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I don’t remember the exact year, but our Marketing department hired Chuck Dymer to speak to our team during a quarterly meeting. At some point during the talk, Chuck pulled out a copy of that morning’s USA Today and made a connection between an article and his pre-planned talk.

That moment influenced me tremendously.

I wanted my creative thinking skills to be strong enough to do the same thing. I wanted to be able to look at something random and make a valuable, intriguing connection to something already planned or underway.

My reaction that day led to exploring ideas for how to boost my creative thinking skills to make comparable intriguing connections.

In the strategic planning session Chuck and I co-facilitated last week for an organization’s future vision, he did it again. As he discussed a forward-looking analysis we prepared for our client, he pulled out the USA Today from that morning and connected it to what we were going to cover during the day.

I was so excited, because I didn’t know he was going to do that.

Creative Thinking Skills Test – Bending the Random to the Planned

The experience prompted this idea for a creative thinking skills test: If you think you are very creative, how can you work your creative skills to intriguingly connect something you have planned for days/weeks/months with a random piece of information from that day’s USA Today?

Via Shutterstock

When you can connect the pre-planned to the surprising or random, that’s a fantastic indicator your creative skills are delivering! – Mike Brown

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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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Based on executives visiting the Brainzooming website, there is considerable interest right now in “strategic planning icebreaker activities.”  I guess that isn’t surprising. This is the time of year when most organizations that are going to do strategic planning are thinking about it or have already started.

2 New Strategic Planning Icebreaker Activities

Here are two brand new ideas for strategic planning icebreaker activities. They both materialized last week. One is from a misunderstood comment at a strategic planning workshop. The other is a spin on a strategic planning technique someone told me about.

#1. Why can’t we have nice things?

Walking up to a small group at a Brainzooming strategic planning workshop, I mistakenly thought one participant said, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” That was enough of an inspiration to jot the idea down on this sticky note.

It occurred to me that this could be one of those fun strategic planning icebreaker activities to start a conversation about challenges and roadblocks an organization is facing. As it’s shown here, people can introduce themselves, then state a reason the organization can’t have nice innovations. Nothing about the question suggests whether the responses must be serious or silly. You may want to arrange for an early participant to share a silly answer to keep the tone light.

#2. Fill in the Blank

The second icebreaker activity idea came from someone telling me about a strategic planning workshop exercise where they used fill-in-the-blank questions. That made me remember the Match Game television program. On the game show, contestants completed a sentence by filling in a blank. The players scored points based on whether celebrities matched their answers to the typically suggestive questions.

Why not use a similar approach for strategic planning icebreaker activities?

Based on the same theme of getting a conversation started about innovation challenges, possible questions are:

I’m thinking we’d print the questions on sheets of orange paper, allowing people to answer them in writing and then hold them up as they introduce themselves.

Remember: These Are from the Brainzooming R&D Lab

We haven’t tried either of these in a real workshop yet, but we will soon. If you beat us to it, contact us about how they go! – Mike Brown

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The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

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Chuck Dymer and I led the first step in a client’s multi-day strategic planning process this week. The client wants to envision its organizational role decades into the future. This initial visioning exercise was hugely successful and fun.  And fun was an important expectation since they found us by Googling “strategic planning fun” and downloading our eBook on the topic of fun strategic planning.

We have been preparing the strategic planning process design for this workshop over the last month. Along the way, our two client sponsors have been incredible with their level of engagement and participation.

All of their involvement paid off via the five-part strategic planning process workshop addressing multiple strategic priorities. The support they provided and roles they played were integral to making the visioning workshop a success. They are a great example of how a client can powerfully support strategic planning success.

13 Ways to Support Strategic Planning Process Success

If you want strategic planning to be more productive in your organization, here are 13 ways our clients made it happen that you can do also:

  1. Be present and active throughout the process
  2. Actively take part in identifying who to involve in the strategic planning process
  3. Devote the appropriate amount of time to understanding a workshop’s design and strategic thinking exercises
  4. Greet workshop participants as they arrive
  5. Describe the process to participants in real words (not jargon) that people understand
  6. Introduce the facilitators with enthusiasm
  7. Play along with the icebreaker activity
  8. Stimulate ideas among other participants without dominating a conversation
  9. Smile throughout the workshop
  10. Ask constructive, probing questions to generate ideas
  11. Engage people that aren’t participating much (if at all)
  12. Refer back to information sharing and activities earlier in the workshop
  13. Summarize the results with passion and hopefulness

If you do these things as an internal strategic planning sponsor, you are setting the stage for making your strategic planning process a success! – Mike Brown

 

fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make Planning Strategy More Fun!

