We wrote recently about lowering the stakes for sharing creative ideas. Right after that article, The Brainzooming Group facilitated a small innovation strategy workshop with a client.

We discussed the approach for the client’s upcoming thirty-person new process innovation strategy workshop. The question emerged of how much prior thinking to share with the newly involved participants. Our client thought we shouldn’t bias them by initially reviewing the innovation work that had already been done. The concern was that it would limit potentially contrary thinking about ways to improve the internal process they’re seeking to improve. These concerns followed an extended conversation about the value and applicability of having participants complete a pre-workshop survey to gauge their initial thinking and reactions.

We pointed out that bringing a large group together with little preparation and information-sharing would make the workshop way more risky than it should be.


For example, think about the salary cost (and associated risk) of having thirty people (many of them senior leaders) coming together for a day-long innovation strategy workshop without taking advantage of all the inputs we can.  We think lowering risks in these situations ALL THE TIME.

That’s why we never convene people for live, multi-hour innovation strategy workshops without pre-workshop input to understand:

  • What they are thinking
  • Where they see opportunities and challenges, and
  • How we can best organize the in-person time to maximize productivity and efficiency.

Upfront input lowers the risk of an unsuccessful meeting developing.

5 Ways to Lower Risk in an Innovation Strategy Workshop

Here are five ways we lower risks with an in-person workshop:

  1. Carefully selecting participants to get a sufficiently diverse group with as few people as possible.
  2. Reaching out to as big a group as makes sense with pre-workshop surveys or online collaboration sessions so we can introduce their voices and perspectives into the in-person meeting, even if they aren’t physically present.
  3. Sharing as much one-to-many information as we can before the in-person workshop (since it’s often low efficiency time when one person is talking and everyone else is sitting and listening).
  4. Customizing and sequencing exercises based on what participants are thinking and need to accomplish (instead of some standard arrangement that’s always the same).
  5. Creating open space within the meeting where we encourage participants to challenge thinking already advanced by the core team.

With that approach, we can move faster and make an in-person innovation strategy workshop tremendously productive.

If you’d like to learn more about doing the same for your innovation team, contact us! We’d love to fill you in on the approach and how it could look for your organization. – Mike Brown

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What if you are a person that freezes up when you think you need to come up with or implement a creative idea?

What if even having someone TELL YOU that there are no wrong ideas doesn’t free you up to start sharing ideas in a group?

What if your fear of being wrong is so great that you can’t even start implementing creative ideas that are just for you for fear you’ll goof something up?

Is there hope?

Sure, there is hope.

Typically, the creative thinking exercises we teach and use are a huge source of hope to get past fears about self-judged “bad” ideas. Those creative thinking exercises don’t work for some people, however.

I had someone dealing with these concerns come up and talk with me the other day during a wonderful weekend I spent at the Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites annual conference. She could be creative in other areas on her own time, by herself. Or she could express creativity when she patterned what she did creatively on someone else’s approach. While she wanted to contribute to the group creative thinking exercises we used, however, she “froze up.”

She was another “Becky,” a person we worked with that was miserable in group creative situations.

I told my new friend that she was also me. I can still be the person that doesn’t want to mess up a creative idea right from the start or expend creative energy on things I don’t think will lead to success or progress.

To help, I bought her a cheap sketchbook (not a nicely bound book that says “don’t mess up a page” to someone like my friend), a few Sharpies, and a couple of the Pilot pens I use to scribble notes. Inside the sketch book, I wrote this message for her.


Finally, we talked about other ways to lower the stakes of imagining and doing something with new creative ideas:

  1. Write down ideas you are willing to throw away if they don’t turn into anything.
  2. Don’t plan to show anyone your ideas until you are happy with them.
  3. Get over it: if someone doesn’t get your creative idea right away, what’s the worst thing that can happen?
  4. Create something you can erase, adjust, or modify.
  5. If you are creating in a group, make it very easy for others to participate so their expectations for the creative output might not be so big.
  6. Share ideas that aren’t comfortable for you. Don’t judge them on whether you like them. Evaluate them later by whether they inspired someone else to come up with new ideas.
  7. Apply some creative ideas you like in one area to another area where you have less comfort with new ideas.
  8. Decide for yourself that your idea doesn’t have to be perfect and take a risk.

Are you a Becky? If you are, figure out which of these ideas (or others) will work to lower creative stakes for you.

