I sat through a poorly managed, business-wide meeting to allegedly solicit perspectives for an organization’s vision statement. Rather than using creative thinking exercises to help collectively form a strong vision, however, the leader directly asked the entire team what the vision should be.  Participants then sat quietly as only a few people spoke (one-at-a-time) to offer opinion-filled perspectives.

Beyond being incredibly boring for everyone, think about this: What was the cost of 40 or 50 well-paid people sitting around mostly twiddling their thumbs for 3 hours, as perhaps 10 of them actively participated at any point?

What a way to waste time, creativity, and goodwill for future strategic planning.

Do yourself a favor. Bookmark this article, and if you find yourself in an organization trying to develop a vision statement, PLEASE don’t take the same approach I endured! Here’s what to do:

  • Break into small groups where multiple people can actively participate at the same time to stretch the group’s thinking and share creative ideas.
  • DON’T ASK the obvious question, “What should our vision be?” Going right to this question won’t save time or improve results. People don’t talk in ready-made “vision statements.” This one-question approach simply draws out monologues doing little to coalesce a group’s collective perspective.
  • Instead, ask strong strategic planning questions to get participants to share the important words, phrases, and ideas that shape a vision. Such questions include:
    • What is our organization passionate about doing for our people and our customers?
    • What are we best at and where can we continue to excel?
    • Who will our customers be five years from now? What do we think will be important for us to deliver in best serving them?
    • What are capabilities we want to put in place to stretch our organization and better serve our audiences?
    • What are the things we need to concentrate on to dramatically exceed our goals and objectives?
  • Have small groups report their answers to these questions. Listen intently and write down ALL the ideas the group shares.

From this treasure trove of input, you’ll be ready to construct an overarching statement born from active participation and the hopes and language of your organization. Plus people will actually be excited about participating the next time you need them to do strategic thinking.

Oh, and by the way: The Brainzooming Group is great at facilitating these types of discussions so you get maximum participation. We actually generate creativity and enthusiasm through how we approach a team’s strategic conversations. Email me at info@brainzooming.com, and let’s talk about how we can help you deliver great results for your organization. – Mike Brown


10 Lessons to Engage Employees and Drive Improved Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Senior executives are looking for employees who are strong collaborators and communicators while being creative and flexible. In short they need strategic thinkers who can develop strategy and turn it into results.

This new Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons for senior executives to increase strategic collaboration, employee engagement, and grow revenues for their organizations.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage more employees in strategy AND implementation success

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Maybe I’m too much of an event planning strategist at heart, but I ALWAYS want a Plan B. Even if things almost always go as planned, creating an alternative strategic plan protects you beyond when your business strategy doesn’t work correctly. The strategic issues you think through when creating Plan B often lead to innovations which make Plan A so much stronger.

This strategy was top of mind last week after seeing Doug Merrill, former CIO of Google speak at the Thinking Bigger Speaker Series sponsored by Kelly Scanlon’s KC Small Business.

During his basic and brief presentation, Merrill talked about the micro and macro advantages of storing your data in the cloud and the downside of traditional methods of storing and printing data. He underscored the strategic advantage of using Google applications to provide universal accessibility and searchability for your data.

Great idea, and when Google has a stock price well over $500, it’s SO benevolent, and it does funny April Fool’s Day stuff (such as calling itself “Topeka” in appreciation of Topeka, KS renaming itself Google), the strategy of storing everything with Google is a viable, innovative Plan A.

Suppose though some future cataclysm befalls Google. Wouldn’t it be a smart innovative strategy to have a Plan B to protect yourself?

And think about this: Is the Google Plan B business strategy to position itself as “Too Critical to Fail” as self-protection against who knows what bizarre future financial meltdown or data terrorism strike that may happen?

I’m not saying; I’m just wondering and thinking about my own Plan B’s. – Mike Brown

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Did you notice the incredible full moon last week? Especially at its rising and setting, the moon, at least as seen from here in Kansas City, loomed very large and clear.

Its magnificent size, however, is an optical illusion. It’s caused by our human inability to visually process the moon’s size accurately relative to its distance from us. Against objects in the foreground we see the moon as much larger than when it’s over head. Cut out the distraction of the foreground with our hands, and the moon appears no bigger than when it’s high above us.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to large objects in the sky with us humans. It’s frequently applicable to how we view life’s challenges. As potentially major issues appear on the horizons of our lives, we see them relative to near term pressures and concerns in the foreground. In this position, problems can seem unbelievably large and clear, even when they are in reality much smaller.

