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We love many things in the United States that are failing us.

US-Flag-Half-Mast

We Love Lines

We love drawing lines. We seem so fascinated with celebrating differences that single ourselves out, we wind up drawing lines everywhere. The intent is to show why we are different from everyone else and our needs must be separately recognized, acknowledged, and accommodated.

The problem is that with every line we draw, someone else is on the other side of the line. And when we face people across lines, we accentuate what’s different. And we seem hell bent on attacking those that are different than we are.

We need fewer lines, and more standing together.

We Love Guns

We love fire power. Maybe it’s a fascination with the Old West and the strong guy (or the bad guy) shooting themselves out of problem situations. Maybe it is real fear and thinking we never want to be in a position where we don’t have as much ability to harm others as they have to harm us.

The problem is when we both have guns, we have shoot outs. Why else do we need guns in situations having nothing to do with anything other than harming someone else? We go right past all the ways we should have to interact with each other in the interests of being able to threaten each other more effectively.

We need fewer guns and more readiness to meet each other with listening, understanding, and kindness.

We Love Killing

Even more than loving guns, we generally love killing. Our laws and courts have spent the last forty-plus years making it easier to kill others and ourselves on both ends of life. We’ve established killing as an integral right as citizens. And since we can’t get enough real life killing, we also love killing spread throughout all types of entertainment.

The problem is we can’t immerse ourselves in a culture of real and imaginary killing and think we aren’t changed by it. Life seems casual. Life seems expendable. Life seems anything but sacred. In many cases, the lives of others are costs to society that we need to kill off to make sure we don’t have to sacrifice what we believe should rightfully be ours.

We need to remember all our lives originate and end in the same place. We can’t sit by as others are killed without opening doors to others killing us if we’re obstacles to their aspirations.

We Love Thinking We “Have” This

You see statistics showing fewer people believe in God. Fewer people practice organized religion. Yet, people are bowing down to idols of all types: money, fame, sex, self-determination, eternal youth, killing, sports. That’s just a start. We are better all the time at filling the place God would take in our lives with things we have created ourselves.

The problem is that we, as the human race, don’t have things covered. The more we’ve moved away from God to chart our own courses, the more we seem to be sinking into worsening cycles of failure and despair.

We need more belief and prayer in God, who can truly help us out of our mess. – Mike Brown

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This time of year, preparing for upcoming strategic planning exercises may seem like something far in the future.

Whether strategic planning is months away or close at hand, however, it’s always smart to get a head start tackling big strategic thinking questions that warrant in-depth consideration.

As we look ahead to clients’ strategic planning processes, we’re developing new strategic thinking questions to freshen our Brainzooming strategic planning exercises. Along the way, we try to share some of these strategic thinking questions with you to incorporate into your organization’s strategic planning exercises.

9 Big Strategic Thinking Questions to Start Addressing Now

 

9 strategic questions orange

Here are nine new strategic thinking questions were excited about in three planning areas:

Strategic Goals and Focus

  • How could we focus on only one aspect of what we do to create a major impact in a completely new area?
  • Where can we create at least two 0-percent or 100-percent goals for our organization?
  • If we don’t already have any projects with ten-year horizons underway, what are two of them we should launch now?

Branding and Customer Experience

  • What would make our tired old brand “hot” again?
  • How could we create a place where future prospects and customers want to spend time “hanging out” with our brand?
  • What will it take to turn every “ask permission” situation for customers into a “this is part of your solution” situation instead?

Innovation Strategy

  • How can we surgically remove a promising idea from our organization and plant it in a bigger host so it flourishes more quickly?
  • What are new ways to put our customers together with each other so they can identify and solve bigger challenges?
  • How many times a day are we saying “yes AND” to a new idea or situation, and how do we increase that number by a factor of 10?

Which ones of those might fit into your upcoming strategic planning exercises? Contact us to let us know what works, or if you’d like to put us to work for you to get you through strategic planning in a streamlined fashion this year!  Mike Brown

 

10 Keys to Engaging Employees to Improve Strategic Results

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I’m frequently asked for free advice. You know the whole “can I pick your brain” routine. To which I typically answer, “If you pick my brain, it will never heal.”

In a number of other business and personal situations, I formulate pieces of advice that are either never requested or never volunteered.

