Career | The Brainzooming Group - Part 49 – page 49
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At the start of a recent conference call for an upcoming strategy planning project, it was clear I was expected to facilitate the discussion. That was my suspicion coming in, but with other responsibilities, there wasn’t a chance to prepare as much as I typically would. So after a brief introduction, all eyes and ears turned to me to start talking – gulp.

Here’s Your ChallengeWhat do you do when you’re not ready to speak or don’t know what to say?

Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” How about a middle ground? Next time you’re in a similar situation, think for a moment, open your mouth, and ASK a great question.

Doing this provides three clear, immediate strategic benefits:

  • You shift the focus from your lack of preparation and give the floor back to the other participants.
  • The other people feel better because they’re able to provide input.
  • By actively listening, you can pick out cues from their comments that can shape your next move – to talk, to change course, or to ask another question.

The strategic key is asking the right type of question.

Be ready by developing a quick list of 8 to 10 questions that you can rely upon with ease. Here are a few to get you started (along with when to use them):

  • Can you elaborate? (If someone has provided information, but you’re not clear what it means.)
  • How have you approached this before? (If people have previous experience they could share.)
  • What are your initial thoughts for how to approach it? (When participants have pre-conceived notions about what to do.)
  • Can you tell me more? (When someone has a wealth of information that hasn’t been shared yet.)
  • What’s most important for you to accomplish? (To understand the other parties’ motivations – and what matters in this situation.)

In this example, I chose the last question, allowing participants an opportunity to share their individual and collective objectives for the upcoming planning session. Their initial comments set up a follow-up question (What percent of the plan should be devoted to each of the 3 sections you’ve mentioned?), creating the opportunity to start capturing topic areas. A productive meeting was thus snatched from the jaws of unpreparedness with two great, simple questions.

So what questions will you be better prepared to ask next time this happens to you? – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at brainzooming@gmail.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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“If there is nothing very special about your work, no matter how hard you apply yourself, you won’t get noticed and that increasingly means you won’t get paid much, either.”
Michael Goldhaber, Wired

Here’s Your Challenge -This quote from Michael Goldhaber in Wired magazine is several years old, but it remains absolutely true. So what is special about your work? If you don’t have an immediate answer to the question, figure out which of the statements below best describes your situation and take action right away:

“There is something very special about my work, but I just haven’t found the words to describe it in a concise way.” Remedy – Craft, edit, rewrite, re-edit, and memorize the elevator speech for your “very special” work aspects immediately.

“There are very special things about my work, but nobody notices it.” OR “My work used to be very special, but it doesn’t feel that way anymore.” In both cases, there’s some mismatch between your work and the audience. Here are some possibilities behind one or both statements:

  • Possibility #1 – You’re kidding yourself; there’s really nothing very special about your work. Remedy – Change your work right away. Figure out a new audience, a new objective, a new approach, a new project, a new level of performance, or something (anything) to inject specialness into your work.
  • Possibility #2 – There is something special about your work, but your most important audiences, don’t get it because they lack either the sophistication, appreciation, or need for what you’re doing. Remedy – Decide if it’s worth trying to develop the audience you have, radically changing what you’re doing, or simply trying to find a new audience.
  • Possibility #3 – Maybe the work is (was) special, but it’s passed you by (you’ve failed to keep up) or you’ve passed it by (it just isn’t as motivating for you to excel as it used to be). Remedy – In either case, it’s time to transform your current situation (if that’s a possibility) or quit and transform elsewhere. (For more on this remedy, read this review of Seth Godin’s “The Dip” – the review is even shorter than the book and pretty much covers it.)

“There never has been anything very special about my work.” Remedy – Sorry – there’s no quick answer here. You’re not alive career-wise and probably never have been. But take heart, if you’re willing to put up with this situation, it’s highly unlikely you’d ever find your way to this blog.

“Let me briefly tell you (show you) what’s very special about my work!” Congratulations! That’s the right answer. Proceed immediately to starting your own blog on what’s special about your work and tell the world – or at least the 10 loyal friends who will read your blog! (P.S. For a great Seth Godin post about being passionate about your work – as opposed to being a workaholic – check this out. And no, despite the two references today, P.S. doesn’t stand for Pointing to Seth.)

Be more special this year (don’t just pretend) and deservedly earn some more of your audience’s attention.

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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  • Become more passionate and determined about your vision.
  • You’ll never know what you can do until you try.
  • Doing what you like is freedom. Liking what you do is happiness.
  • Surround yourself with good friends and laughter.
  • Honing your ability to find the silly in the serious will take you far.
  • Make sure others feel blessed for having you as a friend.
  • One learns most from teaching others.
  • Your co-workers take pleasure in your great sense of creativity.
  • Face any problem with dignity.
  • To climb the ladder of success, work hard and you’ll reach it.

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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Going back through some old files, I re-discovered the following self-assessment that was prepared for my team 13 years ago this month 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 for our team today. Having stood the test of a dozen 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 . . .
  • Stepping up to challenges as they arise with your time, effort, learning, innovativeness, etc.
  • Honesty–with yourself and with everyone in the department and the company.
  • Attention to detail and accuracy in everything that crosses your desk.
  • Absolute integrity in using and reporting information.
  • 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?”
  • Making communication clear and simple–getting to the point without jargon and unessential information. Constantly work to improve both oral and written communication skills.
  • Completing assignments in a timely manner.
  • Being innovative–what can be done differently to increase efficiency, productivity, value, and revenue or reduce costs?
  • 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.
  • Using the knowledge and expertise of others inside and outside the company; recognize and acknowledge their contributions.
  • 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.
  • Being a leader–even if you are not personally heading a group or project.
  • Being oriented toward helping people solve problems.
  • Embracing technology and using it to further profitable revenue.
  • Solving problems if they arise.

