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My dad was a huge believer in The Power of Positive Thinking. I think that book, by Norman Vincent Peale (affiliate link) was the first self-help book he tried to get me to read.

For some reason, I particularly resisted The Power of Positive Thinking, although I’m hard pressed to say why.

For whatever reason, though, I do not think I ever read the book in its entirety. Probably the best I did was reading a summarized booklet he gave me. The more important aspect of my exposure was absorbing how my dad lived the book’s central messages in his work and personal life.

This recollection surfaced while searching for ways to think strategically and positively about several possible business challenges. It’s my tendency to focus on the scary possibilities looming over the horizon and address those.

The Power of Positive Thinking Plus Strategic Thinking Questions

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As an alternative, I tried being more like my dad, coupling the power of his positive thinking with the strategic thinking questions that are so comfortable for me. It became apparent how I could more easily form and hold onto a positive expectation when strategic thinking questions provide a way to generate ideas and evidence for the positive thinking. Here are a few examples of positive expectations I wrote, along with the strategic thinking questions to support them:

Positive Expectation – There are people who want to help us succeed.

  • Who do we know that shares our interests?
  • How can we get them to cooperate with us?

Positive Expectation – We are over-delivering value and benefits.

  • If we deliver less value than we planned (but still more than is expected), how can we re-deploy what remains to create additional or different value?
  • In what ways can we ask more for this extra portion of value?

Positive Expectation – We have done solid, comprehensive work, and can continue to mine it in new ways.

  • What have we done previously that answers a question or issue from today?
  • How can what we know or have done previously allow us to move 3x more quickly than if we didn’t have previous experience?

Positive Expectation – Remain confident things will work out successfully.

  • When this works, what do we need to be ready to do next?
  • What next bigger challenge will this success propel us to accomplish?

I’m not  saying these specific examples will work for you. What is worth considering is how you can pair up strategic thinking questions to better realize, hold on to, and work toward positive expectations, even if that isn’t your natural tendency. – Mike Brown

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We worked with a client to facilitate an information technology strategy vision. From before the engagement’s launch until near the completion, we asked for strategy documents spelling out corporate priorities, objectives, and expectations. We wanted a strategic target to align IT strategy and innovation initiatives to support the organization in realizing its overall vision.

Despite repeated requests, no one ever surfaced this type of strategy document.

We instead used previous exposure, strategic thinking exercises with the IT team and others, and strategic business sense to describe what it seemed a corporate target would encompass.

Flash forward to subsequent opportunities to hear top executives discuss the company’s direction. These presentations suggest a clear, overarching strategy that perhaps doesn’t exist in a formal, written format, but is only passed along verbally outside of the top corporate ranks.

This situation prompted sketching two strategic planning process approaches (narrow or broad collaboration) and alternatives for how an organization communicates its strategy.

A Narrow Strategic Planning Process

When only top management participates in a strategic planning process, relying on verbal communication of the plan can be dubbed “Drip and Wonder(?).” We found ourselves in this situation in the example above. If you are in front of a senior leader (or someone else that has been in front of a senior leader), you get drips of the strategy. If you don’t have this access, you “Wonder(?),” as we did, what to emphasize to best contribute to corporate success.

In this situation, when the strategic plan output makes it to a written document, it’s a “Read to Learn” situation. You must review a big binder of material to know the direction. If they do throw put multi-media communication behind the strategic plan, it’s likely to lead to superficial (because that’s all there is time for) wows (although the hoped-for wows may be snoozers).

A Broad Strategic Planning Process

When you engage a broad group in strategic planning, the verbal communication takes the form of “strategic conversations.” These do heavy duty in both developing the strategy and creating shared knowledge of the strategic direction. The broad participation helps fuel more frequent and robust conversations about the organization’s strategic direction. It’s not about access to the right senior executive; it’s about strategic conversations among people throughout the organization helping shape the direction.

The written plan doesn’t carry nearly as much burden to convey every detail. The written format can concentrate on providing guidelines to operationalize implementation activities. Finally, adding multimedia communication focuses on providing the vision’s highlights.

Putting This to Use

This is a new visualization of something we experience that paves the way for another benefit of strategic collaboration. It needs some more work, but it sets the stage why the type of strategic planning approach an organization takes shapes communication opportunities. – Mike Brown

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Suppose the strategic planning task at hand is imagining what your organization will look like at some future point.

What are strategic planning exercises you can use with a team?

