Career | The Brainzooming Group - Part 50 – page 50
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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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When you don’t have anything interesting to say, step aside and let the people who do have something to say have the floor:

  • “ . . . by pitting multiple scenarios of the future against one another and leaving many different doors open, you can prepare yourself for a future that is inherently unpredictable. Brainstorming pays off. And the more possibilities you can entertain, the less likely you are to be blindsided.” – Peter Coy and Neil Gross, Business Week, August 30, 1999
  • “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” – Linus Pauling
  • “I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.” – Woodrow Wilson
  • “It’s hard for corporations to understand that creativity is not just about succeeding. It’s about experimenting and discovering.” – Gordon Mackenzie
  • “Don’t ever miss a day without improving something personally.” – David Glass, Wal-Mart, 2000
  • “Your teaching must have the integrity of serious, sound words to which no one can take exception. If it does, no opponent will be able to find anything bad to say about us, and hostility will yield to shame.” – Paul of Tarsus
  • “Be so good that they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin

 

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative 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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Not having written a book of my own yet, I end up using great books that others have written as give-aways at my presentations. While I’m planning to correct the “I haven’t written a book” problem in 2008, the holiday season provides an opportunity to recommend some wonderful books that have dramatically shaped my thinking on careers, branding, innovation, and strategy.

“Radical Careering – 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job, Your Career, and Your Life” by Sally Hogshead, Gotham Books, ISBN: 1-592-40150-3.
100 brain jolts to change your behavior and drive dramatic change. I’ve spoken on the same program as Sally several times, and the audience conclusion is always that “SALLY ROCKS!” It’s true – her first book uses a unique format with 100 self-contained lessons to challenge you to invest your precious energy & time on creating a meaningful difference in life. Beyond the book check out Sally’s website and podcasts.

“The Marketer’s Visual Toolkit” by Terry Richey, AMACOM, ASIN: 0814402135.
I only worked directly with Terry one time many years ago, but his book has been an important part of shaping how we’ve tried to incorporate visual representations in strategic planning efforts. It’s tough to find, but well worth the effort for its help in translating complex ideas into tools that people can work with more successfully.

“75 Cage Rattling Questions” by Dick Whitney & Melissa Giovagnoli, McGraw-Hill, ISBN: 0070700192.
This is a great source of challenging questions to stimulate strategic thinking. On page after page, you’ll find questions to incorporate into creative and planning sessions. They’ll spur discussions on difficult topics. I mean really, what would your organization be like if your mother ran it?

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide” by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and Jon Warshawsky, Free Press, ISBN: 0-7432-6909-8.
I hate the word “leverage” as a substitute for “use.” I hate using “around” instead of “on” (i.e. “he’s doing some work around that topic.”) And I hate that I didn’t write this manifesto for eliminating business language that’s intended to obscure meaning. If you communicate in business (okay that’s probably everybody who’ll ever read this), get this book and share it with your co-workers.

“Made to Stick” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Random House, ISBN-10: 1400064287.
I’ve given away a number of copies of this book this year since it’s another one that I wish I’d written. In driving a major brand turnaround, we’ve incorporated many of its concepts on using simple messages, surprise, and emotion to help ideas live on and become part of a company’s cultural fabric. It packages all the concepts in one place with great insights on making your own ideas take off and thrive. This book has received a lot of well-deserved attention.

“The Art of Possibility – Transforming Professional and Personal Life” by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, Harvard Business School Press, ISBN: 0-87584-770-6.
It’s been a blessing to have seen Benjamin Zander present twice – at a retail conference in Dallas, followed 4 months later by his closing appearance at the Transformation Business & Logistics conference that I produced in 2001. He was wonderful in Dallas (as he forced my co-worker and me to come from the back of the room to live life in the front row). He was incredible at Transformation – we learned to love classical music in 7 minutes, 2000 people serenaded an audience member with “Happy Birthday” as if we really meant it, and at the end, we all sang Beethoven’s 9th in German while standing on our chairs. It still makes my eyes well up with joy. If you can’t see him in person, get this book by he and his partner Rosamund and at least read their wonderful stories. How Fascinating!

There’s the list. Make sure to order early for delivery before the holidays (and peruse them before heading back to work on January 2)!

