As we mentioned, business people are expending considerable energy preparing for strategy planning meetings. That is evidenced by our web traffic as searches for effective strategic planning exercises and effective strategy meetings jump.

Invariably, executives are seeking information on strategic thinking exercises suited to making strategic planning participants more effective and successful.

Strategic Thinking Exercises – Some Work, Some Don’t

That is why whenever we’re working in the Brainzooming R&D lab on new strategic planning exercises for clients, I’m reminded of this video. It’s a Monty Python sketch called “World Forum.” In it, Eric Idle plays a talk/gameshow host quizzing the big players in communism and socialism.

Why, you may ask, does this video remind me of strategic planning exercises?

Because the Monty Python sketch demonstrates how asking questions that participants aren’t suited to answer tanks strategic planning meetings. That’s why this video was an early inspiration for the Brainzooming approach to strategic thinking exercises.

Think about how closely the sketch matches your strategic planning meeting experiences.

In the first round, the host asks experts in communism and socialism about trivia questions pertaining to English football. Despite how opinionated they are in their fields of expertise, they can’t contribute beyond what they know. In the second round, it’s only through dumb luck that one of them positively answers a question far afield from what you’d expect they know. Finally, in the third round, a few questions about their areas of expertise lead to beneficial answers. After the topic returns to English football, however, it’s back to silence.

That’s just like many strategy meetings. Employees that rarely deal with strategy formally are peppered with questions and exercises about corporate strategy and business analysis they are ill prepared to answer. As a result, participants are frustrated and feel as if they wasted their time.


It doesn’t have to be like that, though.

If you’d like to learn more about a better way to collaborate on strategy, we have suggestions for you that will really work for your organization!

Call us at 816-509-5320 or email us at info@brainzooming.com, and let’s talk about what will work best for your team. –  Mike Brown


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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. Contact 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.

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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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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Facing Innovation Barriers? Here Is Help!


Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

We have free Brainzooming eBooks for you to help navigate barriers and boost innovation!


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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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

Download your FREE copy of 7 Strategies to Conquer Your Organization’s Innovation Fears today!

Download Your FREE eBook! 7 Strategies to Conquer Your Organization's Innovation Fears

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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What if you are a person that freezes up when you think you need to come up with or implement a creative idea?

What if even having someone TELL YOU that there are no wrong ideas doesn’t free you up to start sharing ideas in a group?

What if your fear of being wrong is so great that you can’t even start implementing creative ideas that are just for you for fear you’ll goof something up?

Is there hope?

Sure, there is hope.

Typically, the creative thinking exercises we teach and use are a huge source of hope to get past fears about self-judged “bad” ideas. Those creative thinking exercises don’t work for some people, however.

I had someone dealing with these concerns come up and talk with me the other day during a wonderful weekend I spent at the Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites annual conference. She could be creative in other areas on her own time, by herself. Or she could express creativity when she patterned what she did creatively on someone else’s approach. While she wanted to contribute to the group creative thinking exercises we used, however, she “froze up.”

She was another “Becky,” a person we worked with that was miserable in group creative situations.

I told my new friend that she was also me. I can still be the person that doesn’t want to mess up a creative idea right from the start or expend creative energy on things I don’t think will lead to success or progress.

To help, I bought her a cheap sketchbook (not a nicely bound book that says “don’t mess up a page” to someone like my friend), a few Sharpies, and a couple of the Pilot pens I use to scribble notes. Inside the sketch book, I wrote this message for her.


Finally, we talked about other ways to lower the stakes of imagining and doing something with new creative ideas:

  1. Write down ideas you are willing to throw away if they don’t turn into anything.
  2. Don’t plan to show anyone your ideas until you are happy with them.
  3. Get over it: if someone doesn’t get your creative idea right away, what’s the worst thing that can happen?
  4. Create something you can erase, adjust, or modify.
  5. If you are creating in a group, make it very easy for others to participate so their expectations for the creative output might not be so big.
  6. Share ideas that aren’t comfortable for you. Don’t judge them on whether you like them. Evaluate them later by whether they inspired someone else to come up with new ideas.
  7. Apply some creative ideas you like in one area to another area where you have less comfort with new ideas.
  8. Decide for yourself that your idea doesn’t have to be perfect and take a risk.

Are you a Becky? If you are, figure out which of these ideas (or others) will work to lower creative stakes for you.

