Each year around this time, I’ve been running a post with twenty-five lessons learned from the past year away from full-time corporate life. With prompting from a Brainzooming blog reader who is a long-time friend and incredibly kind supporter, here’s this year’s edition of lessons from another year away from corporate life.

25 Lessons Learned in Year Five Away from Corporate Life


  1. Some things aren’t going to change. Lots of things will get worse; change the hell out of all those things.
  2. When it comes to business development, there’s a huge difference between enough business and enough possibilities to yield enough business exactly when you need it.
  3. You have to replenish the wind in your sails . . . you can’t afford to simply coast forever.
  4. It’s nice to have someone who will call B.S. on you in a constructive way.
  5. Someone new and unfamiliar with what you do may be exactly the right person to throw you the huge challenge you’ve been avoiding even considering.
  6. It’s fine to have a positive attitude and firmly believe you won’t deal with the same issues that other entrepreneurs do in their companies. When reality shows your positive attitude to be ill founded, get over it and learn quickly how others dealt with the issues now befalling you.
  7. Sometimes your family obligations are going to have to take a back seat to doing what you need to do for your business. Other times, family obligations will be so important that you’ll turn your back on business without even a thought. There’s no hard and fast rule (at least that I’ve found) for predicting in advance which will be which.
  8. When a future opportunity goes away for no apparent reason, be vigilant for the often subtle demonstration in the future that reveals exactly why the opportunity had to go away.
  9. Make very few statements about how you will ALWAYS do something or NEVER do something. Things will change. Then you’re left figuring out how to make a graceful change to what you’ve been proclaiming with such certainty.
  10. It’s vital to improve your skills at saying no to the right things.
  11. Maybe I can only write in less than 1,000 word chunks. And putting together one hundred 500 word chunks doesn’t seem yet like it’s a practical way to create a book. But, I did say, “Yet.”
  12. There have been many more opportunities this year to teach people how to do their own Brainzooming. Those experiences have been invaluable in shaping how we present the material and helping to realize “teaching” may be the important piece of the business that didn’t seem nearly as important when we started.
  13. If you would have ever asked me before we started, I don’t think I’d ever have included nonprofit organizations as an important client group for us. Yet, our relationships with the nonprofits we’ve worked with closely have been tremendously rewarding. It’s one thing to work with someone who is looking up two or three layers in an organization to get things done vs. an executive director who may have fewer resources, but can make things happen once the direction is created.
  14. I never thought it would get challenging to write either list posts or recaps from conferences I attend (considering I’m typically generating 100 or 200 tweets as a starting point). But for some reason, both of these forms became real blocks in the past year. It’s important to recognize, however, I’ve stuck with blogging as a form of creative form expression longer than I have probably any other form in my life. It seems as if it’s time to reinvent the boundaries and what’s within them.
  15. This is the year where I feel I’ve done less practicing what I preach than at any time since the business started. Thus, the renewed importance of surrounding myself with people who will keep me honest in doing for ourselves what we’d readily recommend to others.
  16. The coming year has to become the year of recasting content. There is value to deliver from the body of work in blogs, presentations, and workshop material. The job now is to create it.
  17. Feeling alone and not liking it isn’t a new lesson. In fact, it was one of my biggest concerns in starting the business five years ago. In several ways, however, this past year was the year of feeling alone.
  18. Easy answers and good answers aren’t going to be the same. When I wade into social media channels, it seems people are much more intrigued by easy answers than good answers. That leaves me focused on the smaller portion represented by where the two intersect. I just can’t pump out easy answers that aren’t good ones.
  19. I’d never considered the possibility that the golden egg may be golden inside and look plain outside. If that’s common, how many golden eggs have I walked by in my career?
  20. If you want to learn things you would never suspect about your business, categorize and re-categorize information about what you do. Simply putting different labels and different sorts on even skeletal data can tell you volumes.
  21. As much as some people get excited about paying attention to things that are changing, I get excited about paying attention to things that aren’t changing.
  22. I wrote perhaps the most revealing post about myself ever this year. It was the one about the twenty-five steps I go through on every presentation. Now that all the steps are spelled out, I can actually tell where each presentation is and how far away it is from reaching a happy place.
  23. I never realized how often I’d be thankful for my ability to act oblivious when I’m really not oblivious to what’s going on around me.
  24. When you’re getting four hours of sleep on a consistent basis, it’s harder to shift mental gears whenever you need to do so.
  25. It only takes one reader writing a very sweet and completely humbling email to get me to do just about anything differently. This one’s for you, Jennifer Nelson! – Mike BrownMike-Brown-Gets-Brainzoomin

    Learn all about what Mike Brown’s creativity, strategic thinking and innovation presentations can add to your business meeting!

