Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 350 – page 350

Not having written a book of my own yet, I end up using great books that others have written as give-aways at my presentations. While I’m planning to correct the “I haven’t written a book” problem in 2008, the holiday season provides an opportunity to recommend some wonderful books that have dramatically shaped my thinking on careers, branding, innovation, and strategy.

“Radical Careering – 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job, Your Career, and Your Life” by Sally Hogshead, Gotham Books, ISBN: 1-592-40150-3.
100 brain jolts to change your behavior and drive dramatic change. I’ve spoken on the same program as Sally several times, and the audience conclusion is always that “SALLY ROCKS!” It’s true – her first book uses a unique format with 100 self-contained lessons to challenge you to invest your precious energy & time on creating a meaningful difference in life. Beyond the book check out Sally’s website and podcasts.

“The Marketer’s Visual Toolkit” by Terry Richey, AMACOM, ASIN: 0814402135.
I only worked directly with Terry one time many years ago, but his book has been an important part of shaping how we’ve tried to incorporate visual representations in strategic planning efforts. It’s tough to find, but well worth the effort for its help in translating complex ideas into tools that people can work with more successfully.

“75 Cage Rattling Questions” by Dick Whitney & Melissa Giovagnoli, McGraw-Hill, ISBN: 0070700192.
This is a great source of challenging questions to stimulate strategic thinking. On page after page, you’ll find questions to incorporate into creative and planning sessions. They’ll spur discussions on difficult topics. I mean really, what would your organization be like if your mother ran it?

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide” by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and Jon Warshawsky, Free Press, ISBN: 0-7432-6909-8.
I hate the word “leverage” as a substitute for “use.” I hate using “around” instead of “on” (i.e. “he’s doing some work around that topic.”) And I hate that I didn’t write this manifesto for eliminating business language that’s intended to obscure meaning. If you communicate in business (okay that’s probably everybody who’ll ever read this), get this book and share it with your co-workers.

“Made to Stick” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Random House, ISBN-10: 1400064287.
I’ve given away a number of copies of this book this year since it’s another one that I wish I’d written. In driving a major brand turnaround, we’ve incorporated many of its concepts on using simple messages, surprise, and emotion to help ideas live on and become part of a company’s cultural fabric. It packages all the concepts in one place with great insights on making your own ideas take off and thrive. This book has received a lot of well-deserved attention.

“The Art of Possibility – Transforming Professional and Personal Life” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, Harvard Business School Press, ISBN: 0-87584-770-6.
It’s been a blessing to have seen Benjamin Zander present twice – at a retail conference in Dallas, followed 4 months later by his closing appearance at the Transformation Business & Logistics conference that I produced in 2001. He was wonderful in Dallas (as he forced my co-worker and me to come from the back of the room to live life in the front row). He was incredible at Transformation – we learned to love classical music in 7 minutes, 2000 people serenaded an audience member with “Happy Birthday” as if we really meant it, and at the end, we all sang Beethoven’s 9th in German while standing on our chairs. It still makes my eyes well up with joy. If you can’t see him in person, get this book by he and his partner Rosamund and at least read their wonderful stories. How Fascinating!

There’s the list. Make sure to order early for delivery before the holidays (and peruse them before heading back to work on January 2)!

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Jan Harness, a great strategic writer and member of my creative team, writes about her title as Chief Creative Instigator in her blog Check out how she got that title and the plethora of other creativity tips she’s posted!

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Driving to get gas last week, I was struck by a billboard in Kansas City’s Waldo area whose most prominent phrase was “flexible perfectionists.”

Incorporating diverse perspectives is fundamental to creative problem solving. You won’t generate the most interesting new possibilities if you’re only willing or able to approach an opportunity in a singular fashion. One implication is that to improve creativity, you have to be able to hold & easily work with views that appear inherently contradictory.

So back to the billboard.

It was so striking because I view myself as a flexible perfectionist. I definitely want & strive for things to be right. Okay, it’s probably better described as “frequently angsting over things being perfect.” But over time, I’ve realized that in many, many cases “better done than perfect” is the right direction and that mistakes and variation lead to better solutions. This awakening has become the central point of my presentation on “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation.”

