Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 327 – page 327

It’s surprising how many readers go right along with popular business books that report historical case studies as if it were always evident that they’d succeed. It’s easy to pick winners when “the game” is over. It’s much more difficult while the game is still going. Having been in big corporation most of my business life, it’s clear that things which look very calculated after the fact often depend on a variety of very fortunate, difficult to repeat circumstances, for success.

You can glean additional value from case study winners by figuring out how the success could be repeated; in essence, what are the strategic bread crumbs that would help find your way down the success trail again? Here are four questions to identify strategic bread crumbs:
  1. What’s a generalized description of the case study, i.e. what were they trying to accomplish and what other businesses have similar situations?
  2. What questions would you ask and answer to recreate the successful situation?
  3. What were the critical success factors – things that had to be there for success or would have thwarted success had they been present?
  4. What steps would it take to recreate the situation or move it into another business?

Also use these questions in your own situations to create the strategic bread crumbs to lead you back to repeat successes.

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This fun Friday (or any other day) exercise turns ho-hum ideas into bigger, more dramatic ones. We call the exercise “Shrimp” because it’s typically applied to small, leftover ideas (much like Japanese Steak House chefs save a few shrimp to throw at the meal’s end). Here are the steps:

1. Take 5 or 10 of your smallest, weakest, or run-of-the-mill ideas to reach your business objective.

2. Select an authority figure (it can be a boss, the board of directors, or a regulatory body) that could shoot down any new possibilities emerging from these ideas. The more distinct and well-known the authority’s personality the better.

3. Use your starter ideas to create incredibly outrageous possibilities by asking, “How could we turn this idea into something that supports our objective but that our authority figure would COMPLETELY HATE or would make them THROW UP?” Remember, you’re going for GENUINE ANGER, not just discomfort; it’s okay to think inappropriate, embarrassing, even illegal possibilities. Go for at least 3 – 5 new possibilities for each starter idea.

4. Then, for each new outrageous possibility, ask the following question to bring it back to reality: “How could we carry out this concept in ways that are acceptable, realistic, feasible, or actually able to be implemented?” Don’t settle for less than 10 new concepts from each outrageous idea.

These new, more mainstream ideas will benefit from being stretched beyond the boundaries of normal thinking. They typically take on a surprising richness and depth by having been run through “Shrimp.”

Also by encouraging your group to engage in thinking outside conventions under which it normally operates, the exercise creates both great ideas and great fun! What more could you want for a Friday!

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I’m so excited to have Barrett Sydnor, president of Sydnor & Associates, as today’s guest author. We go back nearly 15 years, and I’ve always enjoyed his business writing tremendously. Today he addresses objectivity within strategic planning; he’ll also be back next month with a post on “invented second.”

David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising, quotes the father of modern consulting, Marvin Bower, as defining marketing as “objectivity.” If so, then objectivity is one of the most important qualities that any good strategic marketing planning process must have. But it is tough to do for two reasons.

One is that most people simply aren’t built that way. A few years ago I led a planning session for a company where I wanted people to think from the outside in (no big insight I know, but bear with me). To encourage that, they were not allowed to use first person references when speaking about the company – no “we” or “our.” It had to be third person, as an outsider would refer to it. To enforce it, we charged a quarter each time they referred to the company in first person. By the end of the session we had collected a very considerable sum for charity. One participant gave up about one-third of the way through, tossed a ten dollar bill in the pot, and said “I hope this gets me through the end of the day.”

These were smart people, good strategic thinkers, but they could not totally divorce themselves from thinking of the situation at hand in a first-person way.

The second reason that objectivity is tough is because often the objective person is seen as being negative or cynical. They are accused of not being a team player. And it is true that sometimes the approach and language of objectivity sounds negative and cynical when it is intended as skeptical or cautionary.

So how do you build objectivity into the planning process? One way is to encourage something I would call “passionate objectivity.” This is a quality or skill set that the best news reporters are heavily endowed with.

