The April 2015 Psychology Today has a story on Tania Luna. Ukrainian-born and Brooklyn-based, Ms. Luna is a “Suprisologist.”

What, you might ask, is a Surprisologist?

At least I asked that question.

As a Suprisologist, she has her own company, Surprise Industries, devoted to creating unique surprises for its customers. Luna has also co-authored a book, “Surprise: Enhance the Unpredictable & Engineer the Unexpected” on the importance of surprise.

Luna admits in the interview that she definitely has had a preference for control during her life. She links this, at least in part, to an unpredictable environment as a child. Controlling things and having a “no surprises” outlook was a coping mechanism to feel “safe and secure and in charge.”

Why My Personal Life Is No Surprises

Her admission caught my eye. I operate between an appreciation for surprise and a living situation causing me to go to extreme measures to make sure there are “no surprises” because of the harm they could cause.


My wife has Fibromyalgia and related health issues. This includes particularly harsh reactions to many foods and environmental conditions. As a result, the “unexpected” is bad.

One extreme example?

My wife offered to visit a seafood restaurant I wanted to try even though she can’t eat seafood any longer. We went during a happy hour and grabbed a seat at the bar. She scoured the menu to find SOMETHING she could eat and settled on onion straws as the only option. When the waiter brought our food, she took two bites and said, “I don’t think these are onion straws.” Her neck was already turning completely red and she was having trouble breathing. The bartender admitted he had mistakenly served her calamari.

We quickly paid and headed to a drug store. She was moving too far along in the food reaction, though. I drove like crazy to a nearby hospital emergency room where they gave her intravenous medicine to counteract the reaction. As I told the restaurant owner when we met him later at an event, “Your bartender’s mistake could have killed me wife.”

These types of possibilities are why everything is about no surprises and making sure unexpected events aren’t part of our life.

Any restaurant we visit has to be a familiar, “safe” restaurant (knowing they can become “unsafe” via an unannounced recipe change). Nights out at a concert or a movie are subject to cancellation or being cut short because of health issues, so we stay home. We can’t travel together because of her discomfort and concerns about being away from the coping structure home offers. Even trying to do something nice for her that’s not pre-approved can backfire in a big way.

It’s ironic.

While extolling the benefits of new experiences on creative thinking, the most important relationship in my life is focused on avoiding surprises, changes, and unexpected events.

Creative Thinking and Surprises

I find myself thinking a lot about how to keep things new for me since it’s an essential part of our livelihood, while maintaining the view I’ve always had about our relationship as a team. That means not maintaining separate lives, even if it results in staying home because we CAN do that together.

One counter approach to boost my creative thinking reserves is putting myself in other peoples’ hands that are familiar with being adventurous whenever I’m doing something for business. If it’s a lunch, I suggest someone else pick an unusual restaurant. If it’s a meeting, I want to go to unusual locations. I seek out new churches at home and on trips for daily mass (although returning to the same churches years later, you see the same faces in exactly the same pews).

Now you see why a Surprisologist intrigues me so much.

The search for surprises in the narrow part of my life that doesn’t have to be “no surprises” needs the intriguing attention a Surprisologist could deliver! – Mike Brown


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I love speakers who hit the stage and have the effective presentation skills to engage and audience immediately, bringing them into a learning and growth experience throughout the time together.

On the flip side, I cringe when speakers inadvertently start erecting a wall between themselves and the audience either through arrogance, indifference, insufficient preparation, a lack of presentation skills, or some other reason.

Effective Presentation Skills – 16 Ideas to Immediately Engage an Audience


Sitting through a painful presentation where a speaker decided about ninety percent of the way through the presentation to try to engage the audience (and failed), I jotted down this list of sixteen ideas you can do to immediately engage an audience:

  1. Work with meeting planners beforehand to ensure audience members don’t feel cramped or are sitting on top of each other
  2. Have audience members mingle with each other even before starting what you’re going to do
  3. Get off the stage (for at least a few moments) and walk among the audience
  4. Be self-deprecating
  5. Do funny stuff early and let the audience know it’s okay to laugh
  6. See if audience members are doing (or have done) the thing you are talking about and let an audience member explain it to the group
  7. Ask audience members to share safe, non-self-incriminating opinions
  8. Use questions with the group that have multiple right answers
  9. Prompt physical demonstrations of being awake – applause, standing up and moving, raising their hands, etc.
  10. Have everyone do the same thing as a group activity
  11. Talk to a few audience members ahead of time and identify which ones would be willing to get things started
  12. Have audience members perform a safe ice breaker that doesn’t make them feel silly
  13. Invite audience members to do something they know how to do in a slightly different way
  14. Have audience members create something that is easy to create
  15. Fall down in excitement or exasperation
  16. Share positive things you’ve learned about their organizations and ask them to tell the audience about why they are having success

Those are sixteen ideas I’ve seen work.

