Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 335 – page 335

*This is Holy Week for Christian denominations, so I hesitate to write in support of certain strategic benefits of sloth, one of the seven deadly sins, but here it goes:

There’s a phrase written on my office whiteboard: “Sloth is the new genius.” That was my reply once when someone complimented me on having apparently anticipated a project’s “new” new direction and deliverables well in advance.

Actually I had ignored several weeks of activity on the project’s “new” direction because it just didn’t make strategic sense. Instead, I stuck with the direction we’d been working on for months since it was clearly a solid approach. When everybody came to their senses and returned to the old plan (which was now the “new” new plan), it only looked as if I had been really smart and proactive. It was anything but that. I’d simply done nothing on the project and placed attention on other efforts while everyone else frantically tried in vain to change course.

Find yourself getting caught amid constantly changing direction? If you do and a new one doesn’t make sense, rather than going with the flow maybe you should just do nothing.

Be careful though, because as befits any deadly sin, there are major risks and potentially heavy penalties in a slothful approach. Guess wrong and if things don’t ultimately swing back to the original strategic path, you could find yourself corporately dead. But if you understand how the morphfiends in your business life operate and can read the situation correctly, your strategic slothfulness can keep you out lots of corporate silliness. It’s your call.

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A number of younger business people have asked over time about travel tips. I’m a moderate business traveler at most, but in honor of all the spring break vacations, these travel tips are good for any time your travel to make your trip easier and more  productive:

  • Think ahead about the best location to stay relative to where you will need the greatest time advantage (i.e., you have an early flight, so get closer to the airport or you’re making multiple calls during the day, so stay near the final one).
  • Visualize the days you’ll be away to think about what to pack – where will you be, who will you meet, are you likely to get your clothes dirty or unable to be worn again during the trip?
  • Try everything possible to just do carry-on luggage. Pick one color theme for the trip so you can mix and match with fewer clothes. If you do check bags, make sure that it doesn’t infringe on the time or travel plans of others.
  • Roll your clothes to maximize luggage space and use Downy Wrinkle Releaser to dramatically reduce ironing on the road. A related tip – if you have a clumsy spray bottle, pour its contents into a smaller 3 oz. bottle and carry the spray bottle that’s too big for the 1 qt. plastic bag without any liquid in it.
  • Always have an HBA bag already packed just for travel – don’t spend time to have to think through everything to take. Also have extra cell phone and computer cords dedicated to travel so you don’t have to think about remembering them.
  • Check in online, look for better seats, and print multiple boarding pass copies just in case you misplace one.
  • Carry a basic 6 foot extension cord with you. It can get you access to a full outlet at an airport because you can help two other people get access to power also.
  • Take water and something to eat on ANY plane trip – just in case. And once at the destination, assume you won’t get fed by someone else – take care of yourself, getting some familiar food to minimize the impact on your system of traveling.
  • To the extent possible, make plane time your own – use it for the tasks and activities you do best when uninterrupted. For me, that’s “creative time.” Be ready with reading material or something else to do with the inevitable down time you’ll have.
  • Figure out your surroundings – know where the nearest drug store, grocery store, convenience store and/or Wal-Mart is in case you have general needs, particularly after hours. Also ask first if the hotel has extra HBA items you may need.
  • Make sure the hotel clock is set properly to AM and PM times. Same with the alarm. And get a wake up call, just in case.
  • Don’t work every minute; get some time to relax & refresh spiritually! Try to see something new on every trip (but don’t deviate from your old standbys on crucial services, i.e. ground transportation, lodging, drug stores, etc.).

Thanks to the “editorial group” who reviewed the list and added some new wrinkles to it (got to get more of that Downy Wrinkle Releaser!). Please leave your comments on travel tips (here’s a website with some additional ones too), and safe travels next week and beyond! – Mike Brown

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative ideas! For an organizational creativity 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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.


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While in South Florida, I had dinner with Dave Brown (no relation) who introduced me to my wife and was our boss on the student activities board at Fort Hays State University. We later went to Southern Illinois University as a result of Dave introducing us to his former student activities boss from grad school.

It’s embarrassing that it’s been twenty years since we’ve seen each other because Dave was the first strategic mentor in my career. I learned a number of very important lessons from Dave that have served me incredibly well since; they can probably benefit you also:
  • Whenever you’re bringing even a few people together, it’s an event and you should make it special. Under Dave’s tutelage, I produced small coffee house performances and a 5,000 person concert. No matter how many people were attending, he emphasized making the event something memorable. That perspective shaped me to view every meeting or presentation, no matter how small, as an event where there’s a duty to create a memorable experience.
  • You have to plan and manage the whole host of details for any event. Dave demonstrated the discipline of planning and producing large events. It became quickly clear I wouldn’t get into concert production (Kansas City’s most well-known promoter told me to forget it, because “you start at the bottom and work your way down”). Yet when another mentor entered my career later, and our company started producing large events, I was able to step into a production and on-stage role seamlessly even though I was a market research guy. That opportunity has profoundly shaped my career the last 10 years.
  • Create a huge vision and stick to it amid all odds against you accomplishing it. Dave created an incredible, nationally-recognized concert series at a small Western Kansas college, attracting an unbelievable string of #1 chart acts. He did it with an often hostile university administration that completely missed the significance of his accomplishments in gaining attention for the university. It was audacious, but it was the right thing for the school, and Dave was going to make it happen no matter what.