When you’re facing a situation such as this, strategic thinking approaches can help eliminate the foreground issues of our lives. A strategic perspective places us in a much better position to view potential challenges realistically and with a creative problem solving strategy. – Mike Brown

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As I mentioned earlier in the week, it’s been a long while since I regularly solicited ideas for weekly Brainzooming topics on strategy, innovation, and planning via Twitter.  That comment reminded me of the need to ask you for ideas:

  • What strategy, innovation, or creativity challenges or questions would you like to have addressed on Brainzooming?  Maybe it’s a strategic question you’re wrestling with or a marketing opportunity your small business has yet to capitalize on successfully. You make the choice.

Brainzooming - Catalyzing innovative success.This is an opportunity for a no-strings attached, several hundred word strategic insight on the business, marketing, or innovation opportunity you’re facing. Simply leave a comment with your question or email me with “Brainzooming Topic” in the subject. We’ll do some Brainzooming for you and share our thinking to help catalyze innovative success for you!

BTW – Tomorrow is Good Friday, so in keeping with our tradition here at Brainzooming, there won’t be a post tomorrow. See you back here Monday!  – Mike Brown

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I worked with Scott Frederick for several years and was excited to see him tweeting recently about his business tenets. The ideas seemed like a natural for a guest post. I think you’ll enjoy them and find, as I have, that Scott has a variety of talents and interests. Some are obvious (marketing professional), but as he notes in today’s guest post, you have to dig to find out about some of the others (Hollywood Dad/video producer, sports enthusiast), because he won’t hit you over the head talking about them!

As a humble marketing professional and Hollywood dad, it’s not my nature to be overtly outspoken regarding my values or beliefs. Growing up in Michigan, I admired Detroit sports icons Al Kaline, Barry Sanders and Steve Yzerman. The trait shared by these three successful competitors is that, although they spoke softly, their actions resounded loudly.

Much like Al, Barry and Steve, I prefer not to overtly proselytize others to my professional and personal (and religious) beliefs. Normally I prefer leading by example and letting my actions speak on my behalf. The past couple weeks though, I have tweeted twelve of Scott’s Business Tenets representing opinions formed across a 20-plus year career as a participant in corporate America. These tenets represent the good, the bad and the ugly of my professional experiences.

I was humbled when Mike asked me to provide a guest article based on the tenets for Brainzooming.  On the other hand, it’s absolutely fitting since I would probably not have forced myself to write down my business philosophies had it not been for Mike’s inspiration and accomplishments with Brainzooming.

Let me start by underlining that these are my own personal opinions and don’t necessarily reflect those of the organization for which I work. This caveat is appropriately reinforced by a simple review of the word “tenet” itself:

ten·et n. An opinion, doctrine, or principle held as being true by a person or organization.

I submit these twelve tenets for your consideration as you think about your own experiences, philosophies and values.