Because the only creative mistake you are REALLY making is missing out on sharing your creativity with the world. – Mike Brown

Facing Innovation Barriers? We Can Help!


Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

We have free Brainzooming eBooks for you to help navigate barriers and boost innovation!


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming email updates.

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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I’m at the Social Media Strategies Summit in Dallas today, delivering a two-hour workshop on developing a branded content marketing strategy. The key is finding the right balance between employing outside-in topics and outside-in timing while still making sure your brand personality and messages come through clearly.

We recently conducted a dedicated content marketing strategy workshop for a client on this very topic. We worked with nearly thirty of its business and communication leaders to explore topics four different audience personas would find valuable and that the organization, a healthcare non-profit, could credibly address.

The client is a non-profit focused on healthcare. It entered the workshop with five profiles of target audience members that The Brainzooming Group helped them develop. These profiles, called personas, are three-to-five paragraph descriptions it developed describing specific individuals it serves, seeks to hire, or collaborates with in serving clients.  Small groups prepared the personas in advance by brainstorming answers to ten questions on each audience member.

The personas provided the basis for other workshop activities imagining topics audience members would be interested in and willing to read, watch, or listen to if the non-profit were to address them.

Here’s an overview of each of the strategic thinking exercises:

5 Content Marketing Strategy Exercises to Generate Audience-Oriented Topics


What questions do audience members ask during the buying journey?

The initial exercise explored three phases of an audience member’s journey. The first phase (Awareness) encompassed their initial exploration as they became aware of an opportunity or issue an outside party might address. The second phase (Consideration) involved the audience member describing the relevant opportunity or issue and looking at organizations to help satisfy needs. The final phase (Decision) involved the audience member selecting, engaging, and evaluating the relationship with the outside party they chose.

Within each phase, the small groups identified questions audience members might ask. The comprehensive list of questions each group identified became the basis for the second content marketing exercise.

What topics address important audience questions?

The second exercise used questions from the first one to generate content topic ideas. For each audience question, participants suggested one or more topics or working titles. The topics they generated were not intended to communicate an overtly promotional brand message. Instead, the content would help audience members be smarter in their exploration, evaluation, decision-making, engagement, and post-purchase experiences. As the brand addresses topics of interest to audience members, it has the opportunity to subtly convey its helpfulness, expertise, and audience-focus through sharing beneficial content throughout has the audience journey.

Why do audience members select the brand?

Another exercise focused participants on the relationship stage where audience members either choose or do not choose the brand. Workshop participants identified five primary reasons audience members select the brand. They then identified five reasons audience members do not pick the brand. For each positive reason, they generated multiple topic ideas (of interest to audience members) that would back up the brand’s attractive characteristics. For reasons the brand was not selected, they brainstormed possible topics to help counter or refute misperceptions about the brand.

What do audience members say about the brand relationship?

One exercise focused on interactions audience members have with the brand further into the relationship using a 4-box grid. One axis listed “questions” and “statements.” The other listed “negative” or “positive” interactions.  Each of the four cells named a relevant situation and several questions to trigger potential topics. For instance, positive questions present “Education opportunities,” and negative questions signal “pain points.” Positive statements suggest highlighting ” brand value.” Negative comments indicate “objections to anticipate.” Questions associated with each of these four areas suggested jumping off points for additional topic ideas.

What do we think, know, and do that is relevant for audience members?

Audience members’ interests primarily extend beyond the brand’s traditional focus areas. That is why brands focusing only on content about themselves miss so many rich areas in which to share content. To counter this, one exercise explored areas in which audience members exhibit interests, seek information, and focus priorities. For each of the areas identified, participants generated audience-oriented topics. They made the brand connection to the audience based on what the brand thinks about audience interest areas, knows about the information they seek, and does relative to their priorities.

Coming Away with Plenty of Audience-Oriented Topic Ideas

During the Brainzooming content marketing strategy workshop, participants generated hundreds of potential content topics. Before adjourning, each person walked the room to review the topics and select those they thought had particular potential to interest audience members.

The next step is documenting all the topics on a content calendar. This enables the brand to address topics in an organized fashion across the year when, as they can best determine, audience members are most interested in the information.

If you want to learn more about specific details of this approach, contact us. Let’s collaborate to develop richer content that matters to your audiences. – Mike Brown

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Learn all about how Mike Brown’s workshops on social media and content marketing can boost your success!