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This Thursday, I’m leading two Brainzooming workshops at the Arizona State University 25th annual Compete Through Service Symposium.  The workshops are titled, “Mining Outside-in Opportunities to Expand Your Service Offering.”

The workshop will cover Brainzooming strategic thinking exercises that explore brand benefits for innovation ideas, provide new ways to derive insights from the marketplace, and allow organizations to look at what they do in new ways to find other examples from which to innovate.


Brainzooming Strategic Thinking Exercises for Outside-in Innovation

As a preview, here is some of the Brainzooming content on which the session is based.

Building on Your Brand Benefits

Observing and Exploring New Possibilities

Deconstructing What Your Brand Does

Organizing the Strategic Thinking Exercises

To organize the strategic thinking exercises and other content, we’ve tapped a couple of outside sources that allow you to identify an organization’s innovation profile and tie specific activities to five stages of designing and offering a customer experience.

If you aren’t going to be at the Compete Through Service Symposium, we’ll soon be offering the eBook that attendees can download for these Brainzooming sessions. Look for it soon! – Mike Brown

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 For More Information |  Phone: 816-509-5320  |  Email: info@brainzooming.com

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Today’s Brainzooming article is courtesy of our friends at Armada Corporate Intelligence and their weekly “Inside the Executive Suite” feature.

Last week’s article highlighted a Fast Company story on Oreo, its global head of media, Bonin Bough, and the Oreo transformation as a brand that’s more than a century old. “Inside the Executive Suite” featured five strategic thinking lessons from the story to highlight innovation opportunities for any well-established brand. 

Strategic Thinking Lessons – Keeping Your Company Fresh via Armada Corporate Intelligence

1. Start innovating with what “can’t” change

AEIB-GraphicAt Oreo (AO): An advertising executive previously on the Oreo account reports, “Every (Oreo) commercial had to have two generations of people . . . over a cookie and a glass of milk” leading to a feel-good experience. After thirty years of the same ad, the brand now describes its marketing approach as coming “from the side and-boom!” That translates to reaching consumers in dramatically different ways and well beyond the brand’s traditional TV advertising.

For Your Brand (FYB): When modernizing a tired brand, don’t rope off a list of people, processes, and other elements to protect them from change. Instead, start by addressing the things you might be tempted to put on a protected list. We use a strategy-setting exercise that asks participants to list everything integral to a stale brand’s characteristics and market position. The group then classifies each item on how aggressively management should consider changing it. With the exercise’s built-in bias to leave very few “sacred cows” at the conclusion, it is a valuable technique to get management to address difficult, but positive change opportunities.

2. Generalize your organization and discover new possibilities

AO: The familiar way to eat an Oreo (as celebrated in decades of ads) is to twist, lick, and dunk it in milk. That verbal threesome sounded to Bough like the title of the popular video game, “Slam Dunk King.” As a result, Oreo worked with the game’s creator to develop an Oreo-centric game called Twist, Lick, Dunk. It was a top game in 15 countries and turned a profit through outside advertisers participating.

FYB: We employ a question-based exercise to help management teams generalize organizational activities and identify comparable situations for inspiration. It involves asking, “How does our business _____ like _____?” The first blank is filled with sense words (feel, look, sound, smell) and goal words (accomplish, serve audiences, communicate), among others. Just a few rounds of this exercise generate an ample list of innovation-inducing comparisons to fill the question’s second blank.

3. Watch Customers for Ideas

AO: One Oreo fan posted a video demonstrating how to dunk an Oreo without getting milk on your fingers. Oreo’s digital agency used that inspiration for a series of short videos on how to “hack” an Oreo. This included using Oreos in new ways (frozen in milk as an iced coffee addition) or as a cooking ingredient (breading for fried chicken). Coincidentally, we saw a photo recently of Oreos baked inside chocolate chip cookies.

FYB: Do you REALLY understand how customers use your product or service? Ask customers what types of hacks they use to get your product to work better, and ask employees what customer-precipitated work-arounds they see, deal with, or enable. This is a valuable line of questions to identify innovation opportunities to increase your value to customers.

4. Look for radically different parties targeting your customers

AO: Oreo realized that as an impulse item at grocery and convenience stores, it faced new competition. Rather than snack products, Oreo was competing against online games and apps, both for attention (since people are focusing on mobile devices instead of snack items while standing in line) and for available dollars spent on online games. This insight helped precipitate the headlong Oreo dive into digital.

FYB: Any company thinking its competition all looks like it does is wildly mistaken. We encourage executives to focus on the benefits their brands provide. They can then identify other, often very different brands delivering comparable benefits. The Oreo example also suggests examining what else customers may be doing with the time, attention, and resources that have typically led them to buy from your company. You can also explore how other brands, in or out of your market, are inserting themselves and disrupting traditional buying processes.

