Creativity | The Brainzooming Group - Part 5 – page 5

What could you do to your boring office so you and others are thinking strategically more readily and effectively?

Someone searched and came to the website looking for strategic thinking in the office examples. While we have a post on doing thinking strategically without leaving the office, we don’t have anything on how the physical surroundings of an office can boost strategic thinking.

32 Ideas for Thinking Strategically in the Office

If I were going to outfit an office to boost strategic thinking in a big way, here are things I’d do (and btw, the links below are nearly all affiliate links):

Physical Surroundings

I’d make these adjustments to the physical space:

  • Include a mobile, magnetic white board to draw out ideas
  • Even better, white board paint to make all the walls into white boards (and underneath, we’d apply metal primer so we could use magnets to hold up paper)
  • Paint grids (maybe like graph paper) on the white board walls to organize thinking and ideas
  • Maybe smart board technology (but I’m not quite sold on it yet)
  • A couple large screens to look at data, images, and video
  • Video conferencing equipment (preferably a Telepresence system, if at all possible)
  • Soft carpet to be able to lay on the floor and imagine
  • Make sure there are plenty of windows to look outside
  • Include multiple types of lighting with multiple ways to shut them down in certain parts of the office, but not in the other parts
  • Have fifty square feet of space per the number of people expected to meet for strategic thinking in the office

Strategic Inputs

For strategic jumping off points, there are various things to include:

Supplies and Resources

Here’s my shopping list for resources:

Other Stuff

These are other things I’d want around or available in the office:

Granted, it’s likely everything I spelled out here would not fit in most offices. And there is no way this is a universal list for fostering thinking strategically in the office. What will make thinking strategically easier and more frequent in your boring office will depend on what stimulates your best strategic thinking. – Mike Brown


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From a day-to-day perspective in the corporate world, we didn’t necessarily use objective metrics about creative ideas. Too often, it came down to whether an executive liked or didn’t like an idea.

After talking with a friend, I think the percent of time you are told to pull back your creative ideas because they are too big and bold may be a good way to assess how your creativity is faring in an organization. My friend explained that over a period of years, her bosses shot down every dynamic possibility she proposed as a creative marketing idea. The cumulative impact is she no longer offers big creative ideas because there isn’t any point. Her learned reluctance to push bold creative ideas now creeps into other situations where she does have tremendous latitude to introduce bold ideas. As she describes it, this phenomenon frustrates her professionally AND personally. It takes the creative joy out of side projects she does.

An Objective Creativity Metric

You could define a metric on how often you are told to pull back your creative ideas as a ratio:

Number of creative ideas you suggest
Number of times you have to pull back creative ideas because of bigness and boldness

Here are a few observations about the resulting percentage for this Creative Pullback Ratio (or CPR – yes, it HAD to have an acronym!):

If you are told to rein in every creative idea, that’s not a good place. There is a disconnect. It may be time to make sure your bold creative ideas are clearly and understandably rooted in strategy. Alternatively, you may be in a place that is thinking way too small; you should get out as soon as you can.

If no one ever says your ideas are too bold, that is also bad. It means you aren’t challenging anyone’s thinking with your creativity. You are going for safe and easy instead of innovative and disruptive.

Since neither CPR extreme is good, the right frequency for getting told to pull back creative ideas is somewhere between zero and 100%. That’s a huge range. Where the right place is depends on a couple of things:

Could monitoring a CPR benefit your creative ideas?

I pitched this idea to my friend. She said she didn’t think about developing creative ideas like this at all. That’s fair; maybe the CPR is too calculated (pun kind of intended) for people who are pure creatives.

For someone like me who has to use creative thinking structures (especially extreme creativity exercises) to boost creativity, the CPR may make more sense. I’m manufacturing creative ideas, no imagining them from pure inspiration. When you are a creativity manufacturer, having a creativity metric such as the CPR would help me know if I’ve dialed the right creative recipe.

Could thinking about your CPR help your creativity? Or does it just seem silly? 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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What types of strategic planning activities are in a strategic thinking workshop?

Readers have been asking this question frequently of late. That this is taking place during a period when many companies are IMPLEMENTING strategies suggests you understand the importance of strategy even beyond initial planning.

As we collaborate with a client to design strategic planning activities for a strategic thinking workshop, we explore various possibilities. The goal is making sure the strategic planning activities we select best match the organization, the objective, and the participants. By adapting the process to the situation, we’re able to help clients develop strong strategies with tremendous time efficiency.