7 Pieces of Advice – Only Some of Which I Passed Along

Pick-My-Brain-Advice

Thinking back over recent weeks, there was some decent pieces advice (both for others and for me) that I both passed along and kept to myself without saying anything. Here are seven that come to mind:

  1. Your health is more important than a job. If your job is making you sick, you have to get out as soon as you can.
  2. Don’t send an email when you’re dumping a load of crap in someone’s lap that did nothing to deserve it. Pick up the phone and be an adult about it. And maybe figure out several possible alternatives while you’re at it.
  3. Simple, great ideas might only be great ideas in a vacuum. Once you introduce them into an organization’s culture, that same simple, great idea can create lots of complexity and hassles.
  4. Print the whole report out, single-sided. Then start throwing out pages and rearranging it until it looks like the report you need.
  5. When you read an email that makes you mad or confused initially, close it. Come back to it fifteen minutes later, read it slowly and thoroughly, and see if you have the same sentiments about it.
  6. In many situations, it doesn’t matter who does it, but SOMEBODY has to be in charge.
  7. Today has hardly any impact relative to eternity. Get over it. Things will be fine no matter what it feels like right this minute.

If any of these apply to you, feel free to borrow them – for free. – Mike Brown

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I mentioned in an earlier article how the Gas Can event on June 24, 2016 was “half empty” at best. After the event, I posted on Facebook about how difficult it is, once you’ve produced events, to sit in the audience and not re-produce an event with major production problems.

While writing an article poking holes in the Gas Can program would be easy, however, it wouldn’t have much value for you.

Instead, how about a list of 14 event marketing strategy questions you can use the next time you or your organization plan an event? It’s one way of passing along our conference production experience and lessons to all of you.

14 Event Marketing Strategy Questions You NEED to Ask Early

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If you’re planning a conference, ask all of these questions in plenty of time to do something about them!

  1. Have you seen the speakers you’re putting on stage?
  2. If you haven’t seen all of the speakers, have you at least seen some of them to know where to place the strongest speakers?
  3. For the speakers you haven’t seen, do you have an idea of what they are planning to speak about so you can arrange them in a way that there is continuity (and not a violent and uncomfortable swing in tone and subject) between each segment?
  4. To boost networking, have you designed name tags so peoples’ names and companies are bigger than the event name (since people know where they are, but don’t necessarily know other people)?
  5. Have you planned to start the event with your second biggest moment?
  6. Have you planned to end the event with your biggest moment (especially if you’re planning a next event in this series of events)?
  7. Have you made it easy for attendees to create and share social media content about the event?
  8. If you’re attempting to create a legitimately curated event (meaning you are deliberately challenging the audience’s patience and tolerance for variety in disparate segments), have you figured out how to provide a few cues to tie the pieces together so attendees don’t walk away feeling as if the program was a random jumble?
  9. Have you scheduled a rehearsal and made sure you’re absolutely confident with what and how every speaker is going to do (and whether every presenter should still be on the agenda)?
  10. Have you made sure you have a monitor in the front of the stage so presenters don’t have to keep turning away from the audience to see what the current slide is?
  11. Have you satisfied yourself that presenters have strong enough diction, volume, and speaking styles so the audience will be able to understand what they are saying throughout their presentations?
  12. Have you tested the sound system well in advance and made sure it will work for all the elements of your program?
  13. Do you have someone knowledgeable about the sound system and the venue running the sound?
  14. Is the stage lit properly so the audience can see (and photograph for social sharing) both the presenter and the slides

Yes, you need to be able to answer “Yes” to all these event marketing strategy questions. – Mike Brown

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Following our post on the tenth anniversary of the Brainzooming strategic planning methodology, the guys at Armada Corporate Intelligence, who were an important part of developing and testing the process, wrote a companion article. They highlighted 5 keys to streamlining strategic planning based on how we implemented the Brainzooming process as a contrast to traditional (and slow) strategic planning techniques.

In an edited excerpt, here is what they shared in their Inside the Executive Suite column about streamlining strategic planning.

5 Keys to Streamlining Strategic Planning

Planning-Meeting

Most executives can’t write a strategy plan, so don’t make them

We hit this challenge repeatedly. Executives that SHOULD know how to develop and write a strategic plan struggled. Since strategy planning is an infrequent activity, it is difficult for executives to master it. We learned that if we asked executives a series of questions leading to the information needed to complete a strategy plan,  they became productive strategy planners.

Strategy Implication: Remove the tedious aspects of strategy planning, replacing them with efficient alternative approaches. This implies focusing participants on contributing in ways that they can be most productive.

The number and types of participants are critical to developing a strong plan

A marketing manager is generally the expert on a particular product line. That doesn’t mean, however, it works best for him or her to close the door and spend weeks trying to write a marketing plan individually. To compress the time spent planning, we assembled multiple people with important, yet perhaps more narrow perspectives on a product line, to participate. The collaborative approach created more thorough and vetted plans. Involving more people turned weeks of solo work into a one-day collaboration to prepare a strategy plan.