5. Figure out metrics before you innovate

AO: The Fast Company article underscores the troublesome inability for Oreo to link its digital activities to business results. While Oreo has experienced revenue increases, these are attributed to expansion into new Asian markets, not more tweets turning into sales.

FYB: When innovating, developing metrics must be closely integrated with developing the innovation strategy. Tackling metrics early helps identify gaps while there is still time to adapt strategies to ensure collecting relevant data throughout the innovation process. All the metrics, however, may not be quantitative. As you implement innovation initiatives, you should accumulate a mix of metrics that are:

  • Activity-based (i.e., “We’ve done this many”)
  • Indicative of early reactions (i.e., “We see this many more customers inquiring about the product”)
  • Business return-based (i.e., “We see this increase in sales revenue”)

Planning for varied metrics at the start helps set expectations within the management team for key progress indicators. – Armada Corporate Intelligence


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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success 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 info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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There was considerable interest in marketing metrics and ROI at our two-day “Doing New with Less” marketing workshop for the Transportation Marketing and Sales Association.

One question we addressed was, “When do you develop marketing metrics during strategic planning for new initiatives?”

Should you develop metrics as you start developing your strategy? Or should you develop metrics after the strategy is developed as a final (or near-final) step in strategic planning?

Our recommendation is to address marketing metrics as you start developing your strategy.



Addressing metrics as you first work on strategic planning pays multiple dividends. Doing so can:

  1. Identify gaps in the systems and processes to track the metrics you need.
  2. Suggest new strategies designed to create needed metrics.
  3. Reveal that you are not aggressive enough in your strategy to fully exploit all the opportunities to generate needed returns.
  4. Show that there is a mismatch between management expectations on the timing of business returns and when you will realize them.
  5. Uncover disconnects between your strategic direction and the metrics you currently have to track progress and success.
  6. Help you sequence developing marketing metrics to match up with the timing for implementing other marketing efforts.

If you’re in the midst of strategic planning currently, make sure marketing metrics are getting due attention early in the process before you’re plan is figured out. If not, you may miss that you are missing the marketing metrics you need while you can still do enough about it! – Mike Brown


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If you’re struggling with determining ROI and evaluating its impacts, download 6 Social Media Metrics You Must Track” today!  This article provides a concise, strategic view of the numbers and stories that matter in shaping, implementing, and evaluating your strategy. You’ll learn lessons about when to address measurement strategy, identifying overlooked ROI opportunities, and creating a 6-metric dashboard. Download Your Free Copy of “6 Social Media Metrics You Must Track!



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Suppose you see a new opportunity in front of a live audience where there are high expectations.

Do you risk trying something you’ve never done before in front of the audience, or do you go safe and file it away to try in a more familiar venue later?

That was a question at several points during the Transportation Sales & Marketing Association Bootcamp I did this week on “Shoestring Marketing – Doing New with Less.” We covered a wide variety of Brainzooming strategic thinking exercises during the workshop and had the extra time to consider trying some new things.

A Different Test for a Strategic Thinking Exercise

To demonstrate the value of using targeted creative questions to point groups in different creative directions, each row of attendees received a different modifier to explore ideas for how to do more with social media on a limited budget. Two rows received modifiers to “narrow” ideas (simpler, more focused). One of the rows had a “broadening” word (sophisticated), and the other received a “modifying” word (extreme).

Each row had four minutes to generate ten ideas using the assigned modifier. I then asked each row to share the favorite ideas to emerge.

Sure enough, each row had a different favorite answer. More importantly, the only rows that generated the same answer as another row’s favorite were the two rows that were both working with narrowing modifiers.


While I’d never used this test previously to demonstrate why it’s valuable to provide structure to generate ideas (vs. starting with the proverbial “clean sheet of paper”), this experiment was a great validation of the point for attendees.

Issuing a New Challenge to Marketers

In one of the strategic exercises, I asked the marketers to list their companies’ five most demanding customers and prospects as typified by those who:

  • Push for new products and services
  • Have higher expectations
  • Are more complex
  • Are eager to pilot new offerings

I introduced this completely new in-workshop strategic thinking exercise as a pre-cursor to sharing a research approach to stay in front of market trends.


As I watched the audience work on their answers, however, it was clear some participants were struggling to come up with five customer names.

In the spur of the moment, I told the group I wouldn’t ask them to report who could come up with five names and who couldn’t. But I cautioned those who couldn’t come up with five names that this signaled they, as marketers, were too far away from sales. A strategic marketer should be, if nothing else, in conversations with sales management and sales people that regularly surface the names of both positive and challenging accounts.

Taking the Risks and Getting the Returns

So, in answer to the opening question, I took the risk on both of these brand new twists on strategic thinking exercises. Both paid off successfully.

