It’s time for a strategic thinking rant.

Who screwed up the thinking of so many business people who believe making strong, tough decisions on cutting costs and saving their companies from closing, ISN’T strategic?


I’d like to meet the person responsible for messing up so many business people’s minds and set the person straight.

What Is Strategic and What Isn’t?

We covered this point last fall after a keynote presentation I delivered on Creating Strategic Impact. Last week, at the 10th annual CFMA annual Heartland Conference, the same point came up again during Q&A. Interestingly, both groups were comprised of financial leaders, but I don’t think that’s the issue.

So what is the origin of this mistaken belief about what’s strategic and what isn’t strategic?

I think it related to the mistaken thinking that “strategic” only pertains to:

  • Long-term issues, so anything addressing immediate survival isn’t strategic
  • Growth, so cost-cutting isn’t strategic
  • Innovation, so focusing and reducing what an organization does isn’t strategic
  • Operational and P&L issues, so when Finance takes the lead the business issues must not be strategic
  • Periods where a company has the flexibility to pursue new initiatives, so belt-tightening isn’t strategic
  • Situations where everyone is upbeat about a company’s prospects, so the dark days couldn’t be filled with strategic issues

Those are just six possibilities that come to mind.

All of these beliefs are incorrect.

As we tell clients and “Creating Strategic Impact” workshop participants, what determines what is strategic is whether it matters to the organization’s success and demands being addressed with insight and innovation.

And what matters for an organization can pertain to a variety of areas, including an organization’s core purpose, values, vision, brand, key audiences, ability to satisfy customers, financial prospects, resource /  raw material supplies, structure, or alignment.

Now, applying our standard for what’s strategic to the six mistaken strategic beliefs highlighted earlier, all of these are strategic:

  • Immediate decisions and implementation efforts to strengthen the brand and is performance
  • Vital cost-cutting efforts
  • Periods where an organization is having to make critical consolidation moves
  • Times when a staff area in the organization is best positioned to step up and lead change
  • Periods where a company has few options, requiring it be stellar in deciding and implementing
  • Situations where the future appears darkest and smart, dramatic decisions are vital

Now, don’t all of those seem like massively strategic situations?

You bet they do!

Creating Strategic Impact

If you feel as if your organization hasn’t been strategic the past few years, take a look back through our strategic lens. See if you don’t feel differently about what you’ve been facing and what fundamentals you’ve had to address.

If you’ve been fighting for survival, have made it through, and feel as if you’re ready to move form surviving to thriving, I’ll pretty much guarantee you’ve been strategic.

So cut yourself a break, and tell anyone who doesn’t think you’re on top of strategy to pound sand.

End of strategic thinking rant – for now! – Mike Brown

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If you’re inside an organization, see the need for change, and realize senior management isn’t leading innovation, what do you do?

Making Strategic Innovation Happen

I was talking with an attendee at the CFMA conference about this challenge. The session I presented on creating an innovative workplace culture prompted him to consider pushing the innovation possibilities his company SAYS it embraces, but really doesn’t (his perspective, not mine).

We talked after the session about initial first steps he might take to harness the expertise resident inside the organization to create change. His first inclination was gathering a group of predominantly creatively-strong co-workers, calling it the “innovation team,” and commencing brainstorming sessions.

4 Keys When Senior Management Isn’t Leading Innovation

Caution-TestHis idea makes sense on the surface.

And it certainly fits with my earlier advice to not wait around for your organization’s senior management to start innovating when you could start in your own area to get things moving.

But his strategy has some high-probability pitfalls. I suggested these fundamental modifications:

  1. Start by understanding where senior management has its biggest innovation priorities and focus on leading innovation to address those in significant way.
  2. Assemble a diverse team with creatively-strong individuals, but not too many of them.
  3. Don’t call it the “innovation team. “ That’s like putting a huge target on the initiative and everyone involved. Better to call it something less politically-charged, even if all the participants understand innovation is your objective.
  4. Reach out to someone expert at conducting these types of strategic innovation efforts to help design and facilitate the process.

I made it clear these weren’t self-serving recommendations, while acknowledging that given his description of the situation, we could definitely be of service in making this strategic innovation initiative successful.

Alternatively, I told him what I tell everyone. Nearly everything we’ve done is addressed on the Brainzooming blog.

But our expertise comes into play significantly in selecting the right exercises, knowing when they’ll work and won’t, designing the right environment, and filling the dual roles of being both vitally interested and disinterested – all at the same time.

If you’re facing a similar situation, reach out to us so we can help you accomplish your strategic innovation objectives, just as we hope to do for this firm.

It’s just one thing we do really well! – Mike Brown


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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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Ever feel like this quote from Andy Warhol is your life motto?

I first read this Andy Warhol quote on practicing what you preach in high school, and I’ve used it to try keeping myself on (or moving toward) the program ever since.

While your preaching and practices need to match up, it can be so very hard to do.


