Cleaning offices isn’t a distinctive talent for me; it’s a chore from beginning to end. Yet, as you learned this week, it’s necessary right now.

Among my files was a notebook from a Statistical Process Control training class my first weeks on the job. Inside the notebook was a section on conducting brainstorming along with handwritten notes from the class.

I don’t remember learning brainstorming in grad school, and we didn’t have training at my first job, so this had to be my first formal exposure to brainstorming. There in the notes are the familiar admonitions I use all the time: listen intently to all participants, capture what they’re saying in the words they use, encourage and reinforce all comments, don’t judge prematurely. Everything’s there for getting innovation started.

While the class (and some of the great people I met there) is as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday, this specific topic isn’t even a vague memory. Back then, it was something my boss was making me go to. In retrospect, it was life altering day.

The moral – you never know.

You never know which days will change your life. So never write off any day as a throw-away. Go into each one with a sense of wonder. Look for who you may meet or what you might learn that will fundamentally shape the rest of what you’ll ever do. – Mike Brown

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Thanks to a tweet from Richard Dedor, Chris Reaburn and I were last minute attendees at a Kansas City PRSA lunch session by Dan Schawbel based on his book Me 2.0 – Build a Personal Brand to Achieve Career Success.

The talk was part of a career day for students interested in PR, so the average audience age was 20. As a result, the slant of the personal branding ideas Dan Schawbel shared was customized for the industry and audience life stage.

The personal branding ideas he covered were nonetheless applicable to anyone working on heightening their own identities. From talking with many people mid-career professionals in transition, however, they tend to be woefully behind on how personal branding applies to their own career situations.

3 Personal Branding Ideas for Mid-Career Professionals

So for the 25 times 2.0 crowd, here are three personal branding ideas customized for you:

1. Volunteering for meaningful assignments with professional associations is a great mid-career internship.

Dan Schawbel highlights the necessity of internships for college-age job seekers. Mid-career professionals seeking new jobs have similar opportunities. I speak with many people whose current job is “looking for a job.” There’s no sizzle and not much built-in skill development there. Yet associations relevant to you are likely looking for knowledgeable mid-career professionals to take on assignments.

One great thing about a smartly-chosen volunteer project is you typically have room to make it much cooler than anyone in the association ever expected. The result is you get to experiment, learn, and have something with sizzle to lead with when networking.

2. Mid-career, it’s imperative to assess your personality and get on with changing what’s not working.

My advice to people who leave for other companies is always to think about who they want to be in a new job, because it’s the only opportunity to create a “new” you. Dan makes the point it’s tremendously challenging to reinvent yourself in the age of (nearly) total visibility to your online presence.

That’s true, but if you continually trip yourself up through the same behaviors, do the self-help, career coaching, or counseling necessary to eliminate rough spots. Become if not a new, at least a “new formula” you.

3. Mid-career professionals need a solid, actively growing offline and online network.

Dan Schawbel is right when he says a larger network has the potential to work much harder for you. As a mid-career professional, you should be good at determining the highest value people in your network.

While you definitely want to serve and cultivate these relationships very actively, you should also be continually reaching out to expand your network offline and online. Focus on adding people you may be able to help while building the most vibrant, responsive network you can. That’s a far better move than creating the largest network possible filled with people having few real ties to you.

What personal branding ideas do you have to share?

Personal branding is of increasing interest, so look for more personal branding ideas in the future. Let me know how we can deliver value to you as part of the Brainzooming family! – Mike Brown

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Steve Epley visited last week, and we talked about challenges in trying to do for yourself what you do professionally for others. This resonated because of recent work on the Brainzooming™ brand. It’s much easier to figure out another’s great brand value and how to communicate it than doing the same for myself. It’s tough to step back and address your own situation as objectively as you can for someone else.

Are you facing similar challenges? Here are three alternatives:

1. Use what you know works.

Struggling to clarify the Brainzooming brand as a business entity and personally, it struck me that we use a variety of tools with others to help define brand promises and positions. Turning to tools I’ve seen work in so many situations helped push my own thinking and expand the concepts being considered. If you’ve got tools and approaches developed for those you serve, don’t overlook applying them to your own business situation.