Originally delivered 1/09/95

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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I’m a big believer that bold distinctions made between strategic and tactical people are nonsense. The contrasts are mutually perpetuated by “strategic thinking” people who want to seem “important” and by “tactical, action-oriented” people who don’t want to expend the mental energy (or give up the apparent decision making freedom) to do strategic thinking and connect their activities to an overarching business purpose.

For me, there’s a very fuzzy space between strategic thinking and tactical implementation. Strategy is the connecting principle that ties tactics together. Tactics are absolutely necessary to successfully carry out a strategy.

As a result, neither strategies nor tactics can be successful without the other, and business people can’t maximize their contributions & success by paying attention to only one of them.

Here’s Your Challenge– Do you view yourself (and the business world) as either strategic OR tactical? If so, abandon that view and focus on increasing your overall business contributions. Here are a few straight forward tactics you can use to increase your contribution to successful business strategy in very subtle ways:

  • Show up at a meeting with a proposed agenda, suggested topics, and/or relevant information. Often even the person calling a meeting isn’t properly prepared. There have been countless occasions where by showing up with a little pre-thought and something written out, a person not leading a meeting has inserted themselves to set the meeting’s (and the ultimate project’s) direction.
  • Offer to take and report out the notes. Somebody said that “history is written by the winners.” What better way to help solidify a winning business position than by offering upfront to write the meeting’s “history.” This provides the opportunity to shape the messaging and direction coming from the meeting, setting the stage for future steps.
  • Get to the whiteboard first. If you can’t write the history, at least do the reporting. Picking the right time to go to the whiteboard or the easel pad provides the opportunity to visually depict what the meeting looks like. Within the bounds of being an above-board, unbiased reporter, you can choose what goes up for display, how it’s worded, and begin inserting a specific point of view.
  • Volunteer to lead an analytical effort. This can be more challenging and more work, but taking the lead on identifying and delivering insights is an outstanding way to shape its progress and direction.
  • Volunteer to develop a draft hypotheses / business model. Potentially more involved, framing a starting hypothesis or model allows you to influence overall thinking on the effort.

Doing a great job on any of these options will start to make your co-workers view your business contributions in a new and different (and probably a more strategic) light. Just make sure that if you pick “getting to the whiteboard first,” you take a moment to select a dry-erase marker!

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’s amazing how specific instances stick with you for years. A childhood memory that’s profoundly shaped my thinking was from the TV show “All in the Family.” Richard Masur played a mentally challenged grocery store delivery person ­that Archie didn’t trust because he was different. After an unpleasant exchange, the young man disappeared, only to return with a framed quote that was tremendously important to him: “Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.”

Googling the quote provides mixed opinions on whether it’s from Emerson or Thomas Carlyle. In any case, it will always be linked for me to that program and the impact it’s had on my perspective ever since. It’s caused me to realize that I’m the lesser of every person that I meet and that I need to understand what I should learn from them.

Here’s Your Challenge – Think about the people in your life – the person ­that you don’t quite “get,” the person that gets under your skin, or even the person ­­­that circumstances has dropped into your life unexpectedly or for no apparent reason. What is there that you can learn from that person? It probably isn’t readily apparent, particularly with people that frustrate you. Don’t give up easily though because it may take years to discover; your perseverance will ultimately be rewarded.

I recently had the opportunity to learn from somebody whose personality posed a major challenge to me several years ago when our paths first crossed. Through a lot of prayer and reflection (on my side) and tremendous personal development (on her side), our working relationship improved dramatically over time.

As she left my day-to-day work life recently, what I learned from her became apparent: the incredible personal growth that can take place with someone who is receptive to feedback (even criticism), able to process it without personalizing it to the point of demoralization, and is motivated to truly transform. Under challenging circumstances, she demonstrated a level of poise to which I could only hope to aspire. But if we’d given up on each other, I never would have learned this lesson she taught me – one that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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 never been big on New Year’s resolutions for a variety of reasons that I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say in the past couple of years, I’ve tried to do a better job of personally committing a few overall goals to writing – albeit written during the Christmas holiday on a bunch of 25 year old note cards still in my room at my parent’s house.

Nevertheless, throughout January we’ll sprinkle in a few lessons and underlying challenges to consider while improving your strategic thinking & innovation successes in the new year. No need to take them all on or to report back on how you’re doing, but read them, grab the immediate learnings, and pick one or two of the challenges to work on throughout the year.

The first one is “Finding a Strategic Thinking Mentor.”

A mentor can be invaluable for any business person as part of your informal business team, providing a different and more experienced perspective than you’d have on your own. Not all mentors are suited to fill every role, so it’s beneficial to have various mentors to satisfy specific experience gaps.

Here’s Your Challenge – Do you have a strategic thinking mentor – one who can help you identify the things that matter in your business situation and provide new insights & perspectives on how to approach things innovatively? When seeking one out, look for the following characteristics – beyond those that any great mentor possesses. The best strategic thinking mentors are:

  • Smart
  • Experienced & diverse
  • Adept at asking productive, probing questions
  • Oriented toward innovation
  • Gifted with perceptive, accurate instincts
  • Able to identify “what matters” in a particular situation
  • Visionary
  • Open to challenging both you and the status quo
  • Comfortable holding a contradictory view
  • Able to make solid, insightful connections

I’ve had several great strategic mentors, two of whom I was able to spend time with over the holidays. One is Bill McDonald, my first boss in a professional job, at Kansas City Infobank. It would take pages to list what I learned from Bill about strategy, secondary research, and great business writing. Another is Greg Reid, who I met eleven years ago today and has been a wonderful strategic thinking mentor ever since.

Strategic mentors are out there – find one of your very own this year! – Mike Brown

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic ideas! For an organizational creativity 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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