7 Ideas to Envision What Your Future Organization Might Look Like

Here are seven possibilities to consider:

  • Describe a future time where the organization has already achieved incredible success. Also, describe a comparable future time scenario the organization failed on all important objectives. For each of future state, look back and ask what led to incredible success or failure.
  • Employ extreme creativity and disruptive innovation-oriented questions to push your strategic planning vision exercise in bold, future directions.
  • Identify the most important elements of the business that hold great potential to materially change the organization’s future prospects. Once you settle on these attributes, use them as the basis to describe the future (i.e., What does that specific attribute look like in the future by itself and in conjunction with all the other attributes).
  • Interview lead users and future-looking experts to understand how they’d describe an aggressive future vision.
  • Identify all the elements of the brand. Have a group respond individually on which of the attributes needs to change dramatically, which can change marginally, and which need to be eliminated in the future. After securing individual responses, use a group strategic conversation to settle on the future strategic planning vision.
  • Develop an analysis of future trends. Extend the trends 5x and 10x to create dramatically bold future visions.
  • Select other brands and imagine what your organization would look like if they were running your organization.

Ensure you have all the strategic thinking perspective and voices we always recommend. Additionally, for these strategic planning vision exercises, make sure you include external participants with expertise and perspectives not burdened by the organization’s current, status quo vision.

Want to talk more about taking this approach to a future vision as part of your strategic planning?

Contact us, and let’s chat about how this strategic planning exercise approach applies to your organization. – Mike Brown

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We see seven keys to creating an innovative workplace culture where individuals are able to meaningfully contribute to the organization’s innovation strategy.

If you’re looking at your organization and wondering where to start to foster a more innovative workplace culture, here are forty articles to go deeper into the topic.

An innovative workplace culture:

#1 Provides Direction

It’s vital to point your innovation strategy in a direction. That doesn’t mean leadership should spell out everything. Yet sharing knowledge about what matters for the organization’s future success shouldn’t be a mystery to those working on innovation initiatives.

#2 Invites Broad Participation

Throw open innovation to encompass perspectives from throughout the organizations AND outside the organization. Instead of asking people for the next big ideas, ask them for insights and perspectives that can contribute to shaping big ideas for the organization.

#3 Meaningfully Engages and Involves Employees

Develop multiple innovation roles that match your team’s talents, strengths, perspectives, and aspiration. Provide the training, structure, and access to opportunities to best use their knowledge and expertise to drive the innovation strategy.

#4 Encourages Change

Make sure senior leadership is saying and DOING things that send a clear message: trying new things is fine, we understand not everything is going to work, and it’s vital we look beyond our current environment to identify innovation strategy possibilities.

#5 Pursues Smart Possibilities

There are clear processes in place to explore, assess, and prioritize the best innovation opportunities and meaningfully propel the organization forward.

#6 Stays Agile

What’s innovative will continue to change. Your environment needs to be ready to understand what’s important today while looking ahead to future developments and opportunities to disrupt markets and competitors.

#7 Celebrates Progress and Success

For all the fanfare about celebrating failures, an innovative workplace culture recognizes and celebrates trying and learning, progress and determination, AND success.

Mike Brown

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Talking to executives, you hear the expectation that an organization should implement a solid strategic plan strategy-by-strategy. To the extent a strategic plan is not implemented in that way, it falls short in some fashion. This goes along with the idea that if you never remove the big strategic planning notebook from your office shelf, it is a complete failure: you might as well not even do a strategic plan.

I understand that perspective on how a strategic planning process should play out.

I’m also enough of a realist and have been around the block enough times to not cling to those expectations about how a strategic planning process has to work. If your organization ’s strategic plan process comes together based on a few senior executives sitting in a room followed by a bunch of managers working alone in their offices, however, pulling the strategic plan notebook off the shelf is a HUGE metric for whether it’s successful.

7 Collaborative Strategic Planning Process Impacts (Even if the Plan Sits on the Shelf)

When you develop a plan from a collaborative, conversationally-driven strategy planning process, you see other tangible impacts. This type of strategic planning process:

  • Guides the organization to greater success
  • More effectively creates alignment in strategic thinking
  • Helps make yes and no decisions about what initiatives to pursue easier
  • Broadens the understanding of what’s important to the organization
  • Sequences activities you need to implement in a specific order
  • Sets out metrics that signal progress (or lack of progress)
  • Educates the organization on how to imagine and implement strategically

Looking at this list, you can see why we place such an emphasis on using a collaborative strategic planning process.

Are you up for discussing how this could benefit your organization? Contact us, and let’s book time to talk. If you do, here’s our Brainzooming guarantee: Spending thirty minutes together, you’ll walk away with at least five ideas you can go do on your own, whether we ever talk again or not.

