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I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard business people say and then try to explain why their particular companies are unique. By this, they typically mean there is no possibility any other company faces the same types of challenges and operational issues they deal with daily.

While that might be a comforting perspective if you’re fond of business isolationism, it’s rarely true once you start to explore the business strategically.

Maze

We were working recently with a company that, based on its competitive and business situation, could certainly lay some claim to having a unique business situation. But given our unwillingness to settle for that easy answer, we created a rapid fire strategic thinking exercise to push for ideas.

Our immediate need was to identify potential innovation case studies to discover how other companies and industries are innovating in relevant ways.

Strategic Thinking Exercise – 17 Questions to Find Innovation Case Studies

Within about ten minutes, using the seventeen questions in this strategic thinking exercise, a group of nine or ten people generated more than seventy possible companies and industries to explore for comparable innovation case studies.

If you are facing a similar challenge to generate relevant strategic connections to your business, here is your starting point for a comparable Brainzooming strategic thinking exercise:

  1. What companies have similar sizes and org structures to ours?
  2. Who are our strategic partners?
  3. Who are our primary competitors?
  4. What companies provide substitutes for what we offer to customers?
  5. What other companies serve the same customers we do?
  6. What other companies have similar strategies to ours?
  7. What industries have similar operations or sales structures to ours?
  8. What companies have similar cost structures to ours?
  9. What companies employ similar processes to the ones we use?
  10. What companies are trying to innovate in similar ways to ours?
  11. What companies of our size have similar ownership and/or financial structures?
  12. What companies that do the same general things we do have comparable business situations?
  13. What other companies that share our general business category are most similar to us?
  14. What other companies are facing comparable competitive dynamics?
  15. What other companies are facing comparable cost pressures?
  16. What industries look / behave like ours? Why/how?
  17. What companies look / behave like ours? Why/how?

See, with this strategic thinking exercise, there’s no reason your business has to feel so alone in its innovation challenge. There are definitely innovation case studies you can discover and explore for new ideas! – Mike Brown

 

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Looking for a Successful Innovation Strategy to Grow Your Business?
Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise eBook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE eBook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!





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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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During a strategic thinking skills workshop for a client, we shared ideas for taking information from varied sources and identifying strategic themes.

One slide during the workshop focused on analysis styles and featured two contrasting images.

Plate-Thanksgiving-Sandwich

The image on the left is a divided plate (affiliate link) intended to keep all your food items separate from one another and in the places you originally placed them.

The image on the right may be harder to identify. It’s a “Thanksgiving Sandwich.” I had previously seen them on Diners, Drive-in, and Dives. I ate one for the first time at a sandwich shop at the Las Vegas airport. The one in the picture was made at home right after Thanksgiving. It includes turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce on a roll. My own special addition was a schmear of pumpkin spice cream cheese on the top bun, creating a true flavor explosion. In one bite, you taste the main course through the dessert of a Thanksgiving dinner.

The picture represents two approaches to strategic thinking skills that analysts I’ve met throughout my career display.

Most analysts from a quantitative research background tend to be like the image on the left. They focus so much on keeping data straight and linked to underlying sources, that they simply report what’s there with the numbers on the surface. They are grossed out by the idea of mucking around in all the data and putting multiple sources and analysis looks together to learn new things that aren’t apparent when information is kept separate.

While the link to source data and keeping everything straight is important, it only goes so far.

I’ve met far fewer analysts comfortable with the strategic thinking skills involved in smooshing everything on the “data plate” together to create something akin to the Thanksgiving sandwich. It’s only when you start experimenting and combining information, perhaps from very different sources, that you often begin creating explosive new insights. This type of analysis really is like the Thanksgiving Sandwich in that you recognize all the original flavors (i.e., the source data), but experience them in an entirely new and wonderful combination.

In answering the question about what kind of strategic thinking skills and analysis you’re comfortable with performing, the answer should be BOTH types. You need to like making sure you have knowledge and credibility behind the source information. At some point, however, you have to smash it all together and see what amazing things might happen.

If you find yourself in one strategic thinking skills camp or the other, you need to try how the other half eats data.

You’ll enjoy it! – Mike Brown

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

 

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Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help you generate extreme creativity and ideas! For organizational innovation success, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative growth strategies. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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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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I have been traveling more recently for speaking than at any time during history of The Brainzooming Group.