What have you seen work for speakers to immediately engage an audience that we should add to the list? – Mike Brown


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We were talking during a business development call about the advantages and approaches to what is commonly called “influencer marketing,” and how a consumer brand might incorporate it into its social media strategy.

The Limitations of Most Influencer Marketing Strategy Implementations

Ingluencer-MarketingPut simply, influencer marketing involves a brand attempting to engage with individuals that have attractive, targeted audiences the brand hopes to reach with its marketing messages. The potential influencers can range from celebrities – either the “real” or the “Internet” type – with large audiences to experts and personalities attracting audiences with shared interest in particular subject areas.

My comment was the way we see brands approach influencer marketing, the strategy and execution is typically woefully lacking.

Too often (at least based on the inquiries The Brainzooming Group receives), the initial engagement comes via email or Twitter right when the requesting brand expects help and support. There’s an assumed interest in devoting time, effort, and attention to promote a book, app, or event simply based on the presumption that whatever the organization is pitching will be interesting for your readers.

The Right Way to Build Mutually-Beneficial Relationships

Contrast that with the initial and ongoing interaction we’ve had with Stephen Lahey of the Small Business Talent podcast. Stephen, who is the recognized number one Brainzooming fan, started actively sharing Brainzooming content within his network several years ago.

After some time, he reached out to talk on the phone months in advance of starting his Small Business Talent podcast. It was a two-way conversation about both our businesses and aspirations, including his plans for the podcast. That and subsequent conversations turned into a request to be a guest on the new podcast at a mutually convenient time.

Our relationship has grown into multiple appearances on the podcast, creating completely new, three-part Brainzooming content for Stephen’s audience, and regularly commenting and sharing new podcast updates. In addition, we have regular calls that continue the discussion about our business strategies. And all the while, Stephen remains unbelievably generous in sharing our content daily with his audience across multiple social networks.

The thing is that’s not an exclusive relationship Stephen has with Brainzooming. He’s doing the same things with other past and future podcast guests.

That’s what building an engaged network of supporters is all about.

The challenge is though, it takes planning, it’s not immediate, it’s not quick, and you couldn’t easily hire an agency to implement the strategy for your brand. Brands thus default to what passes for influencer marketing, thinking they can check that box off the social media strategy list.

7 Lessons for Improving an Influencer Marketing Strategy

If you want to pursue relationship building and engagement (as opposed to simply influencer marketing) here are our seven recommended lessons:

  1. Don’t make your initial contact a request for someone to do something for your brand.
  2. Go beyond electronic communication to engage personally and actually TALK with each other.
  3. Start by GIVING something to the individual you want to build a relationship with so you have done something for them before you ask them to do something for your brand.
  4. Have a variety of ways for the individual to engage so he or she can pick something that fits their aspirations and needs.
  5. Introduce the individuals you are targeting to one another and others within your network to create stronger connections.
  6. Do as much of the work for them as possible to increase the likelihood they will share your messages.
  7. Concentrate as much on elevating their stature as your brand’s stature because doing so will in turn increase your brand’s exposure.

These recommended lessons are harder than a slapped together influencer marketing strategy. They’ll actually work to create long-lasting relationships with your brand, however.

You decide what strategy makes more sense for your brand. – Mike Brown


Want to Learn More about Small Business Talent? You can find Stephen Lahey and his online resources at www.smallbusinesstalent.com (subscribe to the podcast and find more of your ideal clients using The SmallBusinessTalent.com LinkedIn Power Checklist® – it’s free).


“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

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Before a creative thinking workshop, a “front row” participant (you know, the “walking in the room already engaged in the content” type of participant) asked what school of thinking The Brainzooming Group belonged to with respect to our creative thinking approaches. She dropped a couple of potential names she suspected as possibilities. I may have already been in pre-presentation mode and didn’t completely catch what she said, because only one name sounded familiar.