  • There is no “I” in “SUCCESS” (but there is in EGOTIST). I learned this tenet early (from a family member no less). Nothing’s more annoying than to have someone talk about the miraculous feats THEY accomplished for their company. Name any successful corporate project, and there’s more than one individual who made it happen (even though corporate compensation doesn’t always reflect this).
  • Create a vision of the end result and you will sell the means to get there. My experience has been it’s very difficult to get executive endorsement on projects they can’t “visualize.” However, if you can create a clear vision of what the project will provide (e.g., pictures, facts, financials, etc.), obtaining executive approval becomes much easier.
  • A great attitude is more important than great aptitude. Show me someone with a great attitude, and I can teach them to do anything. Show me a disgruntled employee with all the skill in the world, and I’ll show you an empty office (eventually).
  • The personal brand must not supersede the company brand. This one is tricky because everyone should work on improving their personal brand. This is particularly important when the company doesn’t seem committed to its own brand. However, I have observed cases where an individual’s personal brand seems to take precedence over the company brand. Ultimately, this sends the wrong signal to employees working very hard to build the company brand.
  • The most effective marketing managers are multi-dimensional professionals – not narrow specialists. This tenet stems from working for a company that often had very few marketing resources compared to its industry peers. Even if I were running my own company, however, I would much prefer to have marketing professionals who can perform a variety of tasks, rather than one-trick-ponies who are only good at shuffling work back and forth.
  • Working hard and working smart are the best combination. I value a strong work ethic almost as much as integrity and attitude. But working hard is not a substitute for working smart – rather it’s the perfect complement.
  • Democracy is good, but responsibility without authority is not. When employees are given a tremendous amount of responsibility but no authority to get the work done, it leads to frustration and wasted time and resources. Differing opinions, ideas, and perspectives are always welcomed. At the end of the day, though, people must be empowered to make final decisions individually. 
  • Repeat, repeat, and repeat your message, and people will finally get it. This is perhaps the most self-evident of the tenets. But experience suggests time and time again that repetition really does work.
  • Dry humor is better than no humor at all. This tenet is a little narcissistic since my humor is as dry as it comes. But in all seriousness, working in an environment lacking any humor at all is never fun for anyone.   
  • Every employee should end the work day feeling as if they made a contribution to the success of the organization. This is a very obvious tenet. The hard part is actually making it so. Organizations and managers that don’t believe this tenet are really missing out on the power of their people (or they need to recruit Brainzooming to help them define success and prioritize their goals).
  • Nothing and no one is perfect, but that’s no reason not to attempt it. Ask anyone that’s ever worked for me and they’ll probably tell you I’m too much of a perfectionist. The funny thing is I am as imperfect as they come. However, I try not to use this as an excuse for not trying to make all of my work as perfect as it can be. That is the only expectation I have of others as well. Don’t be perfect – just try.
  • Reality Therapy: What do you want? Is what you’re doing getting what you want? What should you be doing to get what you want? Saved the best for last. I actually learned this from one of the most capable training professionals I have ever known. If you are ever faced with a conflict, these are three of the most powerful questions you can possibly ask. And that’s not fiction, its reality!

With new experiences and learnings, I am sure there will be more tenets along the way – and some may even change with new perspective. My humble advice is you consider reflecting on your own experiences and attempt to write down lessons you have learned. Who knows – someone you know might ask you to be their guest blogger for the day!  – Scott G. Frederick

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I used to ask weekly on Twitter what strategic or innovation topics people would like to see addressed in Brainzooming articles. One request from back then was to write about how not to over think business strategy. Having been in a business where it seemed you’d hear “don’t over think it” five times a day, the topic hit a little too close to home, and I didn’t ever do a post on it.

Time's Running OUtNow, with a little distance, I offer some strategic thinking questions to ask your team when you need to quickly move into convergent thinking mode during business planning:

  • Does this issue really matter for our business opportunity? Will it materially change any important business results?
  • What if we could only implement one innovative strategy in this situation? What would it be?
  • If we had only 25% of the time (or resources), would we concentrate our efforts on this business opportunity?
  • Without any additional information, what does our experience suggest as the most successful potential business option?
  • If we had to halt our business planning and make a decision in the next five minutes, what would it be?

Couple any of these strategic questions with a fixed amount of time for dialogue (i.e., “We’ll talk about this for 10 minutes) and a required decision (i.e., “When time’s up, you have to briefly state what business decision you’d recommend or the course of action you’d take right now).

You may not get the most rigorously vetted, innovative ideas, but using a strategic thinking exercise and a limited amount of discussion time will help quickly catalyze your strategy decision so you can move to implementation. – Mike Brown

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I had the opportunity to participate in a three-person gospel reading at Church yesterday. In going through the preparation workbook last week, it suggested rehearsing the entire reading aloud, not just your individual part.  It was an innovative idea and not something I would have thought to do; my typical strategy would be to practice only what I’d be responsible for reading at Church.

After reading the entire piece several times, the advantage of this holistic strategy became clear. My role was to be the “narrator,” providing verbal connections between a variety of spoken parts representing various characters. That means I had a lot of, “They said” and, “He replied” type lines. Rehearsing the whole piece made me very aware of the emotion and point of view of the next person I was leading up to, as well as of the person speaking right before me. It allowed me to vary my tone and be a better connector within our three-person team.

Only after Church did the broader lesson strike me. The strategy of “rehearsing the entire thing” applies to any type of team project.  While each team member may have a distinct role, the entire team’s success will improve if you think strategically about the holistic process:

  • Anticipate what you’ll be receiving from the person before you. What point of view, style, and expertise will this person put into the work product for which you’ll assume responsibility?
  • Also, consider the person to whom you’ll hand off your efforts. What will they be expecting from you? How can you anticipate what they may struggle with in order to help them get through challenging parts more successfully?

In any team project, (re)define your role as being a “strong connector.” Take the strategic view, planning for what comes before and after you in the process to catalyze your team’s success. – Mike Brown

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