6 Potential Strategic Planning Activities for a Workshop

If you are figuring out strategic planning activities in a strategic thinking workshop, we suggest looking toward six “I” categories as your starting point for the design. These six types of activities include:

Interacting – Meeting, networking and connecting with one another to build or enhance the sense of team among participants.

Informing – Providing background data and context so everyone has the same backdrop for strategic thinking. These activities often happen before a group convenes.

Investigating – Examining a particular situation to ensure the appropriate facts and perspectives are available for strategic thinking.

Insighting –  Identifying breakthrough thinking to open the door to deeply understanding opportunities and threats that strategy needs to address. (And yes, we know Insighting is a made-up word!)

Iterating – Using specific creative and strategic thinking exercises in a sequence to help the group generate many possibilities and ideas.

Integrating – Taking the output from throughout the strategic thinking workshop and putting it into strategic planning outputs. As with Information activities, these often happen outside a group setting.

Selecting the Right Menu of Activities

Selecting the menu of activities for a strategic thinking workshop isn’t haphazard. As we mentioned, the combination of the organization, objectives, and participants leads to the right menu of strategic planning activities. We explore each of these areas upfront to determine what to include.

The next article will take you deeper into each of the six categories with helpful articles to shape a productive strategic gathering.

Have questions about how we apply these activities? Contact us at The Brainzooming Group, and let’s talk about how to create the right menu of activities for your team. – Mike Brown

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  • Innovation

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During the Lenten season, which starts today (Ash Wednesday), Christians are called to sacrifice in a spirit of reflection and prayer. The point is to distance ourselves from the attractive nuisances of daily living that chip away at our spiritual lives.

Lies We Tell Ourselves

Entering this Lenten season, I’m thinking a lot about expectations and evaluations. Not expectations and evaluations from others, but those we render personally about ourselves.

For as long as I can remember, I tell myself I am not doing well enough or am not performing up to expectations. These are powerful personal motivators for me. In MBA school, I used to worry that each semester’s finals could be the ones that caused me to flunk out of college. In reality, that wasn’t even a remote possibility. Yet, this self-expectation drove me to study harder. It also made me physically ill every semester.

That’s a strong example of lying to yourself in a tremendously self-destructive way.

The same mentality drives me in business, too. Some shortcomings I’m trying to fill are real. Many (maybe most), however, are lies I tell myself to keep pushing harder.

Among other things, this Lent will involve for me trying to be more honest with myself. Self-lies about needing to do more work (or more whatever) have become too much a part of immersing myself in the world. They have detracted from my spiritual life. They cause me to get away from practices that are important to staying healthy and more productive overall.

I’m looking to honesty as an important part of making sure I’m investing my time and energy in the places God (and not Mike) wants.

A Creativity Prayer

As we’ve done for years on Ash Wednesday, here is our creativity prayer. It’s right at the intersection of my spiritual and personal lives. And if you say it, drop in a little prayer for me, please. Thank you!

A Creativity Prayer

Lord, Thank you for creation itself and the incredible gifts and talents you so generously entrust to me. May I appreciate and develop these talents, always recognizing that they come from you and remain yours. Guide me in using them for the benefit of everyone that I touch, so that they may be more aware of your creative presence and develop the creativity entrusted to them for the good of others. Help me also to use your talents to bring a creative spark and new possibilities to your world, living out my call to be an integral part of your creative force. Amen.

©2008, Mike Brown

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 facilitated a follow-up innovation workshop for an industrial client. In previous workshops, a large group convened and re-imagined a manufacturing process to improve quality, while maintaining costs and production efficiency. A follow-up workshop moved four of the process improvement concepts into detailed project planning. The aim was creating a series of relatively quick experiments to test the feasibility of each concept.

Straight forward enough, it would seem.

The organization’s leader, however, struggled with one of the concepts. It was not big and bold enough. As the team began implementation, they seem to settle for incremental improvements. The leader wanted to see them broaden and expand the concept’s horizons.

They requested a follow-up innovation workshop to inspire bigger, further out thinking.

A Remedy from our eBook, 321 GO!

We brought two specific inspirations to the innovation workshop: extreme and analogy-based creative thinking exercises. Using these creative thinking exercises, we pushed them to forget (temporarily) what they have been doing and re-imagine the situation from different perspectives. That combo, along with a lot of conversation and drawing, identified six other concepts during the innovation workshop. They picked two to drill down on right now, with four other others in the hopper for later.

Most importantly, the client was happy with the progress and sees the right level of reach from the innovation project team.