While there’s more to come in the months ahead, here are highlights of a couple of innovation strategy presentations this week to very different groups.

Innovation Strategy in Your Organization – An Innovative Workplace Culture

Today, I’m in Cincinnati presenting to senior executives from multiple companies on cultivating an innovative workplace culture.

Cincinnati

The presentation incorporates  our “Taking the NO Out of Business InNOvation” work to focus on seven key innovation enablers. Senior leaders can address these focus areas to improve an organization’s receptiveness and motivation to generate new ideas and do something with them.

The seven recommendations for cultivating an innovative workplace culture include:

  1. Providing actionable strategic direction (beyond simply saying your organization needs to be more innovative)
  2. Inviting broad participation from employees throughout the organization
  3. Meaningfully engaging employees when inviting them to share ideas
  4. Encouraging and supporting organizational change
  5. Implementing smart, innovative possibilities
  6. Staying agile through focusing on what’s important for creating results
  7. Celebrating progress and success tied to innovative ideas

As questions and discussion with the attendees suggest new topics, look for us to explore them here.

Innovation Strategy across a Community – Forward to the Future

On Monday, I discussed the community collaboration process we facilitated for Carbondale, IL in September 2015. The panel discussion at the Gigabit City Summit also featured Gary Williams, the interim city manager of Carbondale, and Dave Sandel of Sandel & Associates. We’ve worked with Dave’s team on multiple community collaboration engagements related to broadband initiatives, economic development, and Smart Cities.

Carbondale-Group

To provide a feel for the community collaboration work in Carbondale (home of my grad school alma mater, Southern Illinois University), we developed a brief video. It shares how university students and community leaders participated to shape a future-looking view of Carbondale.

You can also review the results of the Carbondale playbook to see what lies ahead for the community.  Mike Brown

10 Employee Engagement Ideas 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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We’ve said it before, experience its confirmation repeatedly, and will thus say it again: One of the best ways to learn more about what you know is to teach it to someone else.

The latest confirmation took place this week as we created and presented a new Brainzooming innovation workshop on how to develop insights to fuel innovation.  We’re several engagements into a relationship with a client implementing a sweeping innovation initiative across its organization. We developed this new Brainzooming innovation workshop for the management team within the department leading the innovation push.

We routinely present strategic thinking workshops on the exercises and tools The Brainzooming Group uses to develop and implement innovative ideas. This innovation workshop differed in that we taught the insights development techniques we use to prepare for a successful innovation strategy initiative. This required examining and documenting areas we almost always do without explaining to anyone outside our organization.

6 Keys to Facilitating Executive Interviews

innovation-workshop

One new content area involved how to get the most value from an executive interview. Reflecting on our current practices and a career’s worth of executive interviews, here are six keys to facilitating strategic conversations within executive interviews:

  • Show real enthusiasm for both the questions you are asking AND the answers the other person is sharing
  • Display supportive physical cues, such as leaning in toward the other person with an engaged posture, nodding in affirmation, and smiling
  • Take great notes to help recall specific statements and develop themes emerging from the strategic conversation
  • Share encouraging verbal cues through affirmations (i.e., “Great,” “That’s interesting,” “Thank you for sharing that”) and probes (i.e., “Please tell me more,” “Can you go deeper on that topic?”)
  • Don’t be afraid of silence – allow space in the discussion for the other person to think, form ideas, or even try harder to answer a question more thoroughly
  • Know where you want to go next with a question YET move based on the responses from the other person – the key here is having an interview plan that is adaptable to focus on the topic the respondent is ready to address at any given moment

Want to experience these six keys within a non-traditional setting?

This interview of comedian Jerry Lewis by Raymond Arroyo is an outstanding example. While it certainly isn’t a traditional executive interview, it’s a compelling a strategic conversation covering familiar and new ground in a productive and engaging way.

Additionally, at 54:00 Jerry Lewis compliments Raymond Arroyo on his interview approach, suggesting the first of these six keys for executive interviews: “You are articulate. You know what you’re going to talk about. You’re interested in the answer; that’s the key. You’re interested in everything you asked me to see what the answer is. And that draws from me, (making me) eager to do more for you.”

Here is to more productive strategic conversations daily in business.

And if you are developing an innovation initiative, contact us so The Brainzooming Group can have a strategic conversation with you on ways we can assist with an innovation workshop or strategy! – Mike Brown

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

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Learn all about how Mike Brown’s workshops on creating strategic impact 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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“Let’s start with a clean sheet of paper to boost creativity.”

