Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 327 – page 327

Today’s post for “Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t” Week examines ways to look at your market and business to take advantages of opportunities where your competitors aren’t located.

Many markets, especially in the business-to-business arena, are relatively conventional, i.e. they don’t necessarily have a lot of breakthrough, cool new developments such as the Apple iPhone. Even in these cases, however, there’s still a great opportunity to make a mark because in a conventional market, small doses of unconventional can really stand out. Sometimes, dramatic change comes from doing simple things that nobody else is doing.

Here are a few questions to ask and answer to help identify ways to be more unconventional in your own market:

  • What are things that customers have been requesting that we’ve yet to deliver?
  • What are the most frequent customer-precipitated exceptions to our product or service?
  • What are the most frequent employee-created exceptions to our product or service?
  • What are the best, most successful companies (regardless of industry) doing to grow customer relationships with their brands? How can we emulate them?

If a competitor isn’t already doing your answer to one of the questions above, you’re set with a potentially great opportunity for an unconventional move.

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This week’s Brainzooming posts are dedicated to one of my favorite all-time players, Wee Willie Keeler. You’ll learn more about him Wednesday, but the reason he’s a favorite is because of his famous strategic quote: when asked about his hitting approach, he replied, “I hit ’em where they ain’t.”

That strategy works in so many ways, we’ll use it as the inspiration for the posts all week. Today’s turns the quote around, concentrating on not getting hit where you ain’t looking.
I spoke a couple of years ago on the same program as the then-COO from Sprint. During his presentation, he highlighted the incredible number of photographs being taken and sent via cell phones on a monthly basis.

It would have been interesting to sit inside Kodak in the years leading up to the emergence & explosion of this capability to see if cell phones were ever considered as competitive threats. I suspect they weren’t, especially since a Kodak exec I saw presenting at a Frost & Sullivan conference in early 2007 couldn’t get beyond his focus on printing things. There wasn’t much recognition of alternative means of communicating and transmitting images and the impact on Kodak.

The scary implication for any business is that not all future (or even current) competitors will “look” like your company. Cell phones don’t look like cameras, and the images that they produce aren’t too conducive to printing. Yet, for capturing & sharing images, they’re a lot more functional than a traditional camera (or even an electronic one).

How can you begin to assess and project the nature of future competitive threats. Beyond cursory exploratory market research techniques, here are several questions to consider:

  • What benefits does your company deliver? If you didn’t deliver them, who else currently would / could deliver them?
  • What if your company never existedhow would customers satisfy their needs?
  • What if your industry never existedwhat alternatives might develop to satisfy needs?
  • Who are the niche players in your markets today that could grow in prominence? How might they be defining your business for you right now?

We used the first benefits-oriented set of strategic questions at a Kansas City Business Marketing Association in looking at how Apple had disrupted other markets, yet could be disrupted itself. The strategy exercise interestingly yielded Microsoft, Garmin, YouTube, and Louis Vuitton as all potential competitors to deliver the same benefits Apple does. That’s quite a wide-ranging list!

This type of strategy work is challenging and highly speculative. But it pays to consider, anticipate, and prepare for as many competitive possibilities as you can imagine.  – 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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you develop a stronger competitor profile and create business building strategies to target big competitors more successfully.

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Here’s one of our fun strategic planning activities: ice breaker questions for a moderately sized group (15 – 20 people) that doesn’t know each other that well. These ice breaker questions create interaction and put a new twist on the standard, boring personal introduction at meetings.

Give every attendee a sheet with a single, different question and a list of everyone in the meeting. As people gather, each person attempts to ask their question of as many other people as possible, recording the answers on the sheet.

Then during the introductions, instead of people telling about themselves, the entire group reports the one piece of information that they have on the person in a rapid fire format, providing a brief and varied introduction.

You can limit the introductions to 30 or 45 seconds to keep the report out moving; if not, it can take 90 to 120 seconds per introduction.

