Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 327 – page 327
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Throughout January, a number of posts have highlighted potential challenges to consider embracing in 2008 to improve your strategy skills. Here’s a recap of the challenges:

So have you selected one or two to pursue? If so, that’s great.

If not, you still have plenty to time to choose something to work on for the remainder of the year to expand your strategic impact. Best wishes, and please share how it’s going and what you’re learning.

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At the conference I presented at this weekend, we worked on the “Change Your Character” exercise for a customer service example. One suggestion was that an internal customer service rep is similar to a babysitter in that they both have to manage bosses (parents) and front line employees (kids).

Sounds close, so if your challenge is helping customer service providers improve their effectiveness, work through how a babysitter handles a new situation:

  • Shows she really likes kids & can get along with them
  • Demonstrates a professional attitude
  • Makes sure she has clear instructions from the parents
  • Establishes her role right away with the kids
  • Focuses on the kids
  • Has strong listening skills
  • Knows positive ways to help kids follow rules
  • Displays maturity in handling difficult situations
  • Acts with firmness, but understanding
  • Ensures that kids are fed and comfortable
  • Can be flexible when necessary

As always, try to generate 3 new ideas for your situation from each of the babysitter’s behaviors. And remember, my mother lets me stay up to watch Craig Ferguson all the time. She really does!

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 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 is part 2 of highlighting some of the creative inspirations behind my presentation on “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation.” As the first reference below suggests, improving your creativity is linked to your ability to change, adapt, and customize various inspirations to address your opportunities.

  • The Remix Planet – My wife Cyndi wanted to go to Wired Magazine’s NextFest in Chicago in 2005. The admission included a free one-year subscription; one of the first issues featured the “Remix Planet.” This provided a nice way to talk about borrowing & morphing ideas for your own use!
  • Steve Farber – Steve is a great speaker that we’ve had for several executive management programs. He talked about reading magazines on the cutting edge (i.e. gaming, technology) to spot emerging trends headed for the general culture. We morphed the idea into taking any graphics-intensive magazine outside your field of expertise and looking through it page-by-page with a marker, writing down new ideas to address your challenges.
  • IDEO –A well-known design & innovation firm. One of the companies I work with did some brief exploration with IDEO. One of their approaches is prototyping – quickly doing something with an idea to make it more tangible and to be able to experience it. That’s been helpful in moving us beyond simply generating a bunch of ideas for a marketing manager and instead prioritizing them quickly and taking the first few steps with them.
  • “Made to Stick” – I’ve written about “Made to Stick” previously. Its six principles for making ideas take hold and flourish can benefit anyone trying to create change and implement new approaches.
  • Benjamin Zander – I’ve also written about Benjamin Zander earlier. Specific to “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation,” his discussion about simply replying “How Fascinating” to things that go wrong in life had a major impact. My natural personality is to become frustrated and complain when things don’t work. Zander’s challenge to identify what you’re learning from a bad situation has helped me to be calmer when things are frustrating and to genuinely look for the lessons God is trying to teach me when nothing seems to be going right. Click here for a blog post from PresentationZen with a quick overview of Zander’s key messages.
  • Serving Others & Helping to Make Them Successful – I’m an ardent believer in servant leadership. While the Bible is certainly the chief inspiration for that approach to life, the idea of improving your successfulness by figuring out how to make other people successful comes from Ziz Ziglar, an incredible speaker.

Which leads to a big thank you to Jessica Myers, a senior media relations specialist at Garmin, for the inspiration to start a blog. I saw her present at an IABC Communications Summit in October 2007 on how easy it is to get a blog started. I thought I’d check it out, and was launched into the blogosphere.

That’s how a presentation comes together, with a tremendous number of great inputs & ideas that get molded (ideally) into a cohesive message. Enjoy checking out the links as potential departure points for your own new inspirations. And realize – it’s actually more creative to REMEMBER your sources. That way you can go back and borrow from them again and again!

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A comment on Jan Harness’ Creative Instigation blog struck me as interesting: “Creativity is the art of forgetting your sources.” In the age of the remix culture, that’s very true, and I’ve been accused of it in presentations. While I try to credit sources of inspiration, you don’t often get to explain why something inspired you.

Saturday, I did “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation”for a great conference audience. Since that presentation is all about creativity, I thought I’d try to RECOGNIZE some of the inspirations behind that material over the next two posts. Here’s part 1 – check these out and see if they can help remove some NOs from your InNOvation efforts.

    • Max Utsler – In 2004, Max asked me to talk to his Kansas University class about innovation in marketing communications. That was the start – no Max, no presentation.

 

 

 

  • Chuck Dymer – I met Chuck in the mid 1990’s, and he’s been an incredible strategic & innovation mentor to me ever since. He’s a Master Trainer of Edward de Bono (the father of lateral thinking) methods who continually opens my eyes to new ways to think creatively. You name it – trait transformation, themed exercises, using toys, prioritization grids, plus-minus-interesting…I learned it all from Chuck!