I shared with her that we borrow from anywhere when it came to schools of thought for creative thinking, and that many are quite non-traditional. I mentioned she’d see one strategic thinking exercise just added back into the workshop based on Ghostbusters (Yes, THAT Ghostbusters)!


One advantage of looking broadly for creative thinking influences is we’re never stuck waiting for some expert to publish a new book or article to expand our set of strategic thinking exercises. To the contrary, the Brainzooming repertoire changes and grows continuously through new techniques and influences.

The discussion prompted telling her the proper answer should be a Brainzooming blog post. In a similar vein, we’ve covered the A to Z of Strategic Thinking Exercises (which referenced some influences), and discussed in another where strategic thinking exercises in another workshop originated.

This list of creative thinking influences, however, is different.

Reviewing the slides, stories, and blog posts from the creative thinking workshop deck yielded this list of fifty-nine influences. They aren’t in any specific order, and it certainly isn’t a comprehensive list of all our influences (especially since very few people I have worked with directly are on the list).

Nevertheless, this gives you a good representation of why it’s tough to describe a specific school of thought you can connect to Brainzooming.

59 Creative Thinking Influences

  1. Chuck Dymer
  2. Edward de Bono
  3. Greg Reid
  4. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives
  5. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy
  6. Ted Williams – The Science of Hitting
  7. A.T. Kearney
  8. Gary Singer
  9. Interbrand
  10. Monty Python
  11. Sue Mosby
  12. 75 Cage Rattling Questions
  13. Linus Pauling
  14. Woodrow Wilson
  15. Ghostbusters
  16. The Wall Street Journal
  17. Business Week
  18. Fast Company
  19. Cake Boss
  20. What Not to Wear
  21. The Bible
  22. Dilbert
  23. Milind Lele, Ph.D.
  24. Presentation Zen
  25. Tom Peters
  26. Don Martin
  27. Hank Ketchum
  28. The Scream
  29. The Squirrels in Prairie Village, KS
  30. Steve Bruffett
  31. Enterprise IG
  32. David Bowen, Ph.D.
  33. Arizona State University Center for Services Leadership
  34. FedEx
  35. Seth Godin
  36. Joe Batista
  37. Tony Vannicola
  38. Peter’s Laws
  39. Whoever invented the 4-box matrix
  40. Gordon MacKenzie
  41. Appreciate Inquiry
  42. David Cooperrider, Ph.D.
  43. Benjamin Zander
  44. Keith Prather
  45. Brett Daberko
  46. Philip Kotler, Ph.D.
  47. Robin Williams
  48. Improv Comedy
  49. Jim Collins
  50. Jay Conrad Levinson
  51. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  52. Jan Harness
  53. Muhammad Ali
  54. R.E.M.
  55. Music Fake Books
  56. Seinfeld
  57. Gilligan’s Island
  58. Whoever came up with the concept of Reverse Engineering
  59. The Family Feud

Shout outs to everyone and everything on this list. It’s clear we need to write blog posts on a variety of these creative inspirations because Brainzooming wouldn’t be what it is without you! – Mike Brown


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I spotted a Bloomberg Businessweek story the other day that was a corporate case study, in effect, of the Radio Shack business strategy and the brand’s upward and then long downward trajectory.

One sentence in the Radio Shack case study article says volumes about corporate leadership and how corporate success and failure stories turn into history.

Here is the sentence:

“When asked to pinpoint when everything went wrong, they fell into two main groups: those who argue it had happened right after they left, and those who say the damage had already been done when they arrived.”

That is how the big lie ALWAYS works!

You see so many cases where what really happened in a corporation is reimagined, reinterpreted, and re-reported to suit the personal business storyline that best advances someone’s own career.


One classic example of the corporate case study big lie in action that I witnessed multiple times involves a celebrity CMO on the speaking circuit who had a several year run at a brand headed for extinction. While he was still at the troubled brand, his keynote presentations consisted of talking about how screwed up the business strategy was before he got there, but that under his incredible CMO guidance, EVERYTHING was turning around masterfully.

That was the story only until he left the still-collapsing brand, however.

THEN his keynotes changed to focus on how screwed up the business strategy was before he got there and how it returned to being completely screwed up immediately AFTER he left!

Well OF COURSE that’s what happened!


Would a business celebrity misrepresent the truth?