Because the only creative mistake you are REALLY making is missing out on sharing your creativity with the world. – Mike Brown

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I’m at the Social Media Strategies Summit in Dallas today, delivering a two-hour workshop on developing a branded content marketing strategy. The key is finding the right balance between employing outside-in topics and outside-in timing while still making sure your brand personality and messages come through clearly.

We recently conducted a dedicated content marketing strategy workshop for a client on this very topic. We worked with nearly thirty of its business and communication leaders to explore topics four different audience personas would find valuable and that the organization, a healthcare non-profit, could credibly address.

The client is a non-profit focused on healthcare. It entered the workshop with five profiles of target audience members that The Brainzooming Group helped them develop. These profiles, called personas, are three-to-five paragraph descriptions it developed describing specific individuals it serves, seeks to hire, or collaborates with in serving clients.  Small groups prepared the personas in advance by brainstorming answers to ten questions on each audience member.

The personas provided the basis for other workshop activities imagining topics audience members would be interested in and willing to read, watch, or listen to if the non-profit were to address them.

Here’s an overview of each of the strategic thinking exercises:

5 Content Marketing Strategy Exercises to Generate Audience-Oriented Topics


What questions do audience members ask during the buying journey?

The initial exercise explored three phases of an audience member’s journey. The first phase (Awareness) encompassed their initial exploration as they became aware of an opportunity or issue an outside party might address. The second phase (Consideration) involved the audience member describing the relevant opportunity or issue and looking at organizations to help satisfy needs. The final phase (Decision) involved the audience member selecting, engaging, and evaluating the relationship with the outside party they chose.

Within each phase, the small groups identified questions audience members might ask. The comprehensive list of questions each group identified became the basis for the second content marketing exercise.

What topics address important audience questions?

The second exercise used questions from the first one to generate content topic ideas. For each audience question, participants suggested one or more topics or working titles. The topics they generated were not intended to communicate an overtly promotional brand message. Instead, the content would help audience members be smarter in their exploration, evaluation, decision-making, engagement, and post-purchase experiences. As the brand addresses topics of interest to audience members, it has the opportunity to subtly convey its helpfulness, expertise, and audience-focus through sharing beneficial content throughout has the audience journey.

Why do audience members select the brand?

Another exercise focused participants on the relationship stage where audience members either choose or do not choose the brand. Workshop participants identified five primary reasons audience members select the brand. They then identified five reasons audience members do not pick the brand. For each positive reason, they generated multiple topic ideas (of interest to audience members) that would back up the brand’s attractive characteristics. For reasons the brand was not selected, they brainstormed possible topics to help counter or refute misperceptions about the brand.

What do audience members say about the brand relationship?

One exercise focused on interactions audience members have with the brand further into the relationship using a 4-box grid. One axis listed “questions” and “statements.” The other listed “negative” or “positive” interactions.  Each of the four cells named a relevant situation and several questions to trigger potential topics. For instance, positive questions present “Education opportunities,” and negative questions signal “pain points.” Positive statements suggest highlighting ” brand value.” Negative comments indicate “objections to anticipate.” Questions associated with each of these four areas suggested jumping off points for additional topic ideas.

What do we think, know, and do that is relevant for audience members?

Audience members’ interests primarily extend beyond the brand’s traditional focus areas. That is why brands focusing only on content about themselves miss so many rich areas in which to share content. To counter this, one exercise explored areas in which audience members exhibit interests, seek information, and focus priorities. For each of the areas identified, participants generated audience-oriented topics. They made the brand connection to the audience based on what the brand thinks about audience interest areas, knows about the information they seek, and does relative to their priorities.

Coming Away with Plenty of Audience-Oriented Topic Ideas

During the Brainzooming content marketing strategy workshop, participants generated hundreds of potential content topics. Before adjourning, each person walked the room to review the topics and select those they thought had particular potential to interest audience members.

The next step is documenting all the topics on a content calendar. This enables the brand to address topics in an organized fashion across the year when, as they can best determine, audience members are most interested in the information.

If you want to learn more about specific details of this approach, contact us. Let’s collaborate to develop richer content that matters to your audiences. – Mike Brown

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If you’re developing an innovation strategy initiative inside your company, is your primary focus on bringing executives together in a creative way to imagine new ideas?

That’s the focus some companies get enamored with based on innovation training that puts creativity front and center as the key to jump starting innovation.

From our experience, that’s far from the first step.


Sure, the idea of getting everyone together for a creativity session is a sexy part of innovation.