The learning for the workshop attendees, and hopefully for you, is two-fold:

  • Avoid starting to generate ideas with a clean sheet of paper, absent structure and direction to help your creative thinkers
  • If you’re in marketing, stay close to sales and learn, learn, learn about customers

And the learning for us is that both of these drop-in trial balloons have a high probability of showing up in future strategic thinking workshops. – Mike Brown


Learn all about what Mike Brown’s creativity, strategic thinking and innovation presentations can add to your business meeting!

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I’m recasting a variety of innovation-oriented Brainzooming strategic thinking exercises for a workshop on “Strategic Service Innovation” at the 2014 Compete Through Service Symposium at the Arizona State University Center for Services Leadership. Having organized many corporate senior management education programs at ASU previously, it’s exciting to get back to the Center for Services Leadership to facilitate two Brainzooming workshops on strategic service innovation.

Among the strategic thinking exercises we’re revamping is one where companies can explore potential opportunities to identify new markets with brand new service (or product) offerings.

For a traditional, established company, the prospect of entering a new market with something less than what it would have in place to introduce a new offering in its primary markets can scuttle innovation.

The thing is, however, companies emerging with a disruptive mindset aren’t approaching markets as established companies approach them.

If you’re in an established company trying to become a disruptive strategic force in a new market, you have to figure out a way to give your brand internal permission to pursue markets where:

  1. Your brand isn’t a blip of a presence yet.
  2. You’ll be starting from scratch (or close to it) to create a brand position so you can create distance from your primary brand.
  3. You may be introducing a niche offering, so targeting a small share at a premium price is viable.
  4. You may need to spread costs differently in order to consider pursuing a low-priced, share-stealing strategy.
  5. You are creating a product/service and price point combination that isn’t comparable to any market competitor.
  6. Your strategy needs to lower certain risks so you can move dramatically more quickly compared to new entries in your primary market.
  7. Heavying up on only one part of the marketing mix and largely ignoring others is acceptable.
  8. The entry point into the industry’s current customer model may seem radically different.
  9. You’re not over-focused on looking like current players in the industry since doing so can reduce your disruptive impact.
  10. You may be a part-time player, making it unnecessary to try to serve all the market needs with a complete product offering.
  11. It’s possible to be successful against traditional competitors even with major deficits in areas that industry players think are important, but really aren’t in customers’ eyes.
  12. You can over-deliver on a very different set of benefits than traditional players.

Sound scary?

If so, that’s good.

Now give your brand permission to enter a market where some, most, or all of these permissions become realities. That’s when your brand can really shake things up and disrupt! – Mike Brown


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If you’re facing a challenging organizational situation and are struggling to maintain forward progress because of it, The Brainzooming Group can provide a strategic sounding-board for you. We will apply our strategic thinking and implementation tools on a one-on-one basis to help you create greater organizational success. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you figure out how to work around your organizational challenges.

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Chuck Dymer, the Brilliance Activator, taught me years ago about the difference between chickens and eggs when it comes to creative thinking exercises.

In the world of creative thinking, Chuck shared how you can equate a chicken with a concept and an egg with an idea.

Just as a chicken lays many eggs, exploring a concept with various creative thinking exercises yields many ideas. Based on the breadth and variety of creative thinking exercises you use, the ideas a concept produces may be radically different.

One great benefit of the chicken and egg approach is this: If you have a single idea, you can morph the idea into a concept by asking questions about what things the idea represents. And once you turn the idea into a solid concept, you can use the concept to generate a whole new set of ideas using other creative thinking exercises.


I’ve been thinking about this while updating our “Doing New with Less” material for the Transportation Marketing and Sales Association boot camp this week. When we deliver one of our Brainzooming creating strategic impact workshops, there are definitely a lot more chickens than eggs.

Instead of telling participants to simply return to their companies and do what some other “best practices” company has done, as so many speakers and workshop facilitators do, we deliver strategic and creative thinking exercises linked to frequent business situations. In this way, we’re looking to maximize the value attendees gain through having real tools that will serve them for years.

Most attendees appreciate this strategy of sharing strategic and creative thinking exercises during our workshops.

A few attendees, however, simply want to be told what to do. Those attendees, although few in number, are likely to be disappointed. That’s why we always both probe on attendee expectations at a workshop’s start and set expectations about how they can use what they’ll learn in multiple ways and situations.

If you’d like your team better prepared as strategic thinkers and implementers armed with many tools to enable your organization’s success, we should be talking about how we can customize a creating strategic impact workshop for your organization soon.

We’ll bring the chickens. – Mike Brown


Learn all about what Mike Brown’s creativity, strategic thinking and innovation presentations can add to your business meeting!

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