This is one of the things we’re talking about today in an updated workshop on “Aligning Your Life’s Work” I’m presenting for the Heartland Chapter of the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) Annual Conference in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Among the topics we’re covering in Aligning Your Life’s Work are:

Today’s workshop, while more focused on a personal strategic thinking approach, is a wonderful complement to yesterday’s closing session I presented to the CFMA group on “7 Keys to Creating an Innovative Workplace Culture.” The innovative workplace culture presentation is a new one building on writing I’ve been doing the past several years on better inviting, adopting, and recognizing ideas and strategic thinking from employees to direct business strategy.

For a variety of reasons, much of that content hasn’t appeared on the blog yet. Given the response from the CFMA group, however, it may be time to start sharing it with all of you as well.

And if your company or association would benefit from strengthening your innovative workplace culture, let me know. We’d love to develop a comparable workshop to help address your opportunities for innovation and creating strategic impact. – Mike Brown


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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation and strategic thinking success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.





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A big strategic statement (such as a core purpose, mission, or vision statement) shouldn’t simply be words on a plaque or page that don’t really shape day-to-day activities.

When you get a strategic statement right, you’ll use it on a daily basis to shape decisions, priorities, and approaches to what you do and how you do things.

For instance, your organization’s vision should make it clear what the bold promise is for its future. It should provide an attractive picture that helps employees better carry out their responsibilities to make the vision a reality.


Strategic Thinking Exercises – Testing Your Vision Statement Impact

How do you know if your vision statement is working as hard for you as it can?

Here’s one of our strategic thinking exercises to help you explore how well your big vision statement is suited to driving strategy and behaviors in your organization.

Ask these five questions:

  1. Is our vision statement primarily comprised of real, clear words people understand and use or is it primarily filled with business jargon?
  2. Is our vision statement one that could only describe your organization or could it apply to just about any organization?
  3. Does our vision statement sound like we talk inside our company or does it sound as if a consultant wrote it?
  4. Do employees know and understand our vision statement or is it generally a mystery to them?
  5. Does our vision statement shape big and small decisions or does it effectively sit on a shelf?

If your answers to the questions tend toward the first description in each question, you are on the right track. If your answers tend toward the latter description in each question, you should use additional strategic thinking exercises to explore how to better shape your vision statement. – Mike Brown

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There’s huge potential for video to capture and create powerful moments at an event as part of an overall content strategy.

Yet talking with an event organizer who had dispatched a staff member with a video camera to cover the organization’s annual event, the results were disappointing. While the organization’s event was emotional and transformative for attendees, none of that translated to the event video.

The problem was the staff member with a video camera was dispatched with no clear plan or a content strategy with direction on where to look for strong content creation opportunities.

Left to his own devices (literally and figuratively), the event video was meandering and lacked a strong storyline.

The answer is having a content strategy with a starting outline and plan on where to shoot video. There should also be a basic understanding of how to ferret out and take advantage of impromptu opportunities for great video. With the right video content strategy, a video shooter can capture a plethora of raw video footage suitable for multiple uses, including event marketing, highlight videos, and future content sharing.

cmworld photo

Content Strategy and Imagining Where Great Content Will Be at an Event

While every event is going to be different, here’s a list we created for the event organizer mentioned above to help a future video team in imagining where great content will be at an event.

We’re guessing, although it’s generic, this list will work as a starting point for many (most?) events.

Attendees and Groups

  • Attendees interacting with one another in new or very active ways.
  • Attendees voicing their ideas – whether about the conference content or personally important topics.
  • Movement or activity with the entire group or big segments of the group.
  • Opportunities to depict the entire attendee group together.
  • Reasons from attendees on why others should attend.

Emotional Content

  • Attendees having fun or experiencing other emotions during the event.
  • Casual and informal interactions.
  • Any kids or pets that are at the event.
  • Goodbye moments among attendees.
  • The most exciting moments during the event you can anticipate.
  • Content surprises the attendees don’t know about ahead of time.
  • Thank yous to attendees for attending.

Planned Content

  • Beginnings and endings of significant content sections.
  • Content from experienced speakers.
  • Content from genuine, less experienced speakers.
  • Moments tied to lyrics of songs you’re expecting to use with event video.

Behind the Scenes

  • Attendees getting to the event.
  • Attendees exploring the event space.
  • Extracurricular activities, excursions, or site seeing within the event.
  • Behind the scenes activities that reveal something about the event’s content.

Big Visual Impact

  • Shots of dramatic / cool aspects of the event space.
  • Instances where dramatic lighting will be used on stage or in other locations.
  • People with dramatic motions that don’t require words.

That’s our starting event video shooting list. What would you add to it? – 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 media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social  Strategy.”

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“How to Brand a Company – 7 Types of Brand Language You Should Use” is one of the most popular Brainzooming articles of the past couple years. This branding strategy article looks at seven different types of language (Simple, Emotional, Aspirational, Unusual, Connectable, Open, and Twistable) a brand should be using to fully communicate its brand promise, benefits, and overall messaging.

I received a tweet the other day asking for successful examples to back up the seven types of brand language identified in the post. Since I was working on a presentation I needed to complete ASAP, I was more than happy to abandon the presentation deadline and throw together an immediate answer to the tweet.

