A recent Brainzooming article on changing your personal backstory recommended ensuring how you think about, describe, and conduct yourself maximizes the positive sentiments you generate among others. One input to revise your personal backstory is to ask how others see you. This suggestions prompted a question on what you should ask others (and how you should ask them) to get the best input for reshaping your backstory.

Ask people in a format that allows them to respond anonymously. You want to increase the likelihood they are going to share unvarnished sentiments with you. The easiest way to accomplish that is likely through some type of online survey.

7 Questions to Ask Others about Your Personal Backstory


Here are specific questions based off of those we use when developing personality-based brands. The input you will receive can help you decide what to add to and erase from your personal backstory:

  1. In a few sentences, what are your perceptions of who I am?
  2. What are words you associate with me?
  3. What are negative things you associate with me?
  4. What are positive things you associate with me?
  5. If you were introducing me to someone else, what would you say to them?
  6. In what capacity do you know me – professional, personal, or both?
  7. What’s our level of contact – used to be greater than it is now, it’s greater now than it used to be, or it’s been fairly consistent over time?

It would be great to be a bit more specific on the last two questions. You don’t want to be so specific about relationship questions, however, that people feel as if their answers will tip off who they are.

Across even five to ten people you should have a richer set of input than if you tried to revise your personal backstory based on your own thinking. – Mike Brown

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Even if you’re putting off thinking about strategic planning for next year, it’s time to give it at least one thought. Time’s marching ahead, and it will be next year before you know it.

Here’s the one thought: How about identifying where you can roll out a simplified strategic planning process?

What are ideas to make strategic planning less cumbersome than it’s been at your company in the past?

5 Ideas for Simplified Strategic Planning this Year


If you’re stumped, here five ideas we’d suggest where you can save some time, effort, and hassle in strategic planning:

  • Start preparing your strategic foundation and situation analysis updates by asking, “What things still apply and are relevant for next year?”
  • Don’t demand more precision in the planning work than you have certainty in your future situation.
  • Prioritize the time you invest in creating specific product/service marketing plans based on each one’s expected contribution to revenue and profit growth.
  • Look at how many strategies and tactics you actually implemented this year, and use that as the threshold for how deeply detailed your plan for next year should be.
  • If you have a bunch of unimplemented strategies and tactics for this year that are still sound, simply use those for next year’s plan.

Want one other idea for ensuring simplified strategic planning?

Contact us, and let The Brainzooming Group facilitate your planning for next year using our collaborative and streamlined Brainzooming planning methodology.

We still have capacity to get your strategic plan done in plenty of time to start implementing it right away in the new year! – Mike Brown

10 Keys to Involving Employees In Your Strategy

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategy that turns into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

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Waiting at O’Hare airport for my flight, another business traveler stopped in front of me, and asked, “Mike Brown?”


He was a former corporate sales executive where I used to work. He’d been pointed in my direction to talk about content marketing strategy and social media and just happened to run into me in the hallway at O’Hare. He is now the C-level sales and marketing executive at a B2B service company.

His big question about social media and content marketing strategy was, “Why would a B2B company engage in these areas?” He’d never heard of a B2B company gaining business from their efforts.

Incredible as that statement may sound, I understand his reluctance. I told him The Brainzooming Group is a B2B company, and we gain business from our social media and content marketing strategy. And we are definitely NOT by ourselves in that!

8 Reasons a B2B Company Should Engage in Social Media


For a B2B company, a content marketing strategy, along with a social media presence, allows it to:

Those are only eight reasons. There are plenty more.

Those provide a fantastic starting point for identifying and quantifying the benefits for a B2B company to dive into content marketing – even if it feels late to the game to start! – Mike Brown

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When was the last time you invested 45 minutes to check your social media strategy?

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question. Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy.

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This shouldn’t be a newsflash, but it needs to be said: You are completely free to edit your personal backstory.

Each of us has a backstory.

A personal backstory is what we say about ourselves (along with our behaviors, physical cues, and beliefs that may speak louder than our words) about how we reached where we are right now. A backstory provides others an important input toward beginning to form perceptions about you.

Ideally, your backstory provides a strong representation of your path to where you are and helps people quickly understand where you can benefit them (and where they might be able to benefit you).

In a less than ideal situation, your personal backstory can limit you in who you start believing you are, what you can imagine yourself doing, and even the people you associate with personally and professionally.

Your Personal Backstory Can Change


That brings us back to the starting point: there is nothing to stop you if you want to edit your personal backstory to serve you better than it does right now.

I was chatting with a friend that has lost touch with some of her talents and very positive characteristics. She hasn’t used certain talents as fully as she did in the years leading up to her current job. These talents have essentially disappeared from how she thinks and talks about herself with others.

We discussed the benefit from editing her backstory to open up possibilities or make her diverse experiences work hard to boldly communicate in professional settings.

What’s your personal backstory?

Is it helping or hurting you?

While you may have some sense of how others perceive your backstory, it’s worthwhile to ask them. Talk to people around you (both very and less familiar with you) that can help you better understand how your backstory plays for them.