There’s a host of other things in my life that Dave shaped, but within this short post, he accounted for me meeting my spouse, making the introduction that ultimately led to me getting a nearly free graduate education, turning me into an “event person,” and paving the way to successfully seize one of the biggest opportunities of my career.

All I can say is “thank you,” and let’s stay in better touch Dave. And if you have a strategic mentor and haven’t done either of these two things lately, I’d suggest you locate them and do the same!

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Another question at last week’s conference was on getting reluctant people to participate in strategic thinking efforts if they don’t want to spend the time or are skeptical about its value. Barring a management directive, you can’t force participation. Instead, consider two other approaches.

First is the Wednesday “Change Your Character” exercise. Professional event planners face similar challenges. They’re under the gun to produce great events and make sure that people want to show up for them. They accomplish this with their event by:

  • Having multiple events of different sizes at different times to attract different groups
  • Planning the event’s timing so it doesn’t conflict with other priorities
  • Tying the event to an already scheduled activity
  • Holding the event someplace new – in a more convenient or a unique location
  • Broadening the invitation list with new participants and guests who usually wouldn’t be invited
  • Confirming well-known guests personally and communicating their participation to others
  • Creating a compelling invitation – ensuring invitees know all event details and the benefits of attending
  • Inviting people in sufficient time for them to commit
  • Making it easy to RSVP in the affirmative
  • Calling invitees to confirm attendance and reminding them about the event a week before
  • Creating attractive networking and relationship building opportunities for attendees
  • Giving certain invitees specific roles to perform at the event

As usual, come up with 3 new ideas for each event planner technique to get people to come to a strategic thinking session.

Here’s the bonus on this challenge – Five approaches that we’ve used to secure participation from people reluctant to invest time on strategy:

  • Collect strategic input with online exercises – Allow people to participate without a meeting. Use this for SWOT exercises, gauging opinions, and soliciting perceptions on future industry dynamics.
  • Secure a little bit of time with a clear objective – If you can get 45 minutes of a group’s time, select an exercise and a prioritization approach that will fit the time. Make sure you’re clearly moving toward your objective within the session.
  • Do strategic thinking for non-participants – Find out what non-participating stakeholders want to accomplish and do the strategic thinking for them. Package the outcome in a recommendation or executive summary, pitching the results to demonstrate strategic thinking’s benefits.
  • Work with who you can get – If you have a small but diverse group interested in strategic thinking, hold a session with them. Ensure that you clearly deliver results and create a buzz about it afterward.
  • Reference sell – If someone senior has seen beneficial results from strategy efforts, ask them to contact your reluctant thinkers, recommending they find time because it’s worth it.

Use these five approaches and the event planner techniques to get your foot in the door for more strategic thinking within your business. And to gain a better perspective on the advantage of thinking about even small business presentations as events, check out tomorrow’s post.

Check out a compilation of “Change Your Character” creative thinking exercises and information on its use.  – Mike Brown


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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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Following-up yesterday’s post on the challenge of finding the next BIG idea, use this alternative approach to generate many ideas with potential for significant business impact:


1. Use market-driven insights, brand objectives, and strategic leverage points in your business to identify a few specific areas to consider for possible innovations. Think “a dramatically lighter, more compact laptop computer” instead of “big improvements in computers.”

2. With a cross functional group, employ a wide variety of ideation techniques focused on your innovation target. (Don’t know any techniques? Consider an outside facilitator, Google innovation creativity techniques brainstorming tool for hundreds of thousands of source links, or email me for a list.) Your goal should be generating and recording at least 1,000 possible ideas – in a day or over a period of time.

3. Have the same or another cross-functional group select 100 ideas seen as having potential promise for significant business impact.

4. Apply the 5 questions* below to each of the 100 ideas, generating at least one new idea from each question (net result – your 100 ideas should become 500+ ideas):

“How could we make this idea as _______________________?”

  • DRAMATIC as a Broadway show opening?
  • COOL as the design of Apple products?
  • EXCITING as a triple overtime basketball game?
  • SIMPLE as a baby’s rattle?
  • FUN as a blockbuster comedy movie?

* The important point is the question form; they’re designed to get larger and different thinking than is typical. If there are other “orange” words more appropriate to your product or services, revise the questions.

5. Using the 500 new ideas plus the original 100, have people select 75 that they believe have breakthrough potential. For more background on prioritizing ideas, visit this previous post.