But convening executives for a creativity session is the right step ONLY AFTER you’ve done a lot of decidedly non-sexy innovation strategy work. All the pre-work will suggest whether an in-person session even makes sense and how to make it successful if it does.

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9 Critical Steps Before Your Innovation Strategy Gets Sexy

What are the non-sexy upfront steps in an innovation strategy?

Here’s a checklist:

  1. Setting appropriate objectives
  2. Gathering internal and external input
  3. Internal fact-finding
  4. Surveying external sources and environments for relevant ideas
  5. Conducting analysis
  6. Synthesizing pre-work into themes and directions to shape the innovation strategy (and workshop)
  7. Determining which parties will disproportionately contribute to an in-person innovation strategy workshop
  8. Designing the right type of workshop to help participants maximize their contributions
  9. Planning all the logistics and experience variables for the in-person workshop

Yes, those are all significant steps BEFORE you ever conduct a creativity session or in-person innovation strategy meeting.

Yet these steps may get insufficient attention in quickie innovation training classes because they:

  • Happen outside the organizational limelight
  • Can be ill-defined and cumbersome
  • Aren’t as sexy as facilitating a creative workshop

Here are two warnings:

  1. If the innovation training you’re attending goes right to how to have a creative workshop with executives, you’ve chosen the wrong training.
  2. If an outside company that is supposed to help with your innovation strategy goes right to the details of scheduling an in-person workshop, you’ve chosen the wrong partner.

If you find yourself in either of these situations, get creative about getting away FAST! – Mike Brown

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New-10Barriers-Cover-BurstDo you need a quick evaluation to understand your organization’s innovation challenges so you can create a strategy to boost new ideas and successful implementation?

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This free Brainzooming eBook highlights ten common organizational innovation barriers. A one-page evaluation sets the stage to quickly self-diagnose where to focus your organization’s efforts in customizing a successful innovation initiative.

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The Larry King Post View

Keep moving. At all costs . . . Since my flight was cancelled, I was going to hang on to my rental car while I went in to the airport to figure out my options. Then my standard mental travel checklist kicked in (which says she’d all things that will slow you down), and I dropped it off. If I’d have kept it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten home. #ChecklistsRule . . . Songs for an airport: Husbands, don’t let you wives bend over and show butt cracks.


There is more than one way to get home by 10:30 at night . . .  If I weren’t in shape, I wouldn’t have made that connecting flight . . . The food service areas at LaGuardia are incredible compared to how they used to be. Sorry I had to run by them on this trip . . . In a future life, I’m changing my last name to Gatechek. Our family crest will be a pink tag . . . I don’t wear headphones on planes. I like to make sure the engines are still running. Just in case.

Let me be clear: I don’t want a clear drink, and I’ll whine until I get the right one . . . I don’t think it’s possible to drink enough in first class to make up for the cost differential, in case you are keeping score . . . Candy Crush? I don’t know from Candy Crush . . . I write on planes the way some people play games. Or listen to music. Or watch videos. Or snore . . . You may need exactly the right conditions to be able to engage in a mundane activity. Or maybe you don’t . . . Apparently not everyone is familiar with the concept of time zones. Because if they were, the woman next to me on the plane wouldn’t have had to try to explain them to the person who kept calling her even after she hung up on them.


All this, and I still have to drive home.

What Made the Delta Customer Experience Work

I was trying to get back to Kansas City from the East Coast late Tuesday afternoon. Right before arriving at the airport, I discovered Delta cancelled my flight through Atlanta. After running to the Delta ticket counter, they directed me to the Special Services Line designated for those of us on cancelled flights. Starting out ten deep, I decided to try and get somebody from Delta on the phone and take my chances. I Googled and found a local Atlanta customer service number and called. Surprisingly, in almost no time at all, Tina answered the phone.


Tina was in an INCREDIDBLY good mood (despite the Delta system melting down this week), and I let her know that multiple times. After detailing my situation, Tina diligently went to work on my Tuesday options (beyond catching a flight at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning). She found a flight through LaGuardia, with a tight connection to Kansas City. We discussed the likelihood of making the connection given a potential delay on my initial flight. I said I thought it was worth the risk to be able to get home at the exact same time I was expected. Tina replied so charmingly, “I’m with you! I’m feeling this is going to work!”

I said let’s go.

Tina booked me in first class for both legs and checked me in for the flight. All by the time I made it up to the counter.