If the personal backstory others perceive isn’t serving you well, edit and revise it to serve you better.

No one is going to stop you. It’s yours to decide. – Mike Brown

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This week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief newsletter highlighted two Wall Street Journal articles examining leadership strategy in light of how involved a teacher or coach should be in the details of teaching and learning. 

Leadership Strategy – How Much Teaching and Coaching Is Enough?

When it comes to your leadership strategy, what are the best techniques to develop your team? Should you be in the thick of things, understanding the details of what is going on with team members, and being an active resource for them? Or are they (and you) better off taking a hands-off approach and letting them handle the details relatively unencumbered?

In the Wall Street Journal this week, two articles addressed these questions from different angles.

An article by concert pianist and instructor, Byron Janis, addressed teacher-student relationships in music. Andrew Beaton addressed the topic of college football coaches forsaking their CEO-like management roles to create game plans, call plays, and behave like traditional coaches.

Learning to Play Music Pleasing to Another’s Ears


Janis offers advice gleaned from his own teaching experiences and from his time as a student of piano great Vladimir Horowitz during the 1940s. He shares four pieces of advice for teachers (that can extend to leaders and managers):

  1. Don’t over-teach to a specific standard

Teachers must balance their knowledge and inclinations to instruct what THEY know with the students’ needs to find and develop their own styles. A student only develops a distinctive talent and style if a teacher remains open and refrains from over-instructing based on what the teacher believes and knows.

Leadership Questions: How much latitude do you give less experienced team members to chart their own directions? Are there areas where you dictate a course of action that would benefit from junior team members exerting greater independence?

  1. Let individuals own their problems and solutions

When a student failed to grasp a particular musical passage, Horowitz would tell the student that something was amiss without indicating what it was. He invited them to ponder it, address what they discover, and return the next week to share the correction. This technique puts students in charge of making mistakes, identifying them, and determining the appropriate fixes.

Leadership Questions: How readily do you dissect errors and problems in detail? What room do you have to point out potential issues while allowing your team an opportunity to diagnose and correct them to develop their mistake-making and fixing skills?

  1. Provide ample room to disagree and interpret your input

Teachers can further free students to self-diagnose and correct problems through realizing their own subjective interpretations of performance strategies can be mistaken. Student can have creative perspectives that are on the mark even though instructors don’t understand them. As Horowitz told students, “‘If any of my interpretive ideas don’t feel right, please disregard them.”

Leadership Questions: Are you providing team members enough creative freedom in subjective areas to listen to your viewpoint, while applying their own ideas for implementing strategies? What techniques do you employ to keep your mind open to creative perspectives different from your own?

  1. Encourage a unique, personal path

It is easy, especially for individuals that strive to be perfect, to take in a more senior person’s vision, trying to mimic it as closely as possible. Instead, Janis recommends teachers show students that inspiration and expression are not primarily the byproducts of learning and practicing. They develop from actively living a varied, diverse life. He points out, in closing the article, that life “is perhaps the most important teacher of all. Hard work alone is not the solution.”

Leadership Questions: When new team members (especially junior ones) join your organization, how much onboarding involves instruction? In contrast, how much onboarding involves getting them started experiencing their new environment and actively doing and trying things right away? What opportunities are you creating to provide room for them to bring personal life learnings to your team to increase diversity and your team’s performance?

Getting Back into Coaching

While Byron Janis’ article emphasizes student-driven and owned learning as a teacher uses a gentler hand, Andrew Beaton’s perspective how active college coaches are in actually coaching raises an intriguing counterpoint.

Beaton points to former University of Texas head football coach, Mack Brown, as a forerunner in the “CEO style of coaching.” With coaches at major programs finding themselves in charge of well over a hundred players and staff (plus a nearly comparable number of prospective students they are monitoring), the head coaching role in college football has changed dramatically. Dedicated coordinators build game plans and make play calls during games. A variety of other “middle managers” assume implementation roles for the team.

Put it all together, and the head coach can feel disconnected and limited during a Saturday game.

That’s why some coaches are reversing the trend. A group that includes new University of Miami coach, Mark Richt, is re-working the head coaching role. Richt is prioritizing working with the team’s quarterbacks, designing game plans, and calling plays during the game. Richt and other coaches are devoting more time toward the Xs and Os of football as a way to tackle the classic dilemma of managers that developed as workers: promotions into senior positions remove them from the strong expertise and performance that originally earned their promotions.

Leadership Questions: If you made the transition from worker to manager in your career, how much time do you spend still doing? Are you doing enough doing to keep your skills and perspectives relevant? Or have you long ago walked away from daily activities that generate the value and benefit your team delivers to internal and external audiences? If you see yourself as too removed from daily team activities, what are the best ways to get closer to what your organization does?

It’s about a Balance that Keeps Moving

As with most leadership topics, the only clear direction is that what you do depends on your situation. And in this case, it may vary by specific team member. All of us as leaders need to determine the right balance to guide and grow our teams, and only you may know the right answer! – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 


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By and large, hotel meetings rooms suck for actually encouraging people to collaborate and work productively.


