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Emma Alvarez Gibson and I were talking about identifying strategic themes within tens or hundreds of ideas from a strategic planning workshop or from thousands of comments within a survey.

Other than a big dose of help from outside forces, what are dependable ways to identify meaningful strategic themes?

This is important because latching onto the right groupings for ideas will make all the difference when highlighting and simplifying smart strategy recommendations.

As we chatted, I perused the Brainzooming website looking for articles on how we surface strategic themes. Posts on making strategic connections address some aspect of our approach, yet they cover only part of the story.

10 Cues to Identify Strategic Themes among Ideas

Reflecting on our Brainzooming process, we use all these cues to identify potential strategic themes among THINGS THAT:

  1. Are clearly related to strategy
  2. We know correlate
  3. Seem to correlate
  4. Represent natural groups you see or experience elsewhere
  5. Happen at the same time
  6. Appear close to one another
  7. Possess similar characteristics or attributes
  8. Incorporate similar inputs or outputs
  9. Undergo similar processes
  10. Demonstrate unusual but frequent connections between each other

There are likely more of these.

Yet, you don’t want too many cues. You must be able to quickly run through the strategic theme cues whenever you are faced with large a volume of open-ended comments.

Based on our experience, finding just the right number and range of strategic themes is one of the best methodologies you can employ to ensure broad strategic thinking AND clear steps to implement. – Mike Brown

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Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation


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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’ve been remiss in sharing updates about the strategic planning process I’ve been participating in for a non-profit organization. The initial article on the strategic planning process promised updates on my first time participating in someone else’s strategic planning process in many years.

5 Things to Hate about a Strategic Planning Process (and 5 Antidotes)

Since that post, we’ve been through two formal meetings. The first was to share our fact base, strategic issues, and planning implications. The most recent one was to review our tactical plans, including timing and responsibilities.

Both meetings were limited to twenty minutes so the steering committee could get through all the other plans. Both meetings were disconnected from the discussions going on about all the other plans. Both meetings reminded me of all the things that frustrate me about strategic planning processes. For example:

Frustration 1: Starting a Strategic Planning Process with Handing out Templates to Complete

Antidote: Shout, “Wow! It’s clear where you want all the answers to go. But can you work with me to help figure out what the best answers are other than me pulling imagined answers out of my @&&!!!!”

Frustration 2: Spending too much time discussing the strategic planning process and too little on using it to develop winning strategies.

Antidote: Suggest to the person heading up planning that you put the process on an amazing diet, with twice as much strategy and 75% less process!

Frustration 3: Scheduling Strategic Planning Meetings where All but One Person Sits and Listens

Antidote: Raise your hand and ask, “Can’t we break up into small groups and get lots of work done as we all participate? And if not, can’t you share your speech and your slides so I can just read it when it’s convenient???”

Frustration 4: Nitpicking Words Early in the Process

Antidote: Ask, “Do you know what this means? Yes? Okay, it’s fine for now. We’ll fix the wording L A T E R!”

Frustration 5: Trying to Assign People and Dates Too Early

Antidote: Say, “I know you want to make sure someone owns every part of the strategic plan and completes it by the expected date, but let’s make sure we have the right things in the plan before we start badgering people about getting them done!”

There Is a Different Way to Make Strategic Planning Work Productively!

All those frustrations and antidotes are why the Brainzooming process exists. There is a different, and much better way to carry out a strategic planning process. It is faster, more collaborative, and effectively engages the voices and perspectives to create a stronger, more successfully implemented plan.

If you want to find out what THAT type of strategic planning is like, contact us and let’s talk about making it work at your organization! – Mike Brown

Want to Avoid Typical Boring Strategy Meetings?

Here is your answer. These 11 not stuffy for work techniques will spice up boring strategy meetings with new thinking on:

  • How to move out of long-established comfort zones that limit strategic thinking
  • Livening up strategic discussions with exercises designed to generate disruptive ideas
  • Capturing the benefits of an offsite meeting right in your office

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Not Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

11 Hot Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

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 marks the tenth anniversary of the Brainzooming blog. I’ve told the story of its inception previously.

Looking back ten years, suffice it to say that starting to write and publish about the work I was first doing in the Fortune 500 world as a VP of Strategic Marketing and then in launching Brainzooming was one of the most important career decisions I ever made. Not fully anticipating it at the time, the blog became created the opportunity for this phase of my career, plus serving as a personal repository of business tools, and, after a ton of writing and publishing, a highly-efficient and effective encyclopedia of Brainzooming content we can adapt for other uses.

Searching through the blog this weekend for additional material to incorporate into an upcoming book, I found the list below. I can visualize the list on a piece of paper when I first wrote it in the mid-1990s. But if not for the blog, it would live in a file somewhere with no way to effectively retrieve it, even though it still holds up all these years later as a guideline for servant leadership and solid business behavior.