Want to take me up on that guarantee? Let’s go! – Mike Brown

 

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Yesterday’s Brainzooming mega-post was about how an introvert can go solo and still comfortably meet new people at a conference. I’m happy to report my initial audience of one for the mega-post used it with great success yesterday.

Before the event was set to start, she messaged me: amid her thanks for the post’s help, she mentioned planning to skip the opening keynote because it didn’t seem as if she’d learn anything. Thanking her for her graciousness, I asked if I could offer one more piece of advice.

She responded, “Don’t skip the opening keynote?”

“EXACTLY,” I replied.

She offered several reasons why she couldn’t make it. I suggested going for the last 30 minutes of the 90-minute talk. The reason? Part of the whole introvert trying to meet new people at a conference strategy depends on creating as many shared experiences with others as possible. Shared experiences are bonding opportunities and future conversation starters. People will be talking about the opening keynote at the next session. If she missed it, she’d already be left out of the conversation, reinforcing any views that this conference would be a lonely experience.

My cajoling worked. She attended the opening keynote.

And guess what? People were laughing, enjoying it, and she learned things!

Uh huh.

If you can avoid it, NEVER skip the opening keynote. Beyond the reason I shared with her, here are five others:

  • Getting there early allows you to scout the best spots to sit. You can also size up the crowd and see if there’s anyone you know that you can hang out with from the start.
  • If the conference is a good one, there should be a snazzy opening. Sure, there are plenty of conferences that DON’T have snazzy openings. If your conference does, though, you won’t get to see it again if you skip the opening keynote.
  • The conference opening delivers the setup for the entire conference: the key themes, flow, and take-aways to look for during your time there.
  • In all likelihood, the opening keynote will be one of the top two or three speakers: maybe the best one. Even if you think you won’t learn anything, the speaker’s energy and message will likely be worth going.
  • If the opening keynote sucks (which I’ve seen happen plenty of times), you can always write a blog post about how not to be a big-time speaker!

Trust me: NEVER skip the opening keynote at a conference! Mike Brown

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A friend is heading to a business conference by herself today. Over the weekend, she mentioned she is nervous about going because of “everything: driving there, being there alone, not knowing anybody, whether or not to do the dinner cruise thing, just imagining walking into any of the socializing stuff, what to wear, what to do in my down time. Will probably just hide in my luxurious hut.”

I told her she needs to make herself socialize and meet new people at the conference, suggesting she find a friendly face that also doesn’t know anyone and become buddies. She was skeptical based on her most recent experience of showing up alone. As she recalled, “I stood around, walked around, smiled, said hi, introduced myself. Nothing. Except an angry nerd attached himself to me. No grownups were interested.”

I suggested additional ideas, then realized: I was writing a blog post on how I, as an introvert, force myself to meet new people at conferences and business events. Granted, there are LOTS of other sources on this, but this one is based on my personal experiences.

Speaking is a central part of my personal conference networking strategy to meet new people. Speaking helps tremendously in getting people to approach you to chat. If you’re the type of introvert that is fine getting up in front of groups and talking, that’s my number one recommendation.

23 Ideas to Meet New People at a Conference

Here are things I’ve tried (or experienced) to meet new people at conferences where I am not speaking:

Way Before the Conference

#1. Try to convince someone to go with you so you know somebody.

#2. Do whatever you can to scope out the attendees and speakers upfront. Figure out if you have connections to any of them (or even to people in the city where you are headed), and arrange meetings. That’s how I met Diane Black (who has done such great inforgraphics for us) and Mess Wright, both of whom inspired ideas that could re-shape the future of Brainzooming.

#3. Try wearing message clothing. By that, I mean wear a shirt that creates conversation, which may require pre-planning. I met this young woman at Inbound2016. With a shirt like this, I HAD to ask why she was looking for a new boss. I took photos and tweeted them to help her get attention. What message clothes can you create and wear to start converstations?

Right Before the Conference

#4. Pack the clothing or jewelry you own that most often generates comments from others. Wear those as conversation starters. (Orange socks, an orange watch, and all the other orange stuff I have prompt many comments and conversations. Even from other introverts! That’s how I got to know Claire Denbo of engage5w.)

#5. PACK BUSINESS CARDS. ENOUGH SAID.

#6. Find out the conference hashtag(s) ahead of time, and begin monitoring them. Reach out to other attendees and speakers using the hashtag. Ask and answer questions to start building relationships.