Strategy Implication: Adding more people is only part of the equation. The right mix of participants must include three perspectives: front-line people, functional experts (i.e., finance, operations, market research), and innovators (people that look at business situations differently). This combination, typically accomplished with five-to-ten people, leads to a stronger strategy.

A strategy plan should be integral to daily business activities

One problem with strategic planning is it often seems completely separate from other activities. The plan includes big ideas, statements, and expectations beyond anything an organization will ever do. It summarizes the strategy in jargon foreign to daily business conversations. We instead developed a process built around facilitating conversations among people with a big stake in company performance. This leads to a realistic focus on implementing what matters for business success within the plan.

Strategy Implication: By building strategy planning around collaborative conversations, the plan input sounds just like how people in the organization talk. The ideas incorporated into the plan also come from within the organization and aren’t dropped into it by (an ultimately) disinterested outsider. It speeds understanding, acceptance, and rapid implementation of a strategic viewpoint and plan.

Creative thinking exercises generate ideas, not facts

We adapted the strategy planning process to develop major account sales plans. This switch supported a program aligning sales activities for the company’s largest accounts. Despite similarities, a sales planning workshop’s success depended tremendously on how knowledgeable the sales participants were. While creative thinking exercises help generate new ideas, it became clear that creativity couldn’t help a salesperson without key facts (e.g., knowing the decision maker) generate answers.

Strategy Implication: Document as many needed facts as possible BEFORE assembling a group to collaborate on plan building. Use online surveys, focused fact-finding exploration, and pre-session homework to establish basic information. This is vital since nothing shuts down a planning session as quickly as the absence of key facts no one can credibly address.

There are multiple ways to complete a strategy plan

With an internal department driving the rapid planning approach we used, there was no built-in bias to require a complex set of planning steps. Everyone benefitted by simplifying the process as much as possible. In fact, our approach was to use everything the internal client had already completed that would move planning ahead more quickly. Instead of using a static process requiring internal clients to adapt, our process adapted to what worked best for the internal clients and the business.

Strategy Implication: There are many ways to develop and complete a strategy plan. The overall steps are basically the same for a corporate strategy, a marketing plan, or a functional area’s priority setting. Recognizing that, there is significant flexibility to vary planning steps to accommodate an organization’s ability to develop and execute a strategy. For the sake of efficiency, we did insist in every case that we would time-constrain planning activities and manage conversations to keep things out of the weeds. This ensured everything we did was adding new insights and material to complete the final plan. – Armada Corporate Intelligence

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Find New Resources to Innovate!

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Last Friday’s Gas Can Creative Conference sponsored by AAF-KC (American Advertising Federation – Kansas City) was a half-empty gas can, at best. While there were a few presentations and ideas to stimulate our creative thinking skills, there were far too few for an all-day event. We’ll turn the event’s downsides into a positive later in the week.

3 Creative Thinking Skills Ideas from Gas Can 2016

Today, here are three valuable creative thinking skills ideas no matter where your creative community is located.

Gas-Can-Sign

Push for Absurd Ideas

Stefan Mumaw, Director of Creative Strategy at Hint, shared a creative thinking exercise in a morning break segment. He gave us three minutes to imagine what might be part of a Swiss Army knife designed especially for a pirate. After finishing the creative thinking exercise, he asked us who had more than 50% of ideas that were absurd. Stefan defined an absurd idea as something that would definitely not fit in a Swiss Army Knife. Perhaps 30-40% of the audience had raised their hands. His point was you have to get to absurd ideas to sufficiently stretch your creative thinking. Being able to pull back after going full-on absurd will reveal innovative ideas that are actually possible to do.

Creative Thinking Skills Idea:

Stefan used a different path to get to the extreme creativity approach we use: pushing beyond conventional boundaries to find new thinking with near-term possibilities. We typically start by picking the most conventional ideas, however, and blowing them out to extremes. I’ll be including a modification to our extreme creativity approach based on Stefan’s exercise, however, and suggesting we also grab already absurd ideas as a starting point for extreme creativity.

Icky Brand Pairings

Joe Cox, Engagement Director at Barkley, shared a creative thinking exercise comparable to Julie Cottineau’s Brand Twist exercise where you take two brands, put them together, and imagine new possibilities. Joe also recommended pairing your brand with various others brand to see what unique ideas emerge. Beyond simply using familiar, popular, or naturally aligned brands, however, Joe urged us to use extreme and challenging brands, too. What would new ideas emerge when your brand is paired with the NRA, a cigarette maker, or an extreme political candidate (since we have no shortage of those)?