Checking out the URL on the billboard (, it’s a recruiting website for Kansas City-based Perceptive Software. The website’s point is that the company seeks out versatile employees because they’re vital to its continued fast growth. Even if you’re not a flexible perfectionist, it’s also looking for:

  • Outgoing introverts
  • Impulsive planners
  • Rational adrenaline junkies
  • Disciplined adventurers
  • Selfless corporate climbers
  • Articulate listeners
  • Competitive team players
  • Jetsetting homebodies
  • Easygoing overachievers
  • Collaborative rebels

If a number of these contradictions sound like you, you may have a home at Perceptive Software. Or you may simply be better prepared than most to be a creative force in life!  – Mike Brown

For a creative boost, download the free Brainzooming ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to enhance your creative perspective! For an organizational 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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Strategic thinking often falls short because specific outcomes are difficult to trace back to the effort put into strategic thinking or planning.

Beyond approaches covered previously to focus strategic thinking, broaden participation, and increase its rigor, a few principles can help create more tangible outcomes.

Be prepared with a rigorous prioritization approach – Frequently, 5 to 15% of the possibilities from a strategic thinking session have near-term development potential or strong relevance. A great first pass prioritization approach is to approximate the number of ideas your team has generated and divide it by 5 to arrive at 20% of the ideas. Divide this total by the number of participants; the result represents how many ideas each person will be able to select based on their belief in an idea’s strength and/or potential.

Let participants start narrowing – With their individual idea “allowances” set, participants can begin selecting ideas that they’ll take through the prioritization process. Ideas chosen can be their own or those of others. The important thing is that participants believe in the ideas they select.

After each team member has selected a set of ideas, ask them to make an initial assessment of each idea using the following questions – What are the idea’s strengths? What are the idea’s weaknesses? What’s unexpected or unusual about the idea relative to the status quo? What’s your initial recommendation about how the idea could be addressed? It’s beneficial to share these initial thoughts aloud to familiarize group members with ideas that may have been overlooked.

Perform individual ranking with group input– Following the initial report-out, use a 4-box grid to allow individuals to place their ideas relative to two dimensions:

  • Potential Impact – On a scale from Minimal to Dramatic
  • Implementation Ease – On a scale from Easy to Difficult

Once individuals have placed ideas on the grid, talk through each one to see what support or challenges there are within the group. Typically, team members will overstate the number of easy to implement ideas that are expected to have dramatic impact. If true, these ideas are very attractive, but often they’ll have less impact or may be more difficult to implement than originally suspected.

Don’t be afraid to consider moving an idea if there’s a clear take from the group that it’s stronger or weaker than its original placement. The result of this combined individual-group exercise should be a much more refined set of ideas, with a good deal of input to set the stage for selecting a few ideas that will be pursued further for development.

Keep track of what’s left over – It pays to track the ideas that aren’t selected initially. These often resurface later and it’s nice to be able to tie them back to the strategic thinking efforts that you’ve been conducting.


So from the last several posts, you’ll ideally be better prepared to cultivate strategic thinking in your department or business and then to do something with it. We’ll revisit these topics over time to provide more refinement, but for now, schedule time soon to do some fruitful strategic thinking!

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Here are two productive question-based strategic thinking exercises for a broad set of business situations.

“What’s It Like?”

This strategic thinking exercise has you look for analogous situations to yours, going to school on others who are smarter or better than you are in solving similar challenges.

The first step is to identify the characteristics of your situation or challenge, asking yourself the following questions to find ways to generalize your situation:

  • What is this really trying to accomplish?
  • How would I describe this situation in 5 – 7 words?
  • What’s this like in other businesses?

Identify who else faces a similar situation to your generalized business challenge and then use their perspective to identify how they’d address your situation and solve it:

  • Who else faces this?
  • How are they addressing it?
  • What would it be like if we addressed it similarly?

“Where Do We Add Value?”

This strategic thinking exercise focuses on where a business or internal department best delivers for customers. Themes that emerge help to identify areas for near term focus or elimination.

First, answer the following questions. Ideally this would take place in a pre-session survey:

  • What are the TOP 3 things we do that ADD INCREDIBLE VALUE for customers?
  • What are the TOP 3 things we do that DON’T DELIVER INCREDIBLE VALUE because we can’t/don’t focus enough time, attention, and/or resources on them?
  • What are the TOP 3 things we do that ADD LITTLE OR NO VALUE for customers?