If you are in a leadership position or aspire to one, feel free to borrow and adapt it to share with your team. It’s a good starting point for setting the stage for making sure your team understands servant leadership and what it means to be an effective, successful team member:

15 Expectations for Servant Leadership

This self-assessment was prepared for my team in response to a question about what my expectations were of them. It’s reassuring that with minimal updates, the list of personal checkpoints stills works today. Having stood the test of many years, here it is for you to use as a self-check on your orientation and performance or for adapting and sharing with your own team.

Self-Assessment – You should be known for . . .

  1. Stepping up to challenges as they arise with your time, effort, learning, innovative ideas, etc.
  2. Honesty–with yourself and with everyone in the department and the company.
  3. Attention to detail and accuracy in everything that crosses your desk.
  4. Absolute integrity in using and reporting information.
  5. Asking and answering for all analysis: “What does it mean for our brands, customers, competitors, and/or the market?” and “What actions do we need to take to realize an advantage from it?”
  6. Making communication clear and simple–getting to the point without jargon and unessential information. Constantly work to improve both oral and written communication skills.
  7. Completing assignments in a timely manner.
  8. Being innovative–what can be done differently to increase efficiency, productivity, value, and revenue or reduce costs?
  9. Being above reproach in dealings with all parties within and outside of the company-how you conduct yourself reflects on you, your co-workers, the department, and the company.
  10. Using the knowledge and expertise of others inside and outside the company; recognize and acknowledge their contributions.
  11. Sharing your own knowledge and expertise with others, i.e., what were the five most important things you learned at a seminar or from a book you just read.
  12. Being a leader–even if you are not personally heading a group or project.
  13. Being oriented toward helping people solve problems.
  14. Embracing technology and using it to further profitable revenue.
  15. Solving problems if they arise.

Originally delivered 1/09/95

 

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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 delivered a Brainzooming workshop on “Budget-Extending Social Content Strategy” at the Social Media Strategies Summit this week. We had more than forty attendees, which is a lot for a three-hour, interactive workshop. We adjusted our approach to maximize the interaction among the participants. During the time together, we worked through various Brainzooming tools to develop and implement social content strategy that is smart online and drives results for a brand.

Little did I suspect that covering career strategy would become an offshoot topic during the workshop.

Several attendees during and after the workshop recounted how their senior executives (typically from an earlier generation), don’t want to talk about their brands online. The reasons range include a corporate stance to not talk about what they do, relationships with suppliers and customers, fears of violating regulations, and a general skepticism that anybody that follows a brand’s online content EVER buys anything.

Yes, these concerns are ALL still out there.

Taking with several attendees about strategies to change these opinions, and the roadblocks they continue to expect, I finally suggested, “Maybe it’s time to find another job?”

That comment led to at least one powerful set of conversations with a young woman who realized that her future likely doesn’t include the brand where she is now. We talked about the importance of developing the next thing while the current thing is still paying the bills. On the conference’s second day, we talked about her passion for learning from and helping to mentor and develop strong woman in business. It all started to come together that this passion is her platform for changing the world. She’s committed to start blogging about it. And it’s not hard to see her writing a book and speaking about this, beyond all the individuals she’ll help in person.

13 Career Strategy Articles to Help Develop Your Next Job

When I pointed her to some background articles on the Brainzooming blog, I realized they were not in one place and easily findable.

Maybe you are in a comparable career position, where your skills are stagnating because your current brand’s executives can’t be convinced there are new and better ways to do things. If so, you may want to start thinking about whether it’s time to find another job (and act on it if it is).

Here are thirteen career strategy articles to help your exploration:

Keeping Things Going in Your Job Right Now

9 Ways to Understand the Political Fray and Stay the Hell Out of It

3 Strategies for Navigating a Political Environment

Career Challenges – 6 Ideas when Losing the Love for What You Do

Career Success – 7 Ideas If You Don’t Care About What You Do Anymore

Strategic Thinking Exercise – Simply Making Big Decisions

Corporate Sociopaths and Horrible Bosses – 7 Ways to Survive Them

Doing the Work to Start Finding another Job

The 4-Step Career Advice Nearly Everyone Ignores

Career Change – 4 Career Tips for a Mid-Career Professional

Is Your Personal Brand Portable to Another Job?

The Strategy for Exploiting Your Mindless Job

Career Strategy: Dear Job, I Can’t Quit You

Career Success Strategies – 6 Steps When You’re Laid Off by Anonymous

Career Strategy Challenge – 5 Ideas When You Lack Résumé Metrics

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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I stopped by the grocery store to use the ATM the other morning before leaving for New York to deliver a content marketing strategy workshop today at the Social Media Strategies Summit.

I decided to walk around the store to find something for lunch before getting on the plane. Finding nothing even remotely appealing, I headed for the door, not expecting to witness a solid customer experience strategy lesson.

Passing by the checkout aisles, I noticed a customer starting to unload her cart. Based on the checkout area’s configuration, the checker couldn’t see where the customer was or that she was beginning to unload her groceries. Since the store was dead this early in the morning, the checker came around to the front of the lane to wait for customers. By this point, the customer had moved further into the lane, but after the checker left her post.

The result?

The customer had her groceries all out on the belt. She was ready to have them checked, pay, and get out. The entire time, the checker was at the front of the aisle looking for customers heading her way to see them early and run around to her station to provide quick service.

