Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 345 – page 345

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


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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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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


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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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Pineapples aren’t necessarily associated with Miami. But pineapples are symbols of hospitality, and that was in full evidence at the marcus evans Market Research & Consumer Insights conference yesterday in South Florida.

As conference chairperson Dr. Daniel Thorpe from Wachovia pointed out, there was a lot of incredible research talent in attendance! Beyond Dan’s look at ROI (which will be featured in the May 2008 Harvard Business Review), there were strong presentations from:

  • Jennifer Nelson (J&J Consumer Healthcare Products) – Developing new insight capabilities
  • Kimarie Matthews (Wells-Fargo) – Using Customer Loyalty to drive change
  • Nancy Robinson & Kate Muhl (iconoculture) – Insights on Moms among young boomers, Gen X, and Millennials
  • Dave Mazur & Dan Teeter (Nissan North America) – Transforming the market research function

I covered strategic thinking for market researchers and will be covering some specifics from the conference here soon.

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I’m at the marcusevans Market Resarch & Consumer Insights conference today talking about strategic thinking and the opportunity that market researchers have to contribute to broader strategic success in their companies. One of the keys to delivering on this promise is to have strong relationships with your key market research partners.

Several years ago, I sat down with our main market research company to address what was wrong in our strategic relationship. Taking the approach that we both had faults leading to problems in our relationship was a constructive way to get both of us back on track. The “Ten Things” list can work for almost any market research relationship. Fell free to use or adapt it with your marketing partners:
Ten Things – The Foundation to a Strategic Research Relationship
  1. Be a “thought partner” with us. This is a two-way street – we’ve got to treat you like one before you can do what it takes to become one.
  2. Your energy and passion for what you do (and your intellectual curiosity) need to be evident.
  3. There’s a difference between researchers who think they’re researchers and researchers who see themselves as business people. It’s tough to explain the differences, but they’re readily apparent. We need researchers who think like business people if we are to be successful.
  4. Understand our business more deeply than from just the numbers that you see. If not, we’ll never get to where we must go.
  5. Bring creativity to questioning, analysis, and reporting (and any place else in the process). That means generating new ideas to produce breakthroughs on mutual efficiencies, high impact insights, easy to grasp reporting, and actionable recommendations.
  6. We must put information into context. We can’t afford to just report numbers or even changes in numbers. We need to get to insights. What does it mean? What do we do about it?
  7. We have to get beyond reports that show charts and have bullets that merely say what is on the chart. We have to offer our audiences relevant insights. That takes pulling information from various sources (including people) and analyzing, talking, and identifying relationships among everything we’re looking at.
  8. Look outside our industry or outside research circles for ways to report information. Review Edward Tufte, Richard Saul Wurman, and others. Are there movie scenes that help us get our points across? Magazine ads? Always ask the question: “What’s that like?”
  9. Communicate proactively – let’s make sure we talk and we’re all clear on things before moving ahead. That may mean a phone call instead of an email.
  10. Exhibit strong attention to detail – that way we can get beyond fact & spell checking and spend our time on delivering insights.

If you can get to this point with your research partners, you’ll truly be doing COOL WORK that matters and that can change your company and your industry. WOW!!!

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It’s early March, so spring HAS to be just around the corner (I HOPE!). Spring’s a time for new growth as farmers focus on the upcoming growing season, ensuring that they’re taking all the necessary steps to increase the yield from their efforts. So thinking about business opportunities that you need to grow and exploit, who better to delegate your creative thinking to than a farmer who is experienced at proven ways to grow and harvest successfully.

Remember, use the great growth techniques below that farmers use and generalize how you may be able to apply each of them in at least 3 ways to generate new creative ideas for growth in your opportunities.

  • Researches the best crop to plant for the land & environmental conditions
  • Prepares the soil
  • Plants the crops at the proper time
  • Waters the crops to stimulate initial growth
  • Fertilizes to ensure maximum growth
  • Protects the growing crops against insects and other adverse conditions
  • Buys crop insurance in case problems environmental problems develop
  • Harvests the crop when it’s ready
  • Follows market information on crop prices to know when and/or how to sell what’s harvested
  • Sells the harvested crops
  • Rotates crops periodically to keep the soil healthy

Happy growing with your new creative ideas; remember it’s less than a month until spring!

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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