That’s why I find myself so frequently trying to manipulate hotel meeting rooms in ways that hotel proprietors never imagined. Most of the time we have to go well beyond what hotels consider standard ways groups will use their meeting rooms when we’re trying to create an effective space for a Brainzooming creative thinking workshop.

12 Reasons Hotel Meeting Rooms Suck for Collaboration

Based on the challenges we typically encounter, here’s my basic list of twelve reasons why hotel meeting rooms suck:

  1. The seating plans cram too many people into rooms to the point where there is no room for people to spread out and think
  2. The room configurations don’t allow for people to move around and collaborate with each other
  3. Valuable wall space (where people can place and react to ideas) is taken up with ugly, bland artwork
  4. They place lights in front of the areas where they set up screens to project images
  5. If there are lights where you need to put a screen, they are always on switches tied to half the lights in the front of the room
  6. They insist on putting the food and beverage in the meeting room where it takes up wall space and/or makes the room stink (instead of using the hallway for food service)
  7. Too many big hotel ballrooms have very low of ceilings so you can’t raise a screen high enough for people in the back to see it
  8. In their room setups, they have no concept of presenters that don’t remain in one spot at the podium
  9. There is never enough room for two different seating configurations that would allow people to move into a new setting for a different activity
  10. They place U-shaped table configurations nearly up to the screen so there’s no room to move about
  11. They insist on skirting things you may need to move around, such as AV carts, screens, and extraneous tables
  12. They typically have all kinds of big, impressive hall space that goes unused

Even at at the last minute, however, you can try things to improve these meeting spaces to boost collaboration.

Last Minute Changes to Boost Collaboration

All those frustrations surfaced the other day as I was pacing back and forth in front of an open hotel meeting room door where I was getting ready to facilitate a Brainzooming workshop. Since it was such a quick turnaround to fly to Chicago to facilitate the workshop (and it was tucked into a much longer meeting), I had no opportunity to influence the room setup.


Pacing in the hallway and trying to sneak peaks at the meeting room through an open door, I noted incredible wall space outside the room, and no other meetings were taking place. Thankfully, our client agreed with taking the workshop “outside” into the foyer. After the first poster-based exercise, everyone went into the hall for the rest of the Brainzooming workshop. SUDDENLY, we had all the room we needed to boost collaboration.

Yay for flexible clients, lots of wall space in the hall, and no other meetings!

If not for those, a successful creative thinking workshop would have been VERY DIFFICULT to keep from sucking.

Which is one more reason why hotel meeting rooms suck. – Mike Brown


Conquer Fears of Business Innovation!

FREE Download: “7 Strategies to Conquer Your Organization’s Innovation Fears”

3d-Cover-Innovation-FearsWhether spoken or unspoken, organizations can send strong messages saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t screw around with it” in a variety of ways. Such messages make it clear that good things do not await those pushing for innovation involving any significant level of risk.

This free Brainzooming innovation eBook identifies seven typical business innovation fears. For each fear, we highlight strategy options to mitigate the fears and push forward with innovative strategies. We tackle:

  • Whether facts or emotional appeals are ideal to challenge fear of innovation-driven change
  • When it is smart to call attention to even bigger fears to motivate progress
  • Situations where your best strategy is taking business innovation underground

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I mentioned upcoming business collaboration opportunities for Brainzooming yesterday, including co-presentations, creating content, and developing new workshop and training offerings.

What to look for in a business collaboration?

Shame on me, but I’ve never put the criteria I look for from a business collaboration into the type of strategic decision making tool we develop for clients. The criteria are in my head. There is a time for everything, however.


Here are criteria to evaluate when considering business collaborations:

  • There is a clear way we can be of help to the collaborator.
  • The collaborator brings something different (and complementary) to what we do and offer.
  • The other party shares comparable core business values to us.
  • There is a mutual commitment to learning from the business collaboration.
  • The collaboration will yield mutual benefits.
  • Beyond learning more from the collaboration’s outcomes, it should provide an opportunity to learn about each other and our brand.
  • The collaboration helps us grow in a new way.
  • The collaboration helps us reach a new audience.
  • With an event-based collaboration, it provides opportunities to extend it in strategically smart ways.
  • The other party is as enthusiastic about the possibilities from the collaboration as we are.
  • The collaboration doesn’t have to be completely aligned with what we are trying to do, but giving attention to the collaboration won’t become a distraction to important goals.
  • There is a clear motivation for both of us to invest in the collaboration to make it as successful as possible.
  • There is a mutual contribution from both parties toward the strategy and ideas.
  • There won’t be a big exit cost if the collaboration doesn’t develop successfully.
  • The investment and work to make the collaboration successful is spread among both parties, even if the types of investment in it are markedly different.

There may be more, but thinking back on business collaborations from the past few years, those items characterize the decision making and expected impacts of our varied collaborations.  Mike Brown

10 Keys to Engaging Employees to Improve Strategic Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategic planning and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

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