Talking with a potential client about an already-planned innovation strategy workshop, the going-in innovation strategy called for giving participants “a clean sheet of paper.”

We listened to the rationale for adopting an innovation strategy based on broad creative freedom.

In many ways, it seemed to make sense:

  • They are looking for new thinking from a diverse set of participants.
  • They have had success in other situations starting with minimal direction.
  • They are adapting and applying the same format used with the other successes in a new business area.

We countered with our experience-based recommendation: give everyone insights, direction, and structure to generate more possibilities and legitimately boost the workshop’s potential for innovation strategy impact.

The workshop is already planned, so postponing it to readjust the approach isn’t an option.

Putting Something on the Clean Sheet of Paper

Suppose you find yourself in a similar position. You’ve been thinking a clean sheet of paper innovation strategy maximizes creativity. Now, however, you are having second thoughts.

What are the options if you decide to insert some structure and avoid using a clean sheet of paper for your innovation strategy?

clean-sheet-paper

Here are six ways to strategically and productively fill up a LITTLE bit of that clean sheet of paper to maximize creativity:

Letting People Know What’s Important

Operating within Constraints

Sharing Your Innovation Strategy Decision Making

These ideas don’t even begin to address the innovation value of strategic thinking exercises and creative structures to spur innovation.

At least by using any of these six ideas though, you can give any co-creators involved with your innovation strategy just enough direction and structure to help them boost creativity. – Mike Brown

 

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

Looking for Ways to Develop a Successful
Innovation Strategy to Grow Your Business?
Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise eBook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE eBook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!





Download Your Free  Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book




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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At the 2016 Brand Strategy Conference, Antonia Dean, Director – Marketing, Brand Development, & Strategy at The Estée Lauder Companies covered the strategic thinking ideas behind creating an entrepreneurial environment in a large company. In her role, Antonia Dean focuses on incubating acquisitions and top-secret new product concepts.

The charge for Dean’s organization at ELC Ventures is to develop ideas to shake up Estee Lauder and the cosmetics industry. Moving as fast as the company’s fastest competitor demanded an entrepreneurial approach. Her experience has uncovered multiple ideas for how to create newness and build an entrepreneurial culture and spirit within an established parent organization.

Antonia-Dean

16 Strategic Thinking Ideas for Creating an Entrepreneurial Environment Inside Your Company

Dean related her internal entrepreneurship (or “intrapreneurship”) lessons in three areas of strategic thinking: building the team, creating the culture, and defining success.

Building the Team

  • The first step in team building is identifying the rights tasks requiring entrepreneurism. Not all business areas need or want an entrepreneurial approach and the upsides (and challenges) that come along with a cultural force that can run counter to the rest of the organization. If there is not an overwhelming upside to intrapreneurism, do not try to bring those functions into the team.
  • Relative to specific team members, the successful entrepreneurs in an established organization are not necessarily the individuals the organization typically promotes because of following the rules. They are not the people achieving the longest tenure. The people you want in a start-up inside an established organization are always making up their own steps. They possess the talents, determination, and persistence that an organization cannot successfully constrain.
  • A great way to check for an entrepreneurial attitude is to ask prospective team members if they believe in the internal start-up’s cause and what attracts them to it. Ask them to provide concrete examples of when they devised creative solutions.
  • Intrapreneurs need their space in more ways than one. Not only do they need freedom from organizational policies and procedures, it is ideal to get them away physically from the rest of the organization. A separate office is ideal to provide greater latitude.
  • Mix people up across departments and functions. You need to get the right combinations of people working together, not isolated within an area of functional expertise.

Creating the Culture

  • Make it clear and entrepreneurial initiative within a bigger organization is completely different. It’s a great time to ask what about the parent organization was once positive but not persists without providing value or helping accelerate the entrepreneurial cause. Get rid of these things.
  • When creating the new culture, think “lowercase b.” This is not BIG business with the standard procedures. Cultivate a fail fast AND fail cheap attitude. You need to be able to come up with ideas and launch them with little overhead and investment so you do not stick with a bad idea too long because of sunk costs.
  • Enforce a VIP list, i.e., keep participation in the new venture exclusive. Do not let individuals from the main organization attach themselves or intrude unnecessarily, or you run the risk of slowing the entrepreneurial venture’s pace. Over-involving internal experts also leads to sanitizing ideas and adding unnecessary costs.
  • Do not automatically copy your boss on emails about the entrepreneurial venture, just to be safe. Doing so simply takes up time for others and invites unnecessary activities.
  • Extend and shape the culture by going out into the market to experience what is happening. It defeats the purpose to setup an intrapreneurial organization that does not bring in outside influences.
  • Expect turnover in the team. When you are protecting the culture, people that do not fit will become apparent and be gone soon.