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

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Talking with another organization’s leaders, I started probing about their work processes. My suspicion (which proved correct) was they didn’t have formal processes to dependably produce their best work every time. Their processes turned out to be lax and inconsistent, which resulted in their customer experience strategy being the same.

They asked what they could do to better document strong processes.

3 Steps to Developing Consistent Customer Experience Strategy Processes

Off the top of my head, I suggested the following strategy to strengthen the consistency of their customer experience strategy.

Step 1: Select 10 to 15 very successful engagements. Also, select 10 to 15 unsuccessful (or less successful) engagements.

Step 2: Have two individuals or two groups work completely separately on diagnosing the critical success (or lack of success) factors. Use a structure so each group fully explores all aspects of the client experience, along with relevant internal processes, interactions, and tools to deliver the client experience. Among the factors to evaluate are:

  • Who people participated on the client side? On your side?
  • What talents, perspectives, energy, engagement, and activities did each person and group contribute to the process?
  • To what degree was the process complete (vs. abbreviated), standardized (vs. customized), at an expected pace (vs. accelerated or slowed), supported with an appropriate level of client activity (vs. too much oversight or not enough engagement)?
  • Relative to the result, what was the actual outcome (vs. what was expected) and objective measures of its success (vs. comparable engagements)?

Step 3: After each team prepares its evaluation, switch the work. Each group can add additional comments to the other group’s assessment based on their learning from the initial work.

Shaping Your Processes

Across this type of evaluation and questions, you should have a strong sense of what processes and factors lead to successful outcomes within your customer experience strategy.

From there, you can start spelling out more standardized approaches to boost the consistency and success of what you do and deliver. – Mike Brown

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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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How can you develop strategic thinking exercises to envision the future when it’s so easy to let previous experience cloud your imagination?

In an a mid-August 2017 article in The Wall Street Journal, Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, Inc., discusses the future of electric cars and why the charging station model will break from the gas station model. Romano shared an important insight into the challenge of developing strategic thinking exercises to envision future strategy: “Until you drive an EV, you are colored by 135 years of going to the gas station. Under that scenario, you say ‘Where is the new company that’s doing EV charging on street corners or in my highway entrance?’ but that isn’t really how this works.”

Romano sees the future model revolving revolve around charging stations located where people are already stopping for extended periods. The quick-in, quick-out charging station won’t garner a significant place. Understanding this change, however, is challenging when your perspective hasn’t broken from the past.

4 Strategic Thinking Exercises to Envision Future Strategy

Inspired by his observations, here are four strategic thinking exercises to better envision future strategy for your organization when success depends on breaking (as best possible) from a historical perspective.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Simulation and Role Playing

Challenge #1 – Extrapolating from Today: Romano stresses the futility of imagining a car charging model by extrapolating from the current auto fueling one. The key is to experience (or imagine the experience of) driving an electric vehicle with its differing needs.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Create an interactive, day-in-the-life scenario to imagine the future. Do the homework upfront via research, forward-looking case studies, immersing users in prototypes or virtual reality experiences, and simulating the future ahead. Providing a robust future view helps people more thoroughly envision it for your audiences and organization.

Participants will take on roles as future audience members. Within the role playing, they will brainstorm specific questions, challenges, opportunities, and behaviors they will encounter. This lets participants envision a typical future day unfolding sequentially.

It’s not unusual for brainstorming exercises to stipulate that every starting idea is good. To help future-imagining Brainzooming participants detach from today as much as possible, we anticipate one person steeped in the forward-looking research taking on a unique role: Owner of the Future. This person will listen for present-day thinking that no longer applies, in the future. If they hear speculation inconsistent with the future, they’ll exclaim loudly, “The future doesn’t work like that!” Yes, the role is different. Played by the right person, we think it will lighten things up and focus ideas.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Flipping Minimal and Abundant

Challenge #2 – Emerging Events Seem Microscopic: Before the next major event becomes major, it has minimal impact. Maybe 1% of the next big thing will be apparent while the status quo accounts for 99% of what we experience. At some point in the future, whatever the next big thing is will account for the overwhelming majority of instances, but not immediately.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Quantify statistics about the current status quo and emerging situations, using them in an exercise where you flip the numbers. Associate the minimal numbers of the emerging development with the abundant numbers of the status quo, and vice versa. Once you blatantly reset the future view through a number flip, have participants imagine the future by asking:

  • What will be important for success in this scenario?
  • How will audience member expectations change?
  • Who else would want to become a supplier or supporter in this scenario?
  • What new opportunities could develop with so many things flipped versus today?
  • What new problems might emerge with many things the opposite of now?