Yes, I clearly have a “focus” issue, but that’s a topic for another day.

Brand Language Examples

I created a quick grid (of course), and started filling in examples of each type of language, from both my own recollection and a few listings of popular advertising slogans.

7 Brand Langauage Examples

While not going for an exhaustive list of brand language examples, I noticed after tweeting off the jpeg of the table that “Just do it” from Nike showed up in two areas – both Simple and Aspirational.


Going back through the list of seven types of brand language, however, it seems that “Just do it” could also fit in several others:

  • Emotional (There is definitely an emotional component depending on its use)
  • Open (The phrase can mean multiple things from both a brand and a consumer perspective)
  • Twistable (It could be used as an admonition to someone else, a personal pep talk, plus serving as a brand promise)

The leaves only Unusual and Connectable as gaps for “Just do it.” While it’s never going to be unusual, it COULD be used in a Connectable fashion. One example would be to insert sports actions (i.e., slug, slam, dunk, pass, hurdle, putt, etc.) in place of “do.”

The Best Brand Language

This exploration raised two questions:

  1. Are there any other examples of brand language that uses five of the brand language types, and are there any that use more?
  2. If no other slogan checks off five different types of brand language on its own, does that mean “Just do it” is the best brand language ever?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about whether any other brand’s language works harder than “Just do it” does for Nike?

Because if there is one, I can’t name it. – Mike Brown

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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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This week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief newsletter focused on an intriguing article from Inc. online. The article identified reasons why major companies invest significant, seemingly unjustified amounts on startup businesses with scant revenues and no discernible business models.


The original article from Inc. by Dev Aujla claims major companies use these acquisitions as a new variation on research and development. A major corporation may be able to pick up a whole startup for many millions of dollars. Despite seeming like an excessive figure, the purchase price could still put the major corporation dollars ahead versus developing whatever the startup offers on its own.

Aujla highlights three reasons major companies target these acquisitions. They are typically looking for:

1) New learnings and research
2) The opportunity to more easily plug a hole in their product or market portfolio
3) Talent that moves them ahead in new areas

AEIB-GraphicThe folks at the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief used Aujla’s three items and offered strategic thinking questions for each of the three areas.

The strategic thinking questions provide a way for companies, even ones far beyond startup status, to develop strategies boosting their chances for acquisition or spin-off opportunities. Armada agreed to let us share the questions here for each of the three areas.

The remainder of this post with the strategic thinking questions comes directly from the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief newsletter and its “Inside the Executive Suite” edition.

Strategic Thinking Questions for Crafting Startup Strategy in Any Business

1. Developing New Learnings and Research

Many companies claim to be learning organizations. This is often professional development jargon for “educating the staff.” While education is important, it won’t prompt another company to pay a premium simply because your employees have current training.

Try this strategic flip, though. Instead of characterizing your company as a learning organization, characterize it as a “discovering” organization. With that change in strategic perspective, evaluate where you stand today and where you would like to be a year from now:

  • What is our organization discovering that no other party knows?
  • How many people inside our organization are hell-bent on discovering new technologies, capabilities, and possibilities to bring to market?
  • Who are the people and organizations outside our own that we are collaborating with on major discovery efforts?
  • What discoveries can we make happen at lower cost, with less risk and red tape, and at a markedly faster pace than bigger firms can?

These answers should stretch your organization to move beyond learning what everyone else knows into discovering breakthrough knowledge with real value to outside parties.

2. Filling Holes in Markets, Audiences, or Product Portfolios

Aggressively examine market, audience, and product strategy gaps at other organizations to discover missing elements you can fill through your own exploration.

  • Which organizations have bigger, more sweeping product visions than ours? What gaps exist in their product portfolios we might be able to supplement through our narrower focus on product and market development?
  • What markets adjacent to ones we serve include competitors with missing elements in their market, audience, or product mixes?
  • Are there companies in related or even far removed categories lacking strong platforms for innovation that our discovery strategy could readily address?

Don’t think about fixing everything with these discovery efforts. Focus on the minimum standard product or market development allowing another organization to readily fill a gap by eventually acquiring what you are doing.

3. Gaining New Talent

Consider how your organization pursues new talent. Is there a deliberate attempt to hire the types and caliber of people most ready to help your organization discover and grow along a valuable path?

While you may be hiring to clear standards, evaluate – if you haven’t already – who will be the “explorers” you need to discover the knowledge, markets, audiences, and products with the greatest potential value. Think about these questions:

  • What deliberate actions are we taking to bring on extraordinary discoverers?
  • What steps are we taking to identify and target emerging talent, i.e., people who aren’t as well known, but are about to become rock star talents?
  • What relationships are in place (or can we develop) with educational institutions that are doing new work and introducing new programs in areas of discovery for our organization? (BTW, you may need to be looking at grade schools, middle schools, and even home schooling programs.)

It’s clear that answering these questions won’t lead to simply placing online ads and waiting for your email inbox to fill with too many resumes! – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 


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