Defining Success

  • Adopt the attitude of working “out of the basement.” A strong question to challenge significant resource requests is, “If we were starting this out of mom’s basement, would we spend this money?”
  • Make friends with failure. Accept the bare minimum to move forward and be ready to “fail cheap.” Do not expect or demand perfection when you only need directional answers to be able to keep advancing with an idea or concept.
  • Explicitly redefine success as something different from what success looks like in the parent organization. Put together the success recipe based on learning from failure and moving forward.
  • Repeat this mantra: “Rocky failed, but Rocky won. Embrace failure as a given. WE ARE GOING TO FAIL AT SOMETHING.”
  • Find and embrace the easy answers. You don’t know how to get a UPC code attached to a new product? Google for the answer instead of seeking out the internal expert. Not sure what the right marketing language is? Talk to your target consumers and see what words and phrases they use.

Antonia Dean’s strategic thinking ideas made it clear an entrepreneurial environment will not develop inside your company if you are too clingy to what has worked previously yet has grown stale and bloated. Start new, fresh, and lean, with a true appreciation for moving with speed, persistence, and a thick skin relative to failure!   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

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog 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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Ever felt as if your main creative outlet just isn’t working anymore?

I’m going through that with writing. I’m WAY off my creative thinking game when it comes to putting pen to paper and fingers to keyboard.

I have some ideas why this is the case, and have been trying to document the reasons my go-to creative outlet isn’t working right now.

31 Excuses Why a Creative Outlet Isn’t Working

creative-block-2-right-lane

Here are all the possibilities so far for why my creative thinking is weak, particularly when it comes to writing:

  1. Too tired and not enough sleep.
  2. I don’t care about anything enough to write about it right now.
  3. Don’t feel great.
  4. Haven’t worked out in days.
  5. Everybody else has already thought of and created everything better than I would.
  6. I’ve created so much content recently I just don’t have anything else left in the hopper.
  7. Too much jumping around mentally and working with too many topics, making it impossible to concentrate.
  8. Too stressed.
  9. Too comfortable.
  10. My technology isn’t working which drives me crazy.
  11. I’m not traveling enough to stimulate my creativity.
  12. Too much time in the office on the weekends.
  13. The office isn’t a creative place for me anymore.
  14. Too little time in the office during the week.
  15. Wasting too many potential creative hours driving in the car.
  16. I’m traveling too much and my creativity is zapped.
  17. Don’t have time to go sit somewhere to people watch and write.
  18. All my creativity is going into client projects right now.
  19. Can’t stop watching stuff about Prince dying.
  20. When I see how creative Prince was, I want to give up.
  21. There are big deliverables to finish and deadlines to meet, and until that happens, there’s no mental energy to write.
  22. Even if I write something, I won’t have time to promote it properly.
  23. Thinking about taking all the time to format, illustrate, and get a blog post ready to publish is killing my creativity.
  24. I know I should cut back on writing and this is what it feels like when my creativity is listening to that, but the rest of me isn’t.
  25. Nobody said a word, not even my parents, when I skipped a few days blogging.
  26. Other parts of the business need more attention than they’ve been getting.
  27. I need help.
  28. Not learning enough new things in my daily interactions that provide new writing material.
  29. Too busy to get enough time for prayer and reflection.
  30. I’m suffering from creative apathy about nearly everything.
  31. If I could get this next [FILL IN THE BLANK] done, I’ll be fine.

Wow, maybe my creativity is fine.

It looks like it might just be that all my creative thinking is going into my new main creative outlet: coming up with excuses.

Maybe THAT’S a blog post worth writing. – Mike Brown

 

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

ebook-cover-redoBoost Your Extreme Creativity with “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation”

Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help  generate extreme creativity and boost your creative thinking skills! For organizational innovation success, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative growth strategies. Contact us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

Download Your Free

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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