Record the answers. Look for themes – areas of agreement & disagreement. Based on the themes that emerge, have your group answer the following questions:

  • For Areas of Current Incredible Value – How do we continue to grow the value delivered to provide even greater advantage?
  • For Areas that Don’t Deliver Incredible Value Because of Limitations – How can we work around resource limitations? What are new approaches to increase value? If we can’t fix this, should we eliminate trying to have an impact in these areas?
  • For Areas Where Little or No Value is Delivered – Is each of these critical? Are there opportunities to exit, eliminate, or re-work these activities? If it’s warranted, what steps can we take to make dramatic improvements in the value delivered?

There are many more strategic thinking exercises, but these two are beneficial ones to apply to common business situations that you may face.

The next post wraps up the overview on strategic thinking by addressing how to turn your efforts into successful results.

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If senior managers are the only ones sanctioned to think strategically, that’s a real problem. A company’s senior team tends to view the world in a relatively homogenous manner – from having shared experiences to holding a common perspective on the company and the market.

Great strategic thinking comes from diverse perspectives, cultivated and managed toward a view of the current & future business environment that increases the likelihood of successful results. Achieving this means spreading strategic thinking responsibility throughout the business.

Here are some fundamentals for accomplishing this:

Keep track of who is thinking and how they think – In bringing people together for strategic thinking, make sure three vital perspectives are represented with people that have:

  • Solid, front-line business experience (to help frame business issues)
  • Broad functional knowledge (with an understanding of capabilities)
  • Creative energy (acting as catalysts to view things in new & unconventional ways)

Take time to think – Set aside time for strategic thinking. This requires a willingness to invest dedicated time to consider a lot of possibilities, to narrow focus to the best ones, and then to develop & implement them. Focused time helps create an environment allowing people to selectively turn off conventional wisdom, triggering many more possibilities.

Use structure to increase output and efficiency – In initial phases, brainstorming rules help to productively manage how people with varied perspectives can increase the number of ideas generated very efficiently. Some starting principles include:

  • Have people say what comes to mind right away, not censoring themselves or others.
  • Use short, intense brainstorming spurts – spend minutes, not hours, considering an issue from multiple perspectives.
  • Emphasize the quantity of ideas over perceived quality or practicality. Set a demanding goal – typically look for 4 or 7 ideas per minute when brainstorming.
  • Say all ideas aloud and write them down on sticky notes with markers; this makes it easier to select, combine, & prioritize ideas in later stages.

These approaches help awaken strategic thinking. If you enjoyed this section, check out our entire Brainzooming Strategic Thinking Manifesto.

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One reason strategic thinking doesn’t take place is that there isn’t a clear understanding of what strategic thinking is. As a result, ill-fated attempts to be “strategic” fall short, creating a reluctance to deal with strategy.

It helps to start with a simple definition of “strategic thinking” to serve as a guide: Addressing Things that Matter with Insight & Innovation.

There are three important elements in the definition that shape great strategic thinking.

“Things that Matter” – Strategic thinking focuses on fundamental opportunities & issues driving the business, not on far away things that are irrelevant to moving the business ahead. To do this successfully, you have to:

  • Understand the Overall Business & Direction – What’s important to the business and its customers – past, present, & future? There are various questions whose answers identify this, but one of the best is, “What are we trying to achieve?” You can always return to this question to re-set a tactic-oriented discussion.
  • Realize there are Various Strategic Viewpoints – What’s strategic can differ on whether your view is company-wide, departmental, functional, or personal. Clearly identify which view your strategic thinking is addressing.
  • Take “Time” Out of Your Definition of Strategic – Strategic issues can take place this afternoon just as easily as in the future; just because something’s years from now doesn’t necessarily make it strategic. If you don’t realize this, you’ll never get to strategic discussions because the pressing issues of the business (which may be hugely strategic) are considered to be tactical concerns that need to be solved right away without a lot of thinking getting in the way.
  • Use Exercises Designed to Help Tackle Challenging Issues – Using the types of strategic thinking exercises we’ll cover later will help neutralize traditional (potentially biased) perspectives, reducing unproductive politics and blind spots that stifle strategic thinking.

“Insight” – Strategic thinking starts with relevant insights. Combine & analyze diverse information from various sources (especially external data) and identify relationships that can lead to dramatic impacts. You can start by assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

“Innovation” – One of the best approaches to project future relevant events is to consider multiple perspectives and think through a full range of possibilities that may develop. Once again, there are simple question-based exercises that can help foster a more innovative look at the business.

There’s the outline for what successful strategic thinking encompasses. Next, we’ll cover elements to help awaken strategic thinking in your business.

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