Those reporters approach stories with enthusiasm and an open mind, but they look for facts -verifiable facts – to back up or refute the opinions and subjectivity they encounter along the way.
An exercise that you can do to ensure that a planning recommendation is based in objectivity is to treat it the way a reporter would (should) treat a news story.

  • Write down the questions they would ask. Include the basic neutral, fact-collecting ones and the pointed ones that try to dig deeper.
  • Determine who they would go to as sources on the story, both inside the organization and outside sources—competitors, independent industry experts, academicians. Figure out what customers they would talk to.
  • What would they ask each of these sources and what would the answers be?

If you can answer those questions with good reliability and it still points favorably to your recommendation, you’ve had a good test of your processes objectivity. If you don’t know what the answers would be or the answers don’t square with the recommendation, maybe it’s time to go back and put some more passionate objectivity into the process. Barrett Sydnor

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Amid too much jargon, the state of business communication isn’t stellar. We could all benefit from delegating a writing assignment to a great reporter to see how they’d approach it to ensure it’s as clear, concise, and memorable as possible. Here are some of the things a good reporter is going to concentrate on during a writing assignment:

  • Interview people directly involved in the story
  • Use multiple sources of information
  • Write in order to gain attention right away
  • Put the most important things at the start of the story, followed by supporting material, then background information
  • Address fundamental questions – who, what, where, when, why, and how
  • Use specific, concrete examples
  • Have an editor who reviews it and makes changes

In addition to identifying at least three new ways to incorporate each of a reporter’s approaches to improve your writing, here’s a bonus book recommendation – do yourself a favor and track down a copy of “How to Take the Fog Out of Business Writing” by Robert Gunning and Richard A. Kallan. It’s a precursor to “Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide” and is a short, straight-forward guide to dramatically simplifying your business writing.

Check out a compilation of “Change Your Character” creative thinking exercises and information on its use.  – 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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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In business, people typically spend time thinking about arguing and defending their own points of view. It’s rare though when someone spends time thinking about how they’d argue against themselves.

So next time you’re advocating a particularly contentious position, grab somebody who is less tied to your positions and swap sides – have them argue for your position while you challenge their pro arguments smartly and strongly. Seeing what new logic they develop to defend the position you really hold can help unlock new perspectives you can use later.

Debating against yourself (or at least your viewpoint) is a fantastic way to challenge and shore up your thinking before somebody else forces you to do it on the spot.

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The title may seem harsh, but it’s a safe premise: NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOU.

There are probably some exceptions (your parents, a loved one, a few altruistic souls), but unless you’ve EARNED the opportunity for someone’s sustained interest, NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOU! This reality is important because most brands have not created important enough relationships with customers for them to be more interested in the brand than themselves.

The questions to ask for any brand communication are:

  • How does this information benefit our audience? AND
  • Why should they care about it?

A brochure draft recently came to me for review. Technically it was written fine, but it contained mind-numbing details about the brand’s history, awards, and operational statistics. The questions above obviously weren’t considered. It was only about what WE wanted to say. There was no recognition of the utter lack of benefit for our customers, and the near certainty that they wouldn’t care about a history lesson on us.

Recently, I’ve received the other end of this treatment as well. A service provider repeatedly leaves me voice mails about his “concerns” about us. Remember, we’re paying his company money to provide us a service. Quite frankly, his concerns aren’t at the top of my list, i.e. I DON’T CARE ABOUT HIM! At least not until after he expresses interest in what benefits us.

Use these two questions liberally when providing information and building relationships. Think and act outside in, seeking first to understand and benefit others. In this way you can hope to win the coveted position in the minds and hearts of customers where they might genuinely care about you.

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  • “Strategic planning is worthless – unless there is first a strategic vision.” – John Naisbitt
  • “A large number of execution problems are really direction problems.” – Geoffrey Moore
  • “What’s the use of running when you are not on the right road?” – Unknown
  • “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” – Lewis Carroll

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