2. Ask for help.

I stared at my resume for years, unable to update it. In 2007, I finally sought professional preparation, with great results. Updating it now with all the new experiences and results of the past two years is again challenging. Based on a tip from Jan Harness, whip-smart wordsmith and media maven Emma Alvarez-Gibson is helping convey what Brainzooming represents in words. Never consider it a weakness to get help doing what you know how to do. Instead, it shows the respect for your profession you want others to also have.

3. Be Patient and Wait.

As much I love believing strategic thinking approaches completely get you around time and mental capacity crunches, they won’t in every case. Many issues need to unfold in real time to allow strategic thinking and action. Each passing day, next steps for Brainzooming become clearer and more developed. As much as I’d have loved to figure out some things last year, it simply wasn’t reasonable to do so. Maybe if you can’t work too far ahead on a project, you can at least work on patience instead.

Hope those help in getting around any roadblocks you face employing a DIY approach in your own field. – Mike Brown

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Big shifts are taking place personally. They’re sure to affect the direction and content on Brainzooming™, and it’s appropriate to let you know what’s happening.

For the past five years, I’ve been working a personal branding plan designed to grow my network, increase learning, and build a stronger presentation and writing repertoire. Important activities have included:
  • Speaking and facilitating with groups internationally on developing strategic thinking, innovation, branding, and social media
  • Starting multiple blogs, including one on humor and another on spirituality
  • Introducing Brainzooming as a “personal” brand
  • Employing a social media strategy to grow the brand

It’s been an aggressive effort, and especially recently, I’ve described myself as doing two full-time jobs. The personal branding effort for Brainzooming takes place early mornings, late nights, weekends, and vacation days away from my primary job in a corporate role.

During my career, my day job has allowed incredible opportunities to grow and contribute beyond my original market research position:

Through it all, it’s been amazing to work with incredibly talented and wonderful people. It’s actually quite staggering to contemplate the incredible opportunities I’ve been provided.

This Friday though, after a difficult decision, I’m leaving my corporate position. Despite all the news suggesting it’s a ridiculous time to do it, nearly all indications suggest it’s exactly the right thing to do.

As a result, next Monday my priorities flip: Brainzooming moves to the forefront and pursuing a potential next corporate position becomes secondary.

While I’ve made a point to keep nearly all references to my corporate position out of Brainzooming, its daily learnings and challenges infuse the blog content all the time. With a different routine and new interactions, what gets covered here will change. Together, we’ll find out exactly what that means as the future unfolds.

Welcome to the new phase of Brainzooming, as it grows into a full-time strategic innovation consulting company! The Brainzooming team looks forward to your ideas, business leads, and guidance as the changes take place!

P.S. Especially the business leads! More on that later! – Mike Brown

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How can I be a guest blogger on my own blog you may ask? Well, this post was originally written for Braden Kelley’s Blogging Innovation website. So it was a original guest post there in response to the question, “Does an organization have to have an innovation strategy?” Here’s my take:

Does an organization need an innovation strategy? Let me say, unequivocally, “It depends.”

Depending on its business situation, there are multiple strategic innovation approaches. Here are three different business situations and a potential innovation path for each:

Situation 1 – It’s All About Innovation

If innovation is fundamental to an organization’s success and competitiveness, then innovation “matters” for that business. And when innovation passes the “does it matter” test, beyond an innovation strategy, it becomes more important that innovation be woven into overall business strategy.

Situation 2 – Innovation Is Appreciated

For many (most?) companies, innovation is viewed as beneficial, but it doesn’t matter in the same strategic sense as in the first group. If that’s the case, having visible top-level support for innovation can take the place of an explicit innovation strategy.

