Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 352 – page 352

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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I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions for a variety of reasons that I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say in the past couple of years, I’ve tried to do a better job of personally committing a few overall goals to writing – albeit written during the Christmas holiday on a bunch of 25 year old note cards still in my room at my parent’s house.

Nevertheless, throughout January we’ll sprinkle in a few lessons and underlying challenges to consider while improving your strategic thinking & innovation successes in the new year. No need to take them all on or to report back on how you’re doing, but read them, grab the immediate learnings, and pick one or two of the challenges to work on throughout the year.

The first one is “Finding a Strategic Thinking Mentor.”

A mentor can be invaluable for any business person as part of your informal business team, providing a different and more experienced perspective than you’d have on your own. Not all mentors are suited to fill every role, so it’s beneficial to have various mentors to satisfy specific experience gaps.

Here’s Your Challenge – Do you have a strategic thinking mentor – one who can help you identify the things that matter in your business situation and provide new insights & perspectives on how to approach things innovatively? When seeking one out, look for the following characteristics – beyond those that any great mentor possesses. The best strategic thinking mentors are:

  • Smart
  • Experienced & diverse
  • Adept at asking productive, probing questions
  • Oriented toward innovation
  • Gifted with perceptive, accurate instincts
  • Able to identify “what matters” in a particular situation
  • Visionary
  • Open to challenging both you and the status quo
  • Comfortable holding a contradictory view
  • Able to make solid, insightful connections

I’ve had several great strategic mentors, two of whom I was able to spend time with over the holidays. One is Bill McDonald, my first boss in a professional job, at Kansas City Infobank. It would take pages to list what I learned from Bill about strategy, secondary research, and great business writing. Another is Greg Reid, who I met eleven years ago today and has been a wonderful strategic thinking mentor ever since.

Strategic mentors are out there – find one of your very own this year! – Mike Brown


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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic 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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Since things are usually pretty hectic on January 2, with a lot of catch up to do, today’s post is brief, focusing on a key point for consideration.
Great strategic thinking flows more readily if you’re able to use multiple perspectives that help you gain new insights into your situation. You can also improve the time efficiency of strategic thinking by using productive exercises & tools. We’ll cover both of these areas throughout the year.
Ultimately, though, you will have to set aside some time to actually do the work of strategic thinking. You can make the time as productive as possible if you know under what circumstances you do your best thinking:

  • Do you need quiet time away or are you more insightful when you’re active and in the thick of things?
  • Inside or outside?
  • By yourself or with others? With which other people?
  • Well in advance or under time pressures?
  • Being quiet or talking it through aloud?
  • Scheduled or impromptu?

Figured out yet what type of strategic thinking time works best for you? Once you do, make time throughout 2008 where you can create the ideal situation for productive strategic thinking. We’ll bring the tools & exercises to help create the perspectives you’ll need. It’s a date!

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I’m breaking my promise on no holiday posts only because there’s a great holiday-related strategic truth to share: strategy shouldn’t be unnecessarily complicated or obscure. Great strategy is understandable and clearly communicates what makes sense to do and to not do.

On Christmas Eve afternoon, we went to visit my mom’s aunt who had baked an apricot kuchen (a German coffee cake) that’s unbelievably wonderful and one of my favorite desserts. Not only does she make kuchen, she also is known for her bierocks and cinnamon rolls.

She told us that a number of people had asked her to start baking some nut breads, but she wasn’t interested in doing it. The reason? The kuchen, bierocks, and cinnamon rolls were all made from the same dough. By sticking to a single dough, she can be very efficient and have an extremely high certainty that everything she bakes will be good. What brilliant strategic focus!

So while my Aunt Ollie probably wouldn’t think of herself as strategic, she demonstrates an important lesson – your strategy should align your primary activities and carrying it out should help you to be more efficient and effective than if you weren’t following the strategy. And if the focused strategist is an incredible baker…so much the better! Have a Happy New Year!

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The initial posts on this blog were on closing the strategic thinking gap that develops in many businesses (i.e., a desire to invest significant time on strategic issues, but little time spent in reality). Here are links to the five posts in order:

Why strategic thinking doesn’t happen
Something’s missing in strategic thinking
Somebody’s missing from the strategic thinking effort
Tools to improve strategic thinking’s efficiency & effectiveness
Outcomes are missing from strategic thinking & wrap-up

The posts provide an overview of specific approaches that can be taken to improve the quality & output of strategic thinking efforts in business.

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