Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 350 – page 350

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


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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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Auguste Escoffier, a nineteenth-century French food connoisseur, popularized the idea that something should be served between main courses in a formal meal to clear the palate, allowing the diner to fully enjoy the next course as if it were the first. Because of his efforts, lemon sorbet has become the popular means to cleanse palates.

A Creative Thinking Lemon Sorbet

The idea translates to creative thinking also. As many topics as we generally have thrown at us to process mentally, it becomes difficult to move between them with the expectation that you’ll start the next project with the same creative thinking freshness as the first.

Can you identify your “creative thinking” lemon sorbets – the activities or exercises you can use to clear your mind when shifting between creative (or not-so-creative efforts)?

They may be simple (going for a quick walk or taking a nap) or more challenging to accomplish (one of mine is riding roller coasters, which unfortunately happens infrequently). Make the effort to identify a repertoire of activities you can use to effectively clear your mind, refresh, and get ready for more productive creative thinking.

As for me, I’ll be having an icy Diet Dr. Pepper and a quick nap on the floor to clear my mind before starting on tomorrow’s Brainzooming blog post! – 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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I gave up using a red pen while reviewing work several years ago because someone in our department said she felt as if she were being graded in school. Regardless of your pen color though, a critical part of performing & reviewing analysis is the ability to quickly spot mistakes. It helps to have a sixth sense regarding CBR—items that obviously “Can’t Be Right.” In case you don’t have that special power, here are rules you can use to help spot mistakes – whether they’re yours or someone else’s:

  • Before you work on or review analysis, think about what the answer should or will likely be. If the results aren’t in the ballpark, and there’s no apparent reason, do some digging.
  • When reviewing work, start with a “skeptical” attitude – the expectation that something’s wrong – and look specifically for mistakes.
  • Assume things typically won’t change dramatically (or at least outside a typical range). If changes look like big deviations from the norm, investigate why.
  • Try to “break” things—when testing a spreadsheet or program or reading a document, look for ways to make it not work or look for passages that don’t make sense.
  • With a spreadsheet, do the unexpected—put in numbers that you wouldn’t normally expect (i.e., a negative number where it should be positive, change the order of magnitude of important numbers, etc.). As a double check, if a spreadsheet uses lots of formulas, dramatically change some numbers that should make the results change.
  • Do things or read sections out of the natural sequence. This often makes irregularities more recognizable.
  • When reading, repeatedly ask the questions, “Why would I know that? Does it tell me that somewhere else in the document? Is the point consistent within the document?” Be skeptical when you think you have satisfactorily answered these questions.

While it might feel a little better to not use a red pen while marking up analysis, it feels tremendously better to catch a mistake before your boss or client does. Use these rules to help increase that likelihood. And if you have rules that you use successfully, let me know, and we’ll put them in a follow-up post.

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It’s amazing how specific instances stick with you for years. A childhood memory that’s profoundly shaped my thinking was from the TV show “All in the Family.” Richard Masur played a mentally challenged grocery store delivery person ­that Archie didn’t trust because he was different. After an unpleasant exchange, the young man disappeared, only to return with a framed quote that was tremendously important to him: “Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.”

Googling the quote provides mixed opinions on whether it’s from Emerson or Thomas Carlyle. In any case, it will always be linked for me to that program and the impact it’s had on my perspective ever since. It’s caused me to realize that I’m the lesser of every person that I meet and that I need to understand what I should learn from them.

Here’s Your Challenge – Think about the people in your life – the person ­that you don’t quite “get,” the person that gets under your skin, or even the person ­­­that circumstances has dropped into your life unexpectedly or for no apparent reason. What is there that you can learn from that person? It probably isn’t readily apparent, particularly with people that frustrate you. Don’t give up easily though because it may take years to discover; your perseverance will ultimately be rewarded.

I recently had the opportunity to learn from somebody whose personality posed a major challenge to me several years ago when our paths first crossed. Through a lot of prayer and reflection (on my side) and tremendous personal development (on her side), our working relationship improved dramatically over time.

As she left my day-to-day work life recently, what I learned from her became apparent: the incredible personal growth that can take place with someone who is receptive to feedback (even criticism), able to process it without personalizing it to the point of demoralization, and is motivated to truly transform. Under challenging circumstances, she demonstrated a level of poise to which I could only hope to aspire. But if we’d given up on each other, I never would have learned this lesson she taught me – one that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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