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Constrain Thinking to a Completely Technological Future

Challenge #3 – Thinking Technology Impacts Will Come Up Short: As we conduct future-looking research, several things are clear: digital availability, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things are all super-charging forward.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: While maybe not EVERYTHING will be digitized and automated, for the sake of imagining the future, you can comfortably say everything will be. Stipulating an all-digital future enables questions that make it more difficult to hold a today-centric perspective. Ask:

  • If a function is completely digital, with no human intervention, what will it mean for audiences? How will we provide our product or service in relevant ways?
  • If every object/thing can report what it thinks / knows / senses, how will that change how other things act? What will it mean for robots? For humans? What will the object / thing do with the information to learn and improve?
  • If robots handle that function (and every function before and after it), how will the experience change?
  • If AI continually improves the audience experience, where will it focus improvement efforts? What will humans do differently to cope or stay ahead?

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Accessing the Excess

Future Strategy Challenge #4 – Dismantling What’s No Longer Necessary: Romano notes that when electric vehicles predominate, there will be need for only a tiny percentage of the 168,000 gas stations in the United States currently. The impact of dismantling this excess is significant.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: While it is cooler to restrict future thinking to new, innovative ideas, the impact of currently valuable assets losing utility provides another path to imagining the future. Use today’s abundant things you flipped earlier and ask questions about what happens with them:

  • How could we retrofit them to provide value in a radically different future?
  • What other replacements will develop to provide the value and utility they currently offer?
  • If we blew them up and started over, what would we do with the space / materials / resources / time they now occupy?

What does your future strategy hold?

If you are trying to prepare your organization for an uncertain future, contact us. We can design in-person and online collaboration exercises to get as ready as possible for big changes in and around your organization! – Mike Brown

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

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  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

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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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We think one of the most important decisions during a strategic planning process is how to structure the activities the plan contains. Getting the right structure helps align the proper leadership to engage the organization in successfully implementing the plan.

3 Ways to Organize Your Strategic Planning Process

Three ways you can organize your strategic planning process are based on:

  • Organizational Structure: Present the activities by business lines and departments
  • Strategic Opportunities or Themes: Cross-functionally deploy the organization on major activities
  • Markets or Competitive Forces: Activate the organization around external realities, such as specific customer segments or competitors

You can also pick some combination of these organizing approaches.

Depending on your internal and external situation, each option presents advantages and disadvantages for your strategic planning process.

Using the organizational structure makes ownership for implementing the plan very clear, but it can work against collaborative implementation. Building it around strategic opportunities or themes typically ties to organizational priorities, but it likely means the plan structure will change every year or two. Using market segments or competitors creates a market focus for the plan while potentially clouding who will have responsibility for owning implementation and results.

No answer is right in every situation, but take the time early in strategic planning – ideally before you launch planning – to decide how you want to organize it. Making the decision early allows you to shape all the subsequent activities around your decision and the plan’s final structure.

Want to think through what can work best for you? If you’re driving strategic planning in a complex organization, contact us, and let’s discuss what your best option might be. – Mike Brown

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It’s been quite some time since Alan Black, Ph.D., CSP, DLA, guest posted on Brainzooming. Based in Athens, GA, but a true global traveler, Alan’s mission is to travel the world to help spark the increased development of Creative Thinking everywhere he can in every way he can. Here is Alan’s take on pushing beyond a single answer to embrace excessive creative thinking!

EXCESSIVE CREATIVE THINKING by Alan Black

For thirteen years, from K to 12th grade, children are taught to memorize the SINGLE CORRECT ANSWER in all their classes.  Seldom are they encouraged or taught how to generate multiple answers.

So, what might EXCESSIVE CREATIVE THINKING be?

Instead of asking WHAT IS IT? or WHAT WAS IT? or who, when, where or how a specific thing happened or happens, what if teachers began to ask:

What, Who, When, Where, Why, How MIGHT it happen?

Or

What, Who, When, Where, Why, How ELSE it may happen?

Instead of asking for the ANSWERS in the back of the accepted teacher’s manual for a course, why not encourage students to generate multiple possible to probable to perhaps provable potential ideas that may lead to workable solutions.

Such EXCESSIVE Creative Thinking is purely that: CREATIVE THINKING.

Around the world, professions, occupations, businesses, schools, and governments drastically need CREATIVE IDEAS more so today than ever in history.

Yet children and adults are taught to know the RIGHT ANSWER, the CORRECT SINGLE ANSWER.

Try this with your students, employees, or family members this week.

Instead of asking for a specific, in the back of the teacher’s answer book answer, ask for 6 possible, probable, or potential ideas.  Once they respond with 6 ideas, automatically begin asking for 12. Then 24. Then 144.

Push, pull, encourage your students, employees, and family members to THINK CREATIVELY first.  Then select the most acceptable, fun, new idea and turn it into a solution. – Alan Black

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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