, quite frankly, a senior executive has more corporate standing and firepower than you do (that’s one of those cool perks of being a big wig). You have to win your point through finesse and savvy interpersonal skills, so get to work on those. Got that? – Mike Brown

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I’m a big advocate for the strategy of asking great questions to understand points of view before you launch into something. It’s better to get as much info as possible at the start so you can do something once instead of having to change direction repeatedly because nobody knows what the real direction is.

Having said that, here are two situations where it’s better to act first and ask questions later:

  • When you get ambiguous direction from a boss or client who is inaccessible – mentally, physically, or virtually. In these instances, take what you do know, and get started (or keep moving). Often the best thing you can do is help fill in and shape the thinking that either isn’t taking place or isn’t available from your boss/client.
  • When there’s been lots of discussion and not much progress on resolution. Within group settings, it’s not unusual for certain issues to bog a team down right from the start. They’re usually difficult, complicated issues that you’d ideally like to solve in one move, but you realistically know you can’t. Instead, stop the discussion and questions; simply start doing something small. Creating even minor progress gives people something to react to rather than simply speculating what might be over and over.

In both cases, having something concrete (an artifact) for others to look at and consider can catalyze your efforts in a way that trying to get every question answered before you begin won’t. – Mike Brown

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