#7. If there are free times for lunch or dinner, book a reservation for four at a nearby restaurant and start asking people you meet to join you (and bring friends). I tried this the first time at the GasCan conference; long-time friend Kathryn Lorenzen became my anchor guest, bringing two other friends, while I invited Mike Farag of Fervor. We had a fantastic lunch!

#8. Prepare a few open-ended, easy-to-answer multiple part questions to ask. Prepare to use them. Try, “Is this your first time at the conference?” If it is, ask why they chose it or what they are looking forward to at the event. If they are returning, ask why they came back, and what you should not miss. This helps you uncover experts you can depend on or refer others to for meet-ups.

Onsite Before the Conference Starts

#9. If the registration is informal, chat with the people handling registration. Let them know this is a new environment for you, and you’d love to meet new folks. Maybe even give them a card or two that includes a way to track you down onsite. Tell them if they come across anyone looking for a buddy, you’re interested in hanging out with others.

#10. Arrive early and get the lay of the land in and around the conference facility so you can easily answer questions. Take on the role of being an informal conference concierge since answering questions is a great way to meet people. Be ready to point people to where meeting rooms and bathrooms are, know how long it takes from the elevators to the conference area, figure out fun things to do, where to eat, and the closest convenience and drugstores.

#11. Get up to speed on the agenda in a deep way. Understand the event flow, themes for the day or evening, and when things are. This positions you to pipe up with answers and meet people that will be at your table and ask general questions about the conference hoping someone can answer them.

During the Conference

#12. Wear your nametag. Make sure it’s visible. If it keeps flipping around, rig a binder clip to hold it in place.

#13. Be deliberate about your seating strategy at sessions with round tables. You can join a group and have people to start talking with right away (asking if a chair is free, introducing yourself, asking a question, etc.) Alternatively, you can scope out a table where no one is sitting. You then “own” the space and can play the role of a host. Either one works. One may suit you better than the other, though.

#14. Serve other people at the conference. Stock up on cough drops, mints, phone chargers, an extension cord, pens, and paper. Know how to download and use the conference app. Sit near the water pitcher at a table so you can offer to pour water or go get a drink for someone that just sat down. Be the one to get the Uber or car pool arranged. Those are easy ways for an introvert to meet new people and seem as if you are one of the most engaging people at the conference.

#15. Compare schedules with others. Learn what sessions they are attending. If it makes sense content-wise, give preference to sessions where you suspect you’re going to find people you have already met. (While it wasn’t a conference, this is why I, as a political science undergrad major, took a summer school accounting class: a woman I was interested in was going to be taking it, and so I just happened to be taking it, too.)

#16. Take advantage of social media to reach out and increase your visibility. Live tweet the sessions you attend (I’ve had people change sessions and meet me based on live tweets that made where I was sound more interesting.) Change the profile pics on social networks daily so they show what you look like and are wearing. This makes it very easy to spot you in a crowd.

#17. Type up your top ten take-aways from the day’s events and publish a blog post that evening or before the conference begins the next morning. Share it using the conference hashtag so people notice you are there. Invite conference goers reading the post to reach out to you at the event to request your full set of notes afterward.

#18. Unless you are actively using your phone for networking with social media (be honest here), leave it in your purse or pocket. Don’t make it look like your phone is your date for the event.

#19. Be careful with how you approach uber-confident, uber-outgoing, and uber-interested in telling everyone how great everything is people. I don’t know about you, but they can suck away what networking energy I have and leave me beating myself up for not being more outgoing and successful. That means I, at least, must be very careful about how much time I spend trying to hang out around them.

Networking Events

#20. Sign up for networking events and excursions. Make yourself go. Boost your confidence that you can enjoy these events on your own, while you look for opportunities to share experiences with others!

#21. Know how much alcohol gets you to where you start being engaging. Be careful if you need to drive afterward, but get to that amount of alcohol early on at a networking event to loosen up your conversation skills.

#22. Find other people that are alone and appear uneasy but hopeful. Reach out to them, essentially offering them an opportunity to be a part of a posse. Invite them to the group lunch or dinner you are planning!

#23. Look for small groups at networking events, ideally with people you’ve seen at sessions during the day. Find a way to join them through proximity, listening, smiling, and shared interests (i.e., you all are at this event, were in some of the same sessions, and have drinks). Being around the crowd can be the right opening to start meeting other people on the edge of the crowd.

That’s Not All the Ideas

I’m sure there are more ideas than this for an introvert to meet new people at a conference, but since this is probably the longest Brainzooming post ever, that’s all for today! – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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