The lesson?

Be careful whenever an executive shares a corporate case study about a troubled brand where he or she was previously employed. If all the big problems are timed for either before the person got there or right after the person left, go ahead and make the leap . . . that person is telling the big lie of very failed corporate case study! – Mike Brown


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If you’re facing a challenging organizational situation and are struggling to maintain forward progress because of it, The Brainzooming Group can provide a strategic sounding-board for you. We will apply our strategic thinking and implementation tools on a one-on-one basis to help you create greater organizational success. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you figure out how to work around your organizational challenges.


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Do you really need to spend time exploring and developing your business strategy?

As a strategy person, I think it’s smart to do so.

But given organizations we run across who decide to put off developing business strategy because they’re too busy, it’s not the right time, or it seems unnecessary to invest in outside support to help ensure they are creating strategic impact, you might wonder whether developing strategy ISN’T that important.

Yet when we talk later with those organizations that put off strategy development, it’s not as if there weren’t issues that surfaced. Sometimes there are a lot of issues; sometimes, there are fewer issues.


Cat or Get Off the Pot

10 Downsides of Ignoring Developing Your Business Strategy

Here’s a sampling of the issues that frequently materialize when you delay developing strategy:

  1. Doing something multiple times because it didn’t work the first time.
  2. Wasting resources because of starting down certain paths and then having to back track.
  3. Boxing your brand in because of ignoring or precluding strategic options.
  4. You miss more attractive business growth opportunities you didn’t take the time to consider.
  5. You don’t move forward with anything because you don’t have the facts in place to make a business case for change.
  6. Everyone continues to bemoan perennial business issues you don’t ever effectively figure out how to address.
  7. What is implemented fails to fully match the expectations in place for its success.
  8. Other initiatives of lesser strategic importance and scope emerge to tie up the organization’s time, attention, and resources.
  9. The organization keeps doing what it’s always been doing until it crashes into a wall when what it’s always been doing suddenly stops working.
  10. Your competitors advance feaster than your brand does so you wind up losing ground.

Don’t put off developing strategy or ignore the benefits of bringing a fresh perspective to exploring and planning your brand’s direction. Call or email us, today. We know how to move you through developing strategy in a hurry with a focus on successful implementation. You’ll be better off for it! – Mike Brown


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“What’s after Facebook?”

That’s the question a non-profit executive director asked. The non-profit has been using Facebook very successfully for specific fund raising purposes. Her very valid concern is what happens when Facebook finally changes its algorithm to the point where her organization’s updates get no attention without paying for it?

It’s an important social media strategy question for any brand linking elements of its organizational success to a social networking platform performing in a certain way. You might as well go ahead and figure that if your strategy’s success is tied to some other organization’s Terms of Service, your strategy’s future success is at risk.

Given that, the question isn’t so much about what happens after Facebook as it is, “Why is what the organization is doing on Facebook currently working so well?”

  • Is it the audience?
  • The type of requests?
  • The way the specific requests are delivered?
  • The level and type of engagement this audience group has with the organization?
  • The ease with which the audience can respond?

Or, is it really something about Facebook that makes it all work?

A Social Media Strategy for Right Now

With solid strategic answers to these questions, it’s vital, as soon as possible, to start engaging the audience in new ways. The objective is to replicate, as best possible, the role Facebook (or some other platform) plays in the successful engagement the organization has cultivated.

That may mean growing its ability to use email, text, or other “owned” communication channels to reach its audience at critical times with comparable requests.

How to Think About Social Networks


One of our most popular social media strategy posts features a variety of offline analogies to focus your strategic thinking on various aspects of social media. Here’s another analogy to add to the list. It pertains to social networks in general:

“If you aren’t creating the terms of service for a social network, think about the platform like you would a college apartment. You might invest a few dollars and a little bit of time to spruce it up. You would never sink real money into fixing up the apartment and making it better, however, because somebody else owns it, you may only be there for a short period of time, and while you’re there, you’ll probably throw some wild parties and trash the place. Plus, ultimately, you’ll want to have a place that’s really your own. That’s where you’re safe investing to build it out and make sure it’s exactly what you want.”

So if you have been investing most of your social emphasis on social networks, consider yourself warned. Start thinking about how to fix up and take better advantage of your long-term home – not your college apartment! – Mike Brown


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“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question.

Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social business strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social  Strategy.”

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