One key to the lighter side of these ice breaker questions is to mix up the types of questions and have some fun with them. There may some personal, but not too invasive questions (i.e., How far do you drive to work?) along with ice breaker questions that can tie to the person who is doing the asking. I once had a rather notorious beer drinker ask each person about favorite hangover remedies; he had a blast with it as did the people he was asking.

For a first hand account about fun strategic planning activities and an experience with using this one in particular, Jan Harness, the Chief Creative Instigator, reports on her participation in this ice breaker exercise at an event we led.

By the way, do you dream in color or black and white? – Mike Brown


fun-ideas-strategic-planningLooking for More Ideas to Make Strategic Planning More Fun?

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning

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Speaking to a graduate level class on innovation several years ago, we covered the concept of borrowing ideas from other sources, looking for opportunities to change & incorporate them into your business.

One student, a communications professional at a major local company, said his department held “Plagiarism Fridays.” They were trying to upgrade their marketing effort, and Plagiarism Friday was a bit of a show-and-tell to get employees looking at strong creative from other industries, thinking about how their company could learn from it.

Here’s a way to take this approach and adapt it for your own business:

  • Schedule time and ask employees to look for examples of great ideas to share. The only rule – they have to be from outside your industry or competitive set.
  • Have participants present the selected ideas – perhaps 2 or 3 pieces per session.
  • Get each person to do a quick personal assessment. For each idea, identify what’s strong, what’s weak, what’s intriguing or unusual, and a recommendation for how your business could incorporate some learnings from it. Share the assessments as a group.
  • Select one of the sample ideas and using the input from the assessments, have the group apply it to one of your business challenges to see what possibilities arise.
  • Select at least one new possibility and do something to advance it.

Plagiarism Friday sounds like a great idea to me, so…go ahead, steal it and take it to work tomorrow (just be sure to change it and make it better)!

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Many people struggle with selling intangible ideas, benefits, and points of view. If you have a discomfort with abstractions, it’s difficult to modify your communication style to create a picture in someone’s mind of something that doesn’t physically exist.

One person who does a wonderful job of that on a weekly basis is Garrison Keillor along with the cast of “A Prairie Home Companion” radio program. Every Saturday afternoon, they bring to life a whole host of situations, characters, and even products that are completely fictional. So for today’s Change Your Character exercise, let’s delegate our task of conveying intangible ideas to them and see how the cast would approach the task by:

  • Writing a script
  • Incorporating rich, vivid language
  • Featuring reoccurring characters
  • Employing a variety of entertainment formats
  • Telling stories
  • Acting out skits with multi-talented performers
  • Booking guests to help act out the stories
  • Interviewing guests
  • Intermixing real and imagined entities (sponsors, characters, etc.)
  • Mixing comedy and drama
  • Incorporating sound effects
  • Having a band play music and theme songs
  • Performing in front of a studio audience that provides real reactions to the material

Step right up to the microphone and share three new possibilities for helping your audience visualize intangible ideas based on each of the techniques above. If you need an additional push, try some Powdermilk Biscuits – they “give shy persons the strength they need to get up and do what needs to be done.”

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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At a recent dinner, a colleague was talking about a wine-tasting class his son had taken. One of the most memorable wines he tasted was creatively named “Cat’s Pee” – I kid you not. Always trying to have a business orientation, the conversation suggested this potential process map, drawn on the paper tablecloth at dinner. Happy April Fool’s Day!

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It’s the time of year when many annual reports are published. If your company publishes one, take advantage of the opportunity to get a better sense of “what matters” in your business. Read the management letter where the company’s senior leadership goes on record with its take on past performance, future aspirations, and the priority efforts that are expected to get your company where it’s going.

Afterward, ask yourself how your efforts fit with and contribute to the priorities. If you don’t clearly see or can’t logically make connections to what you’re focused on, you’ve got some work to do to link to what matters in your business.

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