Beyond that, it’s vital to manage the environment’s receptivity to innovation. This starts with assessing the degree to which critical success factors (CSFs) for innovation exist. If CSFs are largely in place, the primary task becomes integrating innovation into the company’s strategic direction. If some or all aren’t present, step one is making moves to put them in place to create a higher probability of innovation success. Among innovation CSFs are:

  • Having an innovation-friendly environment – Even absent an innovation strategy, are processes in place that are conducive to exploration and development of new ideas? Organizational forces should motive and support work across disciplines and recognize individual and group contributions to innovation.
  • A longer term sensibility – Some innovation starts yielding near-term returns. Often, it takes longer. There has to be some rope to play with (both in terms of time and resource investment) for a sustained innovation effort.
  • Fact-based strategic perspectives are encouraged – Is innovative, strategic thinking considered to be the purview of senior leadership or is it cultivated broadly? Multiple, perspectives are vital to triggering, thoroughly vetting, and successfully implementing new ideas. The closer to customers those strategic perspectives originate, the better, and that’s usually not exclusively from senior managers.
  • A basic comfort level with disturbing the status quo – Moving into new areas is usually messy organizationally and in the marketplace. These disruptions need to be understood as innovation precursors. Is your organization ready to fail fast & learn quickly if it’s a step to successful innovation?
  • A willingness to bring diverse parties into innovation – There’s now more recognition and acceptance of the incredible potential in ideas coming from outside an organization. Does yours have an externally-oriented view that introduces broad inputs into innovation?
  • Metrics are used to motivate and refine innovation, not quash it – Innovation has to produce value for customers and the business to be worthwhile. Monitoring value requires solid metrics. Are they (or can they be put) in place to help steer innovation efforts and monitor their impacts without being used to prematurely shut-down exploration?

Situation 3 – Innovation Gets in the Way

When an organization’s sentiment runs counter to innovation, underground innovation is an alternative. This implies working around the system to create and implement innovation efforts beneficial for the business. Going low-key can provide several advantages:

  • It potentially lowers expectations and increases maneuverability. With few resources, there’s potentially less scrutiny, leading to some freedom to experiment, make mistakes, learn, and still drive results.
  • Parties who participate are likely to be more committed. With a certain amount of risk in joining forces with an underground effort, people won’t typically get in half-way.
  • It forces more ingenuity. Cut-off from some fundamental resources, you have to understand limitations upfront, spell out a plan for what you won’t have, and innovate in areas you wouldn’t have considered previously.
  • You can focus on creating deliverables instead of justifying each innovation step. With a near-term results oriented management team, being able to introduce them to an innovation that’s nearer completion can be beneficial.
  • You can get an advantage relative to competitors. They may be taking a more traditional route to innovation or completely eliminating innovation programs while you’re still trying to move ahead.

What Do You Do?

You know your business situation. Consider the range of possibilities and select the level of strategic innovation focus that makes sense for your business and the desired results. - Mike Brown

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Several years ago, an HR professional passed along a piece of wisdom warranting consideration by anyone who works: Lots of people claim twenty years experience, when what they really have is one year of experience, twenty times over.

Since that conversation, I’ve used her statement to gauge my career:

  • What new skills, capabilities, and accomplishments have I demonstrated in the past year?
  • Based on near term potential, what opportunities exist to gain new experience in the coming year?
  • What can I do specifically this year to increase the likelihood I’ll be developing additional valuable skills?

Ask yourself those same questions. If it looks like you’ve posted several years of the same experience, you owe it to yourself to take deliberate steps and correct the situation. Potential solutions?

If you haven’t done this self-assessment, do it now and get to work making sure your next twelve months are materially new and different. - Mike Brown

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Amid dramatic changes in my professional life, and Brainzooming™ in particular, I’m deliberately forcing myself into uncomfortable areas necessitating rapid development of previously underused skills.

Understanding the importance of diving in and not holding myself to an unrealistic performance standard, I labeled last week, “Make Mistakes Week.”

When undertaking changes and growth, do yourself a favor and establish a “Make Mistakes Week” for yourself. Doing so acknowledges the need to get started, consciously practice, learn from experience, and continuously improve.

In addition to trial and error, I tried listening and observing others more intently as they offered absolutely fundamental counsel. It’s always amazing how clearly others can see things you should find obvious yet completely miss!

Through the concurrent development and implementation of new messaging for Brainzooming, I did get better at delivering it during the week. But the improvement wasn’t all in a straight line, and it fell well short of where it needs to be.

As a result, this week is “Make Mistakes Week – The Sequel!” – Mike Brown

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