 

 

  • James Lipton – As a collector of great questions, I love James Lipton’s segment on Inside The Actor’s Studio where he asks his guests the same questions about themselves eac show. His references to Bernard Pivot using the questions on French TV prompted some background research. There’s an interesting little history to the questionnaire that highlights that great questions always have a place.
  • Greenhousing – Chuck Dymer gave me a book from ?What If!, a UK-based innovation company. In it, they address greenhousing ideas, i.e. creating an environment that allows new ideas to grow & develop when they are at their most vulnerable. It’s includes questions to ask about new ideas that are certainly more productive than what I had typically been asking, “Why the *#!% do you want to do that?” Hey, we can all change!
  • Diet Dr. Pepper – My mom drank Dr. Pepper when I was growing up, setting the stage for me loving Dr. Pepper (now Diet Dr. Pepper). We never knew why, but when I was little, Dr. Pepper bottles were always sticky on the outside. Years later, the economist at work told me that he had previously worked at a Dr. Pepper bottling plant. Their method to control the volume in the bottles was to tap those on the bottling line that had too much liquid so that they would foam over. Mystery Solved! In any event, Diet Dr. Pepper has become my creative catalyst drink of choice.

 

 

  • “Get Out of the Mental Doldrums NOW!” Card – My Uncle Jerry was the most incredible Monopoly savant that I’ve ever played against. He had the distances memorized between properties, knew all the rents for each number of houses, and frequently bankrupted his competitors within 30 minutes. Suffice it to say, at that rate, we played a lot of Monopoly games over the course of an afternoon. This fueled my love for the game, and when trying to come up with a leave behind for the InNOvation presentation, the Get out of Jail Free card came right to mind.

 

In part 2, you’ll learn more about the creative inspirations behind “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation.”

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Two recent articles do a great job of addressing the real world benefits of having a strategic foundation in business.

In a recent Business Week column, Suzy and Jack Welch provide a brief rationale for the value of mission statements and then cover several steps toward developing a meaningful one that actually drives business decisions.

A longer piece in Fast Company issue 121 by Charles Fishman called “To the Moon in a Minivan” reports on NASA’s approach to develop, along with Lockheed Martin, the replacement spacecraft for the space shuttle. What makes it particularly interesting is the treatment of the strategic elements within NASA’s plan, providing a behind the scenes look at how a major enterprise applies strategic concepts to move an effort ahead.

We learn NASA’s “vision” statement (“To the moon, Mars, and beyond”) and how its effort is bounded by direct critical success factors such as keeping the spacecraft’s weight under 50,250 pounds, focusing on simplicity & utility, and exploiting pre-existing technology (even going as far back as the Apollo program) before inventing new solutions. Importantly, the program has a simple and very visual statement to align its development efforts. According to Ship Hatfield, the NASA project manager for the capsule, the Orion spacecraft is “more like a mini-van. It’s more of a vehicle to go to the grocery store in.” With a picture like this for a project team, making strategic decisions becomes much easier.

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Two recent articles do a great job of addressing the real world benefits of having a strategic foundation in business.

In a recent Business Week column, Suzy and Jack Welch provide a brief rationale for the value of mission statements and then cover several steps toward developing a meaningful one that actually drives business decisions.

A longer piece in Fast Company issue 121 by Charles Fishman called “To the Moon in a Minivan” reports on NASA’s approach to develop, along with Lockheed Martin, the replacement spacecraft for the space shuttle. What makes it particularly interesting is the treatment of the strategic elements within NASA’s plan, providing a behind the scenes look at how a major enterprise applies strategic concepts to move an effort ahead.

We learn NASA’s “vision” statement (“To the moon, Mars, and beyond”) and how its effort is bounded by direct critical success factors such as keeping the spacecraft’s weight under 50,250 pounds, focusing on simplicity & utility, and exploiting pre-existing technology (even going as far back as the Apollo program) before inventing new solutions. Importantly, the program has a simple and very visual statement to align its development efforts. According to Ship Hatfield, the NASA project manager for the capsule, the Orion spacecraft is “more like a mini-van. It’s more of a vehicle to go to the grocery store in.” With a picture like this for a project team, making strategic decisions becomes much easier.

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At the start of a recent conference call for an upcoming strategy planning project, it was clear I was expected to facilitate the discussion. That was my suspicion coming in, but with other responsibilities, there wasn’t a chance to prepare as much as I typically would. So after a brief introduction, all eyes and ears turned to me to start talking – gulp.

Here’s Your ChallengeWhat do you do when you’re not ready to speak or don’t know what to say?

Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” How about a middle ground? Next time you’re in a similar situation, think for a moment, open your mouth, and ASK a great question.

Doing this provides three clear, immediate strategic benefits:

  • You shift the focus from your lack of preparation and give the floor back to the other participants.
  • The other people feel better because they’re able to provide input.
  • By actively listening, you can pick out cues from their comments that can shape your next move – to talk, to change course, or to ask another question.

The strategic key is asking the right type of question.

Be ready by developing a quick list of 8 to 10 questions that you can rely upon with ease. Here are a few to get you started (along with when to use them):

  • Can you elaborate? (If someone has provided information, but you’re not clear what it means.)
  • How have you approached this before? (If people have previous experience they could share.)
  • What are your initial thoughts for how to approach it? (When participants have pre-conceived notions about what to do.)
  • Can you tell me more? (When someone has a wealth of information that hasn’t been shared yet.)
  • What’s most important for you to accomplish? (To understand the other parties’ motivations – and what matters in this situation.)

In this example, I chose the last question, allowing participants an opportunity to share their individual and collective objectives for the upcoming planning session. Their initial comments set up a follow-up question (What percent of the plan should be devoted to each of the 3 sections you’ve mentioned?), creating the opportunity to start capturing topic areas. A productive meeting was thus snatched from the jaws of unpreparedness with two great, simple questions.

So what questions will you be better prepared to ask next time this happens to you? – Mike Brown

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 brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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