Blog | The Brainzooming Group - Part 355 – page 355

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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Holidays often present our most memorable experiences because of the emotional range they touch – whether positive or negative. The strong emotional connections coupled with the high degree of personal interest in holidays fixes long ago memories in our minds as if they happened yesterday.

When we’re presenting ideas in business though, we usually don’t think about this relationship that creates holiday memories:

Memorability = Degree of Personal Interest x Intensity of Emotions
At best, business presentations assume some implied level of personal interest (since after all, it’s a business topic) and stop short of including any emotion (since after all, it’s a business topic). When you work through the formula above for most business presentations (Minimal personal interest x Zero emotion), you get NO memorability.

For your next business communication, use the formula to your advantage by thinking through and incorporating answers to the following questions when developing and delivering ideas.

To increase personal interest, for each person in the audience answer:

  • What about the business is important either as a motivator (opportunities, cost savings, satisfying customers, increasing stock price, etc.) or as a fear (competitors, losing customers, deteriorating EPS, etc.) for this person?
  • From what perspective does this person think about the business, and how does that shape their information processing and decision making?
  • What words do they use to talk about the business?
  • What are their most important personal motivators (advancement, looking good, being smart, etc.) and fears (losing a job, looking bad, being dumb, etc.)?

To increase the emotional connection of your presentation, think about how you could use:

  • Surprise – is there a different way to order or communicate the content to be more surprising?
  • Drama – would making it a suspenseful story or acting out part of it add a beneficial sense of drama?
  • Humor – if the information is challenging, can you use humor (maybe a funny cartoon or story) to help reduce defensiveness?
  • Excitement – is there an alternative format (movie clip, audience participation) that would be more exciting than Powerpoint?

One final consideration in seeking a more emotional connection – how receptive is your organization to incorporating an emotional angle and how will you signal what you’re doing? Both points are important so that you are bringing your audience along with you to get the maximum positive impact.

So back to holiday memorability. It’s late December – Christmas, Kwanza, and New Year’s are coming up; Hanukkah is over. I’ll stop focusing on creating business memories and get started on holiday memories if you’ll do the same! But let’s meet back here right after the first of the year. Have a blessed holiday season full of wonderful memories!

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When you don’t have anything interesting to say, step aside and let the people who do have something to say have the floor:

  • “ . . . by pitting multiple scenarios of the future against one another and leaving many different doors open, you can prepare yourself for a future that is inherently unpredictable. Brainstorming pays off. And the more possibilities you can entertain, the less likely you are to be blindsided.” – Peter Coy and Neil Gross, Business Week, August 30, 1999
  • “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” – Linus Pauling
  • “I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.” – Woodrow Wilson
  • “It’s hard for corporations to understand that creativity is not just about succeeding. It’s about experimenting and discovering.” – Gordon Mackenzie
  • “Don’t ever miss a day without improving something personally.” – David Glass, Wal-Mart, 2000
  • “Your teaching must have the integrity of serious, sound words to which no one can take exception. If it does, no opponent will be able to find anything bad to say about us, and hostility will yield to shame.” – Paul of Tarsus
  • “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin


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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Yesterday’s post talked about building a personal creative team that you can reach out to compensate for your creative shortcomings. It’s a tremendously valuable approach to take.

Here are three keys that will help you cultivate a strong personal creative team:

  • Start with the attitude of giving yourself to others. Before thinking about how people can benefit you, understand your talents so that you know how you can first serve them. I initially heard Zig Ziglar say that the best way to ensure your own success is by figuring out how to make as many other people as possible successful.
  • Treat people nicely, be friendly, and smile (either in person or in your voice or written word if you’re communicating via voice or email). Taking the first step to be kind, appreciative, and friendly will create incredible relationship opportunities and open many doors that might appear to be closed.
  • Embrace “mutualism” – a sincere effort to find commonly shared goals, even among potential competitors, where you can realize a greater good. A great example is former presidents Bush and Clinton coming together several years ago for Tsunami relief. Although political rivals, their effort helped others, while benefiting each of them personally in different ways. Embracing mutualism requires the ability to compromise, reprioritize, and share: risk, success, and the limelight.

There are many other keys to building a great team, but these three will take you much of the way. Give them a try as you add to your creative team.

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