Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 345 – page 345

The new year is a time for reflecting on what’s really important. If I may get creative and turn that concept on its side a little, since articulating a new definition for “strategic thinking” (addressing things that matter with insight & innovation), I’ve been trying to get down on paper a list of strategic thinking questions whose answers would help shed light on, “What matters?”

What are great questions to best identify what’s strategic, i.e., what really matters in a particular business situation? This is a starting list of strategic thinking questions:

  • What does our brand stand for?
  • What do we most want to accomplish in the organization?
  • How would we describe our best, most valuable customers?
  • Who don’t we do business with?
  • Who do we win the most business from and why?
  • Who do we lose the most business to and why?
  • What are the biggest cost drivers in the organization?
  • What things would be most devastating (or most embarrassing) if our customers knew about them?
  • What’s the biggest unknown in our market?
  • What are the best opportunities available to us?
Feel free to start using strategic thinking questions from the list above. Feel even freer still to comment on other strategic planning questions you’ve used successfully to identify “what matters.” – Mike Brown

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Two celebrities have become well-known for being able to reinvent themselves when they hit a financial or creative dead end –Donald Trump and Madonna. You can go to school on their rebranding techniques and apply them in business when you have a brand that needs to be refreshed. Here are approaches they’ve used successfully that you can apply in the Change Your Character exercise.

Donald Trump:

  • Host a TV show
  • Fix your financial situation
  • Put your name on something new
  • Do a BIG deal
  • Fire somebody
  • Start a new TV season
  • Pick a verbal fight with another celebrity to generate attention
  • Change out the important people in your life
  • Redevelop a prominent property


  • Change your look
  • Change your wardrobe
  • Do something controversial
  • Explore a new style of work / expression
  • Create news through your unusual lifestyle
  • Use multiple media to get your message across
  • Write a book
  • Incorporating new cultures or points of view
  • Adopt a child

So try these approaches as you brainstorm how to get your brand back in the news and to the top of the charts in customers’ eyes.

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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Going back through some old files, I re-discovered the following self-assessment that was prepared for my team 13 years ago this month in response to a question about what my expectations were of them. It’s reassuring that with minimal updates, the list of personal checkpoints stills works for our team today. Having stood the test of a dozen years, here it is for you to use as a self-check on your orientation and performance or for adapting and sharing with your own team.
Self-Assessment – You should be known for . . .
  • Stepping up to challenges as they arise with your time, effort, learning, innovativeness, etc.
  • Honesty–with yourself and with everyone in the department and the company.
  • Attention to detail and accuracy in everything that crosses your desk.
  • Absolute integrity in using and reporting information.
  • Asking and answering for all analysis: “What does it mean for our brands, customers, competitors, and/or the market?” and “What actions do we need to take to realize an advantage from it?”
  • Making communication clear and simple–getting to the point without jargon and unessential information. Constantly work to improve both oral and written communication skills.
  • Completing assignments in a timely manner.
  • Being innovative–what can be done differently to increase efficiency, productivity, value, and revenue or reduce costs?
  • Being above reproach in dealings with all parties within and outside of the company-how you conduct yourself reflects on you, your co-workers, the department, and the company.
  • Using the knowledge and expertise of others inside and outside the company; recognize and acknowledge their contributions.
  • Sharing your own knowledge and expertise with others, i.e., what were the five most important things you learned at a seminar or from a book you just read.
  • Being a leader–even if you are not personally heading a group or project.
  • Being oriented toward helping people solve problems.
  • Embracing technology and using it to further profitable revenue.
  • Solving problems if they arise.

Originally delivered 1/09/95

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We attend an early Sunday mass that doesn’t have a choir but has an organist. It’s intriguing (okay…annoying) though that she can’t actually play the organ. This was quite evident recently when she couldn’t get through well known Christmas carols without fracturing them – mangled chords, wrong notes, incorrect tempos. Even though all the inputs to playing better are right in front of her (since the organ has every note needed to play songs correctly), she can’t identify the answer and properly execute it.

All of us face similar situations – everything to solve a problem or realize an opportunity is at our disposal, but successfully identifying & executing the right answer eludes us. It’s easy to figure out the organist’s options to improve; it’s tougher when we’re in comparable situations. To help, here are 13 things the organist could do. Next time you’re similarly stuck, see if you can generalize from her potential options and help yourself by:

  1. Getting more training – take lessons or do homework to increase knowledge and skills.
  2. Practicing more – don’t stop preparing until there’s adequate performance.
  3. Simplifying the situation – look for easier answers (i.e. only play the melody) to better execute.
  4. Improvising – change what the possible answers can be (i.e., don’t play a strict melody line, but at least do it intentionally!)
  5. Getting help – have someone more skilled assist (i.e., she could play melody and somebody else the chords).
  6. Using a different tool – identify alternative resources that can help improve the probability of success (i.e., a keyboard with pre-programmed songs).
  7. Rearranging – find an alternative arrangement that’s easier to perform.
  8. Using a different talent – rather than stick with what isn’t working, use another talent to address the challenge (i.e., singing a cappella to provide music).
  9. Doing something less familiar to the audience – in order to alter audience expectations, perform alternatives that are unfamiliar to the audience.
  10. Delegating / finding a replacement – have someone who can perform do it successfully.
  11. Suggesting alternatives – address the underlying need (musical accompaniment) in a better, alternative way (i.e., playing pre-recorded music).
  12. Doing less – work to lower expectations in certain areas (playing several songs adequately) while over-performing in others (only play one song really well, and repeat it as necessary).
  13. Quitting – Accept that you can’t be successful, and move on to other endeavors better suited to your talents.

I do admit that quitting (#13) was the first option that came to mind for her. But the important point is that any of us have more than a dozen options available when we’re beating our heads against the wall without success. Oh by the way, if you can beat your head against the wall at a reasonably steady tempo, please get in touch with our pastor. There may be a Sunday morning gig in it for you!

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I’m a big believer that bold distinctions made between strategic and tactical people are nonsense. The contrasts are mutually perpetuated by “strategic thinking” people who want to seem “important” and by “tactical, action-oriented” people who don’t want to expend the mental energy (or give up the apparent decision making freedom) to do strategic thinking and connect their activities to an overarching business purpose.

For me, there’s a very fuzzy space between strategic thinking and tactical implementation. Strategy is the connecting principle that ties tactics together. Tactics are absolutely necessary to successfully carry out a strategy.

As a result, neither strategies nor tactics can be successful without the other, and business people can’t maximize their contributions & success by paying attention to only one of them.

Here’s Your Challenge– Do you view yourself (and the business world) as either strategic OR tactical? If so, abandon that view and focus on increasing your overall business contributions. Here are a few straight forward tactics you can use to increase your contribution to successful business strategy in very subtle ways:

  • Show up at a meeting with a proposed agenda, suggested topics, and/or relevant information. Often even the person calling a meeting isn’t properly prepared. There have been countless occasions where by showing up with a little pre-thought and something written out, a person not leading a meeting has inserted themselves to set the meeting’s (and the ultimate project’s) direction.
  • Offer to take and report out the notes. Somebody said that “history is written by the winners.” What better way to help solidify a winning business position than by offering upfront to write the meeting’s “history.” This provides the opportunity to shape the messaging and direction coming from the meeting, setting the stage for future steps.
  • Get to the whiteboard first. If you can’t write the history, at least do the reporting. Picking the right time to go to the whiteboard or the easel pad provides the opportunity to visually depict what the meeting looks like. Within the bounds of being an above-board, unbiased reporter, you can choose what goes up for display, how it’s worded, and begin inserting a specific point of view.
  • Volunteer to lead an analytical effort. This can be more challenging and more work, but taking the lead on identifying and delivering insights is an outstanding way to shape its progress and direction.
  • Volunteer to develop a draft hypotheses / business model. Potentially more involved, framing a starting hypothesis or model allows you to influence overall thinking on the effort.

Doing a great job on any of these options will start to make your co-workers view your business contributions in a new and different (and probably a more strategic) light. Just make sure that if you pick “getting to the whiteboard first,” you take a moment to select a dry-erase marker!

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A great technique to generate new creative ideas is delegating your challenge to someone else…say, Mary Ann or Ginger or the Professor from “Gilligan’s Island.” Too good to be true? It’s not. Here’s how it works:

  • State the business challenge that you’re addressing – it could be an opportunity, a problem, a new process or approach, etc.
  • Pick who you want to have work on your situation. This could be a real person, a fictional or cartoon character, or even another business.
  • Once you’ve identified who you’ll put on the job, list 8 to 10 approaches that the person, character, or business uses to address opportunities or challenges.
  • Using each of the 8 to 10 approaches, apply them to your situation to generate at least 3 new creative ideas for solving it. The result should be at least 30 new ideas to consider for your situation. (For ways to prioritize, check out this earlier post on narrowing ideas.)

The reason that the seven castaways are such good people to delegate to is because they are so different (thus approaching challenges differently) and still relatively well-known as pop culture icons.

Typical approaches that surface for the castaways to address situations include:

  • Make something out of coconuts & bamboo (whatever is available)
  • Create a new invention
  • Perform an experiment
  • Plot an elaborate plan
  • Get somebody else to do your work for you
  • Play / act out a different character
  • Flirt with someone (use your talents to get your way)
  • Pay money to get what you want
  • Sleep with a Teddy Bear (do something to improve comfort)
  • Look out for the benefit of others

You can use this technique in many situations to help you generate new creative ideas from very different perspectives!

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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