6. Narrow the list further using a potential impact (minimal to dramatic) vs. implementation ease (very easy to difficult) grid. Be on the lookout for dramatic ideas with slight implementation difficulty. These could be strong prospects for big ideas whose implementation hurdles can give you a development window advantage versus competitors.

7. Pick a manageable set of strong ideas for development. No guarantees that you now have a big idea, but there’s a higher probability they’ll emerge from this type of effort.

Want another way to judge ideas with “BIG” potential early on? When someone says an idea aloud in a group, two reactions often suggest ones with great potential:

  • A noticeable “Oooooh” from others, usually followed by a breathless silence as the idea sinks in.
  • The idea’s met with loud laughter, signaling it pushes outside comfort zones and triggers a nervous response.

There you have it. Best wishes in finding a lot of ideas with GREAT potential! – Mike Brown


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Download the free Brainzooming eBook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative ideas for any other area of your life! For an organizational creativity 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 or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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At last week’s Market Research & Consumer Insights session, someone raised an interesting innovation issue – ideation efforts at her company are perceived as unsuccessful because everyone’s looking for the “next big idea,” and it hasn’t emerged yet from one of the innovation sessions.

Given the circumstances, it’s not surprising that a big idea is elusive. What’s happening at her company is a very subtle form of pre-judging new ideas that’s blocking creativity and a vibrant flow of ideas. Putting the phrase “next big” in front of “idea” sends a clear message: Don’t suggest an idea unless it’s going to be BIG.

The strategic challenge is nobody knows if a new idea will be BIG. And if that’s the standard before an idea can be voiced, chances are most ideas will never be mentioned. A big idea is a lot more likely to emerge from among a thousand possibilities than from a tiny trickle of ideas already pre-filtered (potentially multiple times) to only those that feel BIG before they’re even suggested.

Tomorrow’s post will instead highlight an alternative path intended to generate a lot of possibilities from which many potentially high impact ideas may emerge.

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I’m excited to have Brad Barash from Decision Insight in Kansas City as the first guest blogger. Brad and I worked together for a number of years, and he was the creative force behind a video called, “How to Kill a Business.” It remains one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of portraying research insights in a fun and incredibly memorable way using video. So when it comes to expertise in communicating research reports in unique, impactful ways, he knows from where he speaks!

When Mike asked me to write about communicating research results, one word quickly came to mind:


What a great word. So vivid. So unmistakable in its connotation.

I cannot think of a better word (unfortunately) to describe the typical research report. Too often, the “writing” in reports is simply regurgitation of the data on the slide (“17% of respondents _____”). That’s not delivering insight. That’s dumping data. (Regurgitating, dumping… may be coming from different places, but the result is the same!)

Our job as researchers and marketers is to tell a story, not report data. We should be writing the column on the sports page, not simply delivering the box scores.

There is a reason most reports don’t feel like a cohesive story. Researchers are too quick to create charts and graphs. Then, the charts and graphs are put in “chronological” order (i.e. question 1 on slide 1, question 2 on slide 2, etc.). When you do this, you are confined to a structure that is rarely conducive to telling the best story.

To go from data dump to story, use what I call the “note card puzzle” approach. First, scour the data, and write every key finding on a separate note card. At this point, it is OK to simply regurgitate the data point onto the card.

Then, physically put together the cards that “fit” together, or those that point to a consistent theme.

From there, come up with no more than 3-4 key themes, or big picture “insights.”

Next, re-sort the note cards across the key insights as follows:

  • Support one of the key insights
  • Contradict one of the key insights
  • Spurious (do not support or contradict any of the key insights)

Ideally, there are few contradictory data points. If they do exist, first find out if they truly contradict the insight. To understand how to sort through meaningful data interpretations, check out this article by Richard McCullough. (This should be required reading for any researcher!)

If there are meaningful contradictions, then the key insights likely need to be revised. Most often, however, you are left with some spurious data points that should be buried in the appendix. And, with the “supporting” data points, you have a structure that makes telling the story simple. Key insight 1 is _____, and here is the data that supports that; key insight 2 is ______, and here is the data that supports that, etc.

One final trick to telling a story: do NOT use statistics or data in your headlines. Quick Example:

  • Page 1 – Key Insight: The Jayhawks are a solid pick to win the National Championship this year.
  • Page 2 – Headline: They are a veteran team.
    Support charts/graphs: % of upperclassman relative to other contenders
  • Page 3 – Headline: They have won big games already this year.
    Support charts/graphs: # of wins vs. ranked teams
  • Page 4 – Headline: They are balanced, so they can overcome a poor game by any one player.
    Support charts/graphs: scoring averages of starters relative to other contenders
  • Etc.

Here’s hoping this example does not make any non-Jayhawk fans regurgitate! But, notice how there is no statistic in any insight or headline. The data that is reported simply supports the writing. Brad Barash

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