DOH!

Via Shutterstock

Watching this scene develop, I stopped by the front door to see how long it was going to take for either the customer or the checker to realize there was a problem! It took so long, and I was in a hurry, waiting thirty seconds wasn’t enough time to see how long it finally took to discover the mistake.

Is Your Brand Making this Customer Experience Strategy Mistake?

Turning to go, I realized I have been guilty of doing the same thing as the checker. Many a brand is guilty of this as well: so eagerly trying to track down a new customer that it is missing all kinds of opportunities to serve and accommodate the customers it has.

Poor visibility into customer interactions or faulty customer experience strategy design could both be issues. That was the case in the grocery store. Other times, it may be that there’s more thrill in the hunt for a new customer than in tending to those you already have.

No matter the reason, it’s a good idea to step back and ask: Are we treating our current customers with all the enthusiasm and attention we show to the new person that is just walking through the door!

Well, are you? – 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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I used to always ask the same question at the end of every job interview: Is there anything you want to talk about but didn’t based on the questions I asked that you want to talk about now?

The question helped create a focused opportunity for nervous, hesitant, or distracted candidates to say whatever they wanted that they thought was important in selling themselves.

I dropped a variation of the question into an online collaboration workshop for a client’s strategic planning process. Based on the results, it has a new role as a strategic planning question.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

The organization is going through a major leadership transition. Based on our interactions up to this point, honest, open conversation in a group setting is a clear problem for many individuals throughout the organization. While you hear some issues in a group setting, you hear more of the issues and story in one-off conversations.

Since the online collaboration is anonymous and knowing that there were likely other issues that leaders STILL hadn’t felt comfortable introducing, I added this strategic planning question on the fly: Is there anything else we haven’t covered that we should address?

The question generated a healthy response and surfaced several of the “elephants in the room” that certain leaders within the organization typically clamor about and bemoan because they are never addressed.

While we didn’t tackle the elephants in the online collaboration, at a subsequent in-person strategic planning meeting, one leader voiced a hope and expectation that we would tackle the elephants in the room. During a break in the conversation, I returned to the online collaboration results and copied the elephant issues on a big easel pad. With that move, the elephants were visible. We used the list during the in-person strategic planning workshop to make sure we tackled all of them.

While tackling the issues led to some drawn out and uncomfortable moments (at least for facilitators focused on productivity and getting through a certain number of exercises), the leader most vocal about the elephants had to acknowledge at the end that we had addressed them all.

Using the “what didn’t we cover” strategic planning question in a subsequent online collaboration workshop identified many great questions that another organization’s CEO could address before we ended the online collaboration.

With that, “what didn’t we cover” is now in our regular portfolio as a very productive strategic planning question. We suggest tucking it into yours, too. – Mike Brown

Download our FREE eBook:
The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation


Download Your FREE eBook! The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions



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 are back from the Inbound 2017 conference sponsored by Hubspot.

Last week’s Inbound conference was intense and productive. For a quick summary of the week, here are quotes pulled from across most of the Inbound 2017 keynotes and breakout presentations I attended.

Creative Thinking Skills

“It is easier to correct errors than to try to prevent them all.” – Ed Catmull of Pixar

“Every picture you’ve ever loved from Pixar sucked for a year.” – Brené Brown on hurdles that stand between an idea and celebrated creativity

“We didn’t like the media landscape, so we changed it. Don’t fight the systems that exist, create new ones.” – Piera Gelardi of Refinery29 on unabashedly reinventing monoliths that don’t suit you

“What seems ordinary to you may be extraordinary to others.” – Kareem Taylor of Headnod Music on the reason you need to stop that inner voice saying, “You’re not special.”

Growth

“Your network is who knows you, not who you know.” – Emcee Mark Jeffries explaining why everyone seems to want to be a star

“Companies are more likely to die from overeating than starvation.” – Hubspot Co-Founder Brian Halligan relating advice from a board member advocating for starting fewer things

“Always test the assumptions you are making about your audience. The goal is results, not guessing.” – Garrett Moon of CoSchedule with an important reminder for freewheeling startup types

“What do people do before they reach out to you?” – Matthew Barby of Hubspot offering a suggestion for attracting your prospects EARLY in the buying process

Branding

“What story will you tell about your brand?” – George Thomas of Sales Lion 

“Listen to your audience’s exact words, write them down, and then test them. Bucket them into dreams, pains, and barriers.” – Scott Tousley of Hubspot with a powerful suggestion for outside-in language

Leadership

“If you’re going to lead, you have to lead with grace.” – Former First Lady Michelle Obama telling it like it is

“Stop doing stupid shit.” – Leslie Ye of Hubspot with the “duh” QOTD

Marketing Chops

If you’re going to do video, you “need to think like a film editor.” – Salma Jafri pointing out a critical step all video must go through to fit a specific social platform

Today, you need marketers with “broad experience and the ability to go deep in a few areas. You need a Jack or Jill of all trades, and a master of some.” – Stefanie Grieser of Unbounce with hiring advice – 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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