We’ll see how well Delta social listens. Because if they reach out to me about my Delta customer experience, I’d be happy to supply my confirmation number so they can track down Tina and do something incredible for her.

Amid what could have been a completely crappy situation, Tina put the Delta brand on her shoulders and delivered an exceptional customer experience. – Mike Brown

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What leadership skills are necessary to successfully champion a collaborative strategy?

A client fully immersed in developing and implementing a collaborative strategy asked that question. The task at hand is selecting “champions” from among the organization’s leadership team to move forward with strategic initiatives developed from the input of employees across the organization.

The question is a critical one that’s started emerging with a variety of client organizations. Since we’re involved at the heart of driving the process to develop a collaborative strategy, we navigate our way through the development process based on an organization’s specific culture enablers and quirks.

When we leave after the plan is completed, however, we’re finding many leaders aren’t prepared to implement a collaborative strategy plan. The big difference a leader has to account for is that even if an organization operates in silos, you can’t implement a collaborative strategy plan in a silo. Since so many people have a stake in a collaborative plan, those individuals need to participate in the implementation or at least have visibility to the plan coming to life.

This is a topic I’m turning my attention toward increasingly, because we HAVE TO help develop leaders that can successfully implement collaborative plans. It’s not necessarily a different type of leader than exists in business today. They are out there; we’ve worked with them across industries. The issue is it requires a leadership style that many organizations have never fostered.

4 Vital Characteristics of Collaborative Strategy Leaders


Here are four vital characteristics of collaborative strategy leaders:

#1 – They actively seek out the energy of the organization.

These leaders are continually reaching out in all directions for what people in the organization are passionate about and trying to make happen. They affiliate up, down, and across the organization; they reach out to all levels and areas to ask questions, listen, synthesize what they learn, and share updates back to all the areas that participate in implementation.

#2 – They integrate the organization’s energy and activities into the collaborative strategy.

You can’t simply send out a plan and think everyone will implement it. As a collaborative leader sees activity even remotely linked to the bigger organizational plan, they work to integrate it. That means finding points of connection, offering or suggesting adjustments that align activities to the plan to accelerate their momentum, and/or inviting cooperation among parties driving activities that should be in the plan.

#3 – They connect the people, parts, and pieces that will benefit each other.

This seems a like number 2, but there’s a difference. The previous characteristic is about connecting people and activities in the organization to the plan. This focuses on connecting people and activities to one another that are related. Creating these connections helps the organization move forward more quickly and dramatically with greater alignment.

#4 – They serve the people, the collaborative initiatives, and the organization above their own concerns.

You could put this first or last on the list. It’s the foundation of the leadership style. These collaborative leaders are motivated and act based on the overall good instead of what suits their own agenda or part of the company. They are in the collaborative strategy leader role for the organization’s overall success even if it means their own interests have to take one for the team.

There’s more to say on collaborative strategy leaders.

We’ll keep after this topic. This is a starting point, however, to look around and see which current and emerging leaders are ready to step into new roles championing collaborative strategy.  Mike Brown

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When you’re first launching some type of innovation initiative, what is the most important innovation strategy question to ask?

A. Who should participate in the innovation workshop?

B. What exercises will generate the strongest ideas?

C. What are we trying to achieve?

D. All of the above

What do you think?


If you’ve been a Brainzooming reader for any amount of time, you probably know we think “C” is the most important first innovation strategy question to ask.

We call C the granddaddy of ALL strategic thinking questions.

If you have a solid strategic perspective on what you are trying to achieve, you are in a position to apply all the other aspects of a solid innovation strategy process (such as who will participate and the best exercises) in a meaningful way. If you don’t start with what you are trying to achieve, you run the risk of coming up with innovative solutions to issues that can wind up being wildly off the mark.

Talking with a potential client about an innovation workshop, I cautioned that his organization wasn’t ready for a high-stakes innovation workshop just yet. There was an entire information gathering and analysis phase that was yet to be completed.

But even more importantly, from our relatively brief conversation, there were at least two (and maybe more) candidates for the answer to what they were trying to achieve. And not surprisingly, when we chose a different one of the possibilities for what they wanted to achieve, the range of innovation possibilities suddenly grew larger and different than they were imagining.

That was only possible, however, by spending a little time thinking about what they want to achieve. – Mike Brown

Facing Innovation Barriers? We Can Help!


Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

We have free Brainzooming eBooks for you to help navigate barriers and boost innovation!


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