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During our Brainzooming “Outside-In Innovation” workshop at the Compete Through Service Symposium, participants applied several of our benefits-based strategic thinking exercises.

These inter-related strategic thinking exercises help explore higher-impact benefits. These longer benefit lists highlight new innovation opportunities, improve messaging, and suggest potential competitors.

One participant struggled on the strategic thinking exercise to identify competitors. Participants were trying to list three types of organizations delivering comparable benefits to their own. The three types are:

  • Expected competitors – Those on a brand’s typical competitor list
  • Surprising competitors – Dissimilar organizations that could still clearly be competitors
  • Left Field competitors – Completely non-traditional, out of category organizations that could possibly compete with yours

As an example, here’s a left field competitor someone identified. A health insurance company selected Google as a left field competitor. Google has massive amounts of information on healthcare needs. It could also introduce ways to collect more. Additionally, Google has dabbled with delivering online healthcare.

The participant stymied in pushing his thinking on left field competitors asked for help to push further.

Left-Field-Fenway

Two Other Ideas to Imagine Potential Left Field Competitors

As is often the case, one great way to push your thinking into new areas is to combo multiple strategic thinking exercises.

Strategic Thinking Exercise Idea 1 – What’s It Like?

If you’re challenged by identifying unlikely but potentially emerging competitors, you can combo the benefits approach with the “What’s It Like” strategic thinking exercise.

In “What’s It Like,” you list five diverse characteristics of your business situation. You use this list to explore others organizations facing the same types of generalized situations.

To imagine more unusual potential competitor possibilities, you could pick various combinations of only two of the five characteristics. What left field competitors might match just two characteristics similar to yours? The answer can still tie to what you do. But using only two common characteristics should create room for a wilder exploration of potential left field competitors.

Strategic Thinking Exercise Idea 2 – What’s Getting in the Way?

The recent story we shared from Armada Corporate Intelligence about how the Oreo brand is staying fresh inspired another way to spot left field competitors.

Oreo identified online video games as a competitor. The reasons were consumers play with video games – and spend discretionary dollars on them – while they wait in retail lines instead of looking at (and buying from) Oreo point-of-sale displays.

Cookies and online video games competing is a pretty left field comparison, if you ask me.

You can identify comparable left field competitor comparisons. Explore how else your customers may be using the time, attention, and resources they usually would have used to buy from your brand. Even more critically, examine other brands, in or out of your market, that are inserting themselves and disrupting the traditional buying process.

Why imagine left field competitors?

If you wonder about the value of identifying left field competitors, consider the benefit to Borders Books, Tower Records, and any cell phone company of imagining Apple as a far-off competitor twenty years ago! – Mike Brown

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This new ebook features sixteen strategic thinking exercises to help you ideate, prioritize, and develop your best innovative growth ideas. Download this free, concise ebook to:

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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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It seems that everyone you meet has creative job titles that include a C-level designation these days, even if it’s just a “for show” title.

You quickly learn this when a business card also lists a person’s REAL title, which is more around a manager level. So they get to say they are a C-something or other, but still get paid at an M-level.

And everybody is happy, sort of.

7 New Creative Job Titles for the C-Level

In the interests of adding to the list creative job title around the real or imagined C-suite, here are seven C-titles we’d like to throw into the mix.

business-cards

CRO – Chief Recreation Officer

In charge of video games, bean bags, and all other apparatus critical to a positive corporate activity vibe.

CVO – Chief Viral Officer

Responsible for both creating engaging social media content AND dispensing antibiotics during cold and flu season.

CPO – Chief Pet Officer

Makes sure all office environments are safe, comfortable, and accommodating for four-, two-, and no-footed friends who accompany their owners to work.

CIO – Chief Indignation Officer

The senior executive who is even more pissed off about how things are going than you are.

CMO – Chief Matrix Officer

Stands at the intersection of line and functional organizations and decides who wins in their ongoing disputes about which is more important.

CDO – Chief Disruption Officer

Responsible for undermining currently successful business lines while hoping magic happens with some wild idea someone in marketing crowdsourced.

CMO – Chief Meme Officer

The position responsible for creating inventive crowdsourced meme apps at Bill Cosby’s fan club. In case you’re interested, this position is currently open.

Which of these creative job titles do you prefer?

If you see your job responsibilities match up to any of these creative job titles, you may want to see if you can get a C-level added to your business card, even IF your pay stays the same. – 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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Each year around this time, I’ve been running a post with twenty-five lessons learned from the past year away from full-time corporate life. With prompting from a Brainzooming blog reader who is a long-time friend and incredibly kind supporter, here’s this year’s edition of lessons from another year away from corporate life.

25 Lessons Learned in Year Five Away from Corporate Life

Year-Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Generalize your organization and discover new possibilities

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

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

3. Watch Customers for Ideas

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

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

4. Look for radically different parties targeting your customers

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

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

5. Figure out metrics before you innovate

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

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

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

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

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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

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

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

A Different Test for a Strategic Thinking Exercise

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

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

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

Modifiers

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

Issuing a New Challenge to Marketers

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

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

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

Audience

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

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

Taking the Risks and Getting the Returns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chicken-eggs

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll bring the chickens. – Mike Brown

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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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Have you seen this commercial about bad decisions people make in horror movies? It reminds me of the typical strategic planning process, where people KNOW it’s not going to be productive, yet they approach a kickoff strategic planning meeting the same way every year and think things will be different.

10 Signs of a Strategic Planning Meeting Nightmare

If you’re invited to a strategic planning meeting to prepare for next year or you are doing the one inviting to this type of meeting, look at the materials sent to participants.

Want to know in advance if the strategic planning process is going to be a nightmare?

Spooky

See how many of the descriptions below apply to what’s being sent to participants to prepare for the strategic planning process:

  1. The organizer isn’t a strategic thinker
  2. People or whole areas of the company that SHOULD be included are absent from the invite list
  3. A bunch of blank pages were sent out for people to complete in advance about past performance and future strategies
  4. Invitees are expected to come up with ideas, issues, strategies, and/or forecasts outside their expertise that they are supposed to fit into complex templates and forms
  5. The first time anyone will see what everyone else is working on is when they show up at the first strategic planning meeting
  6. The meeting is too internally focused, with insufficient time to address customers, competitors, markets, and important external factors
  7. There are lots of presentations, but no time for the group to work collaboratively
  8. Not enough time is set aside (within the meeting or across the whole planning process) to create a plan that meaningfully (and not just incrementally) improves things
  9. The person leading the strategic planning meeting has too much authority over the participants and will sway their perspectives
  10. It’s not clear how decisions are going to be made about priorities and what to do for next year

Do any of these sound familiar?

I’m not sure how many of these descriptors completely tip the scales toward ensuring your strategic planning process is going to be a nightmare.

If more than four or five of them describe your upcoming strategic planning meeting, however, you can pretty much rest assured it’s going to be a nightmare.

Want to change your strategic planning process for the better?

Contact us (info@brainzooming.com or 816-509-5320).

There’s still time (yes, there is still time) to make a course correction and turn your strategic planning meeting into something productive and beneficial.

Think of us as the running car in the commercial, and you can leave all your horrors to the horror movies!

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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