There were plenty of take-away lessons for any of us to consider. Here are a few:

  • A leader’s “no” to innovation isn’t necessarily throttling new thinking. It may be that the new thinking isn’t big enough.
  • Where, and how far, you stand away from today has a significant impact on the size of ideas in an innovation workshop. Standing in extreme and analogous positions leads to bigger thinking.
  • An internal team, left to its own devices, can lack the capabilities to push their thinking. In those cases, stopping for an innovation workshop provides the impetus to advance thinking so the team can keep moving.

A client looking for more extreme ideas, finding the right inspiration triggers, and designing an innovation workshop to deliver bigger thinking. All in a day’s work for The Brainzooming Group!

If that sounds like something you need, contact us, and let’s discuss the possibilities.  – Mike Brown

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Chuck Dymer co-facilitated a client’s internal management meeting with us recently. Chuck is the owner of Brilliance Activator, which helps leaders uncork the creative genius of their teams to improve products and processes, delight customers, and grow profits.

During the creative thinking workshop we facilitated inside an internal management meeting, participants worked through multiple exercises to identify ideas for internal and customer initiatives. Chuck shared the following example to push the participants toward greater specificity in the ideas they shared. It’s a tremendous example, and I asked him to share it with all of you!

Why Specificity Makes or Breaks a Creative Thinking Workshop by Chuck Dymer

It’s lunchtime and a colleague asks you what you’d like to eat. You answer, “Chinese,” and off you go to a nearby Chinese restaurant. Then you open your menu and discover that there’s not a single item on the menu called Chinese.

Hunan style lemon chicken, mu shu pork, wonton soup–these and many other choices appear on the menu. You can sit and stare at the golden carp in the fish tank or you can order an item off the menu. But eating Chinese? Good luck.

“Chinese” is the name of a cuisine, a style of preparing food associated with a place of origin. You can eat lemon chicken; you can’t eat Chinese. Lemon chicken is specific; Chinese is a generality.

When it comes to idea generation (be it a brainstorm or one of the methods Brainzooming offers), participants often put forward ideas that are too general to be implemented. You can use them to organize or to develop specific ideas. But you can’t implement them.

If you were to run a creative thinking workshop to generate ideas for improving your organization’s morale, odds are that one of the ideas from the group would be “better communication.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? But just as you can’t order something as general as “Chinese,” you can’t implement something as general as “better communication.”

Here’s what you CAN do. You can ask: “What are some specific ways to improve communication?” And you might receive ideas such as “shorter emails” or “fewer emails.” Here’s where it gets interesting, because now you can ask, “How can we shorten our emails?” or “How can we have fewer emails?” Participants might suggest that no email should be longer than 4 tweets, i.e., 480 characters in length. Or they might say that no one can send an email to more than three people at a time. Specific ideas like this can be implemented. You may not want or choose to implement them, but they are actionable and ready for implementation.

After giving participants 10 minutes or so to generate ideas, you can pause and separate the generalities from the specifics. The generalities can be used as topics for organizing specific ideas. For instance, “better communication” might be one topic, with “fewer emails” listed as one option for improving communication.

Now this is where the magic happens. As you continue to organize generalities into topics and ask for specific, actionable steps, you’ll end up with far more ideas than the original 10 minutes produced, and those additional ideas will be much closer to implementation. Of course, ideas must be vetted prior to implementation.

This extra step—separating generalities from specifics in a creative thinking workshop—may at first seem strange. But the benefits are immediate and far-reaching. Remember, ordering the Chinese dish you want by name, rather than saying you want Chinese food, is a much more effective way of ensuring you’ll get exactly what you want. So too with ideas! –  Chuck Dymer, Brilliance Activator

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Suppose your organization is not going in the right direction. You and others on your senior management team are beginning to see that strategic reality. Still, you avoid the difficult conversation where you have to start reimagining the organization as something dramatically different.

How, if you are facing this situation, can you initiate a conversation with strategic thinking questions safe enough to raise the issue?

5 Strategic Thinking Questions to Start Reimagining the Organization

Rather than starting by pushing your management team all the way out to a wildly reimagined future, start with where you are now. Using today as a starting point, reimagine specific strategic aspects, one at a time, to initiate the conversation. Here are five “today” areas to reimagine in a future state:

Since each of these questions begins with a grounding in today, it can be an easier transition to start reimagining the future. At the same time, do not completely neglect stretch the senior management team into more blatantly disruptive thinking. You need to do both as part of reimagining who you are as an organization.

If you are a senior executive and are looking for ideas to facilitate this conversation among your peers, contact us. We can suggest more ways to dial in these strategic thinking questions for your organization’s specific opportunities and challenges. – 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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