Creative Thinking Skills Idea:

I love the idea of pushing the brand comparison beyond Nike, Apple, and Starbucks. Getting paired with an icky brand can lead to incredible ideas to offset all the negatives that would follow. Which of the powerful customer experience ideas to offset your brand’s affiliation would be great ideas even if you aren’t saddled with an icky brand partner?

Make Decisions Faster

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Seth Gunderson, Creative Director at Sullivan Higdon and Sink, explored the way to cultivate better creativity and decision making. Seth’s presentation, titled “You’re either IN or you’re OUT or you’re MAYBE,” demonstrated how easy it is to make one-off decisions (Puppies – In or Out? Donald Trump – In or Out?) and how hard it is when there are multiple options. His advice was “we will create better work if we make decisions faster.” Seth suggested the way to better decisions is making them in the morning, after getting fresh air, and making sure to have a full stomach along with an empty bladder.

Creative Thinking Skills Idea:

There’s an early Brainzooming blog post on forcing decisions between one thing or another. Deliberately setting up decisions as “Yes” or “No” options is a good reminder. It’s very easy to get very complex and subtle in presenting options. While in/out decision making won’t always be appropriate, it’s probably appropriate in more situations than I ever think about using it.

Those weren’t all the valuable creative ideas. Each of these, though, is easy to overlook yet powerful in its impact! – Mike Brown

 

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An attendee at the Curacao Social Media and Content Marketing Strategy Workshop raised a new (for me) and pertinent question: What are ideas to go live with brand impact?

That’s a content marketing strategy topic I’ve been thinking about as more social platforms offer “go live” features, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and Tumblr.

His specific question was what to do to make it worthwhile for a brand, and how much to prepare so it doesn’t become embarrassing (or boring, or pointless) video content.

First, a quick disclaimer: I’ve NEVER gone live, although maybe we could with some of our Brainzooming events. We’ll have to see.

Nevertheless, thinking of content marketing strategy analogies, brands doing live video strikes me as very similar to “destination TV.”  Destination TV is a program the audience wants to watch in real-time the first time it airs so they aren’t susceptible to spoilers from friends that saw the program first and want to talk about what happened. Among the shows I’d put in the destination TV category are the Super Bowl (and perhaps a few other major sporting events), final episodes of popular TV shows, and major awards shows (Oscars, Grammys, etc.).

Countdown-6-TV

These also tend to be high viewership programs, which is what you want if you are going live! Another common characteristic is that broadcast networks never suddenly decide to go live and start sharing them without sometimes months of forewarning.

That’s a good starting point for how to “go live” differently than many brands are trying it right now. While the video is real-time, there should be ample preparation and promotion to lead to a great go live performance.

16 Ideas to Go Live with Brand Impact in Your Content Marketing Strategy

Using the three broadcast examples of destination TV as inspirations, here are 16 ideas for getting the most from your brand going live:

Preparation

  • Go live with events or people that your target audience has a high interest in wanting to see in live setting. Pre-existing popularity, hype, plus past and future rarity all help generate interest.
  • Plan out what will happen ahead of time, knowing where you want to start, end, and places things in between.
  • Help the participants in your live stream develop material and rehearse what they are going to say or do if at all possible. A live dress rehearsal has its precedents (see SNL).
  • Look at ways to integrate pre-packaged segments with the live video, even if it means going multi-platform.
  • Tack on related stories and content delving deeper into the subject to interest specific audience segments.

Promotion

  • Brand your go live segments as part of an ongoing series of events so the audience has more to look forward to in the future.
  • Begin promoting your brand going live well in advance. If having an audience is important, hit the messaging hard on WHEN you’ll be going live.
  • Heighten interest with unexpected guests or feature unusual pairings of people that are intriguing (or pairings that have never happened previously).
  • Incorporate surprise into your promotion. Create a live event situation where viewers might have some sense of what could happen when you’re going live, but they can’t be absolutely sure about it.
  • Invite the audience to participate in pre-show events planned before going live to build hype and anticipation.

Performance

  • Share older (but still relevant) content prior to when you go live.
  • Use a mix of scripted and impromptu segments within your live segment.
  • Record segments if need be, but broadcast them live. That’s what many virtual events do – they playback recorded talks, but take live audience questions.
  • Invite other parties outside your brand to cover / report on the live segment.
  • Create hoopla at the location from which you’ll be broadcasting to generate additional excitement (or another appropriate emotion) that will come through on the live video.
  • Embed cliff hangers into the content to create suspense. You could also create the cliffhangers prior to going live, and then resolve them when you go live.
  • Link partial content you’ve shared before the go live event to what happens live to flesh out a compelling brand story line.

Those are my thoughts on going live, all based off of thinking about a strategic analogy.

If we ever go live, look for more experience-based ideas! – Mike Brown

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