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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What are your expectations from a creative thinking workshop?

That is the first question I ask the audience at a Brainzooming creative thinking workshop. While I have a rich array of content planned, audience member expectations shape the points I emphasize and lead to including other unplanned content.

7 Expectations from Creative Thinking Workshop Training

Preparing for a creative thinking workshop this week, I looked back at a recent workshop to review the expectations participants shared. The expectations are a good representation of issues, from personal creativity to organizational strategy, important to getting things accomplished in a large company.


How do you move an organization and its strategy from reactive to proactive?

On a personal basis, certain strategic leadership basics are a good place to start adjusting your attitude and growth as a strategic leader. Organizationally, a change management assessment we use identifies the types of change challenge an organization faces, along with ideas for approaching them successfully.

What are techniques to look at problems in new ways?

We offer a wide variety of strategic thinking exercises to change perspectives and look at day-to-day and longer-term problems in novel ways. At that workshop, we concentrated on the “What’s It Like?” strategic thinking exercise as a flexible tool suitable for many situations.

How do you build a team to move forward in a new direction?

We recommend assembling a diverse team with members filling specific important strategic perspectives. You can add to the core group with three distinct voices that include traditional leaders, emerging voices, and those challenging the status quo.

How do you motivate others – and yourself – to engage in greater creative thinking?

It may seem easy to stay stuck in the status quo. But for as easy it is to not change, you can’t stop all the change going on around you. We recommend inviting people to participate in creative thinking through using idea magnet behaviors. Idea magnets excite and propel others to tackle challenging creative tasks. Leaders also need to cultivate an atmosphere where people understand it’s okay to imagine and try ideas that won’t be successful right away, if ever.

How do you choose specific creative thinking ideas your team develops?

Ideas are a numbers game. It takes many ideas to uncover the most creative possibilities. Our experience suggests that as few as 8% to as many as 20% of ideas in a creative thinking workshop are viable candidates to move ahead right away. Involve a team in narrowing ideas by letting them select up to 20% of the initial ideas consideration. Then use a four-box grid to let team members express their initial views on the value of potential ideas, while group discussion helps decide which ideas advance.

What’s the life cycle of creative ideas?

The cycle to get from few ideas to many ideas to the best few ideas may happen multiple times during one initiative or plan. You, as a creative leader, need to be on the lookout for when it’ s time to move between divergent to convergent thinking and back again.

How do you communicate new strategies to those that are less open to change?

Personally, you can ask open, neutral, and lean questions of people reluctant to change in order to better understand their concerns. Invite them to play a challenger role in constructively helping to vet new thinking. For setting an overall strategy to handle change fears, download our innovation fears eBook offers seven possible strategies to consider.

Creative Thinking Is a Broad Topic

These questions suggest how a creative thinking workshop can cover a wide range of techniques and tips.

If your team would benefit from honing its creative thinking skills, it’s a great time to schedule a Brainzooming workshop before you dive into planning for next year! Contact us to get your workshop booked today!  – Mike Brown

Facing Innovation Barriers? We Can Help!


Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

We have free Brainzooming eBooks for you to help navigate barriers and boost innovation!

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming email updates.

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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You have heard the old business joke about the pig and the chicken’s different levels of commitment to breakfast?

When it comes to ham and eggs, the chicken is supportive, while the pig is committed.


It may be an old and tired story, but it still illustrates an important point about engagement and the willingness (or unwillingness) of employees to go all in with a new business initiative.

The thing is, unsuccessful employee engagement strategies are not an employee problem.

It is a LEADERSHIP problem when purported employee engagement strategies are not working. It means leadership has not made a credible case for WHY employees will benefit from going beyond the bare minimum to justify going all in to make company initiatives successful.

We see great leaders among our clients successfully taking steps that meaningfully involve employees in shaping strategy and implementation. These leaders respect differences completely, ask questions honestly, listen attentively, adapt credibly, and explain thoroughly.

That is a formula that works for employee engagement, and it is one reason we shared our Brainzooming buy-in manifesto.

If you want to go deeper on a viable strategy to improve employee engagement, download our Results eBook. It highlights an approach for more collaborative strategy that provides employees with a real opportunity to contribute their ideas and be a part of actively contributing to your organization’s direction. 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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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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