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 you invent your own instrument, you’re automatically one of the top three musicians in the world on that instrument.” – Matt Goldman, Co-Founder of the Blue Man Group (August 2008 “Inc.”)

Reinvestning your way into a position of advantage is a strategic concept any of us can apply personally or in business. What is an instrument, tool, process, or category that you can invent which creates a new area where you are, by definition, one of the best performers in the world?

Here are some exercises to answer that question.

Identifying Your Distinctive Talents

Distinctive talents are skills closely associated with you where you continually improve as you do them, you benefit others, and you create a spark that attracts people to be a part of the energy you’re radiating. Building your list of distinctive talents begins with answering these questions openly & honestly:

  • What things motivate you to get up every morning?
  • How are you of the greatest service to others?
  • What activities bring you the most happiness and contentment?
  • What functions, talents, and skills do you (or have you) used that give you the most fulfillment in your professional life, family relationships / duties, spiritual life, and personal interests / hobbies?
  • How would you spend your time, talents, and attention if you didn’t have to work?

Hint – Stumped for answers in some areas? Ask a few acquaintances what they think your distinctive talents are.

After answering all the questions, go back and circle the 5 or 10 or 15 answers that truly fit the distinctive talents definition. Since these areas are likely to be the most intuitive for you, you think less about the mechanics of doing them and simply perform them really well. This makes them ideal to incorporate into creating a new “category” where you’ll be the best in the world.

Look and Ask Around

A 360 degree survey can be scary, but it’s a great tool to get a sense of how others perceive you. It can be tremendously instructive and beneficial. I did one through a leadership class several years ago that really helped me redefine some of my behaviors. There are various ones available online.

Another fast way to get some sense of potential areas you can use to define “your category” is to ask yourself and others three value-related questions:

  • What are the TOP 3 things I do that ADD INCREDIBLE VALUE for others?
  • What are the TOP 3 things I do that DON’T DELIVER INCREDIBLE VALUE for others because we can’t/don’t focus enough time, attention, and/or resources on them?
  • What are the TOP 3 things I do that ADD LITTLE OR NO VALUE for others?

Look for themes among the answers and consider using areas of incredible value as potential category definers. Areas where you could deliver value but don’t are potential opportunities for more concentrated effort. Areas where you’re delivering little value could be areas to attempt to eliminate from your routine.

Soliciting reactions about yourself from others may feel intimidating, but assessing and using the responses wisely gives you an advantage most people are unwilling to pursue.

Identifying Ways to Transform Yourself

Yet another way to ideate on a strong “personal” category is to use your current personal strengths and deliberately transform them to identify new and distinctive possibilities. Here’s a relatively quick approach:

  1. State your objective as “Building a distinct personal category to define and differentiate my value to others.”
  2. List 8-10 of your distinctive talents and areas of incredible value as Attributes in the left column in the grid below.
  3. Using the objective from Step 1, take each talent and value area in Step 2 and transform them in the various ways suggested below, always asking: “To create a new personal category how can I (INSERT TRANSFORMER FROM BELOW) to / of (INSERT STRENGTH OR TALENT)?

Potential Transformers include Make It Bigger / Do More of It, Make It Smaller / Do Less of It, Replace It, Turn It Around, Remove It, Standardize It, Customize It, Make It More Complex, Simplify It, Eliminate It

Run through as many combinations as you can, trying to generate 2 or 3 new ideas form each pairing. Don’t settle for fewer than 60 possibilities that could fit into your personal brand category definition.

Next, we’ll narrow all the possibilities to get close to defining your category.

Prioritization and Creating the New You!

After working through the previous three exercises, you should have a wide variety of potential possibilities as input into your distinctive personal brand category.

So what are some steps to dramatically narrow the list of ideas? Here’s a flashback to some previous posts you can use to narrow your possibilities:

Try to narrow to 10-15% of your original ideas, and then begin looking for elements that you can put together to create a new category with which to describe your talents.

Ideally your personal category should be distinctive and defined in a way that you become the only answer to, “Who are the best people who can do this?”    – 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 see how we can help make your strategic thinking and planning more productive, even when you’re not on a plane!

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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The Importance of Strategic Mentors

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.

Do you have a strategic 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 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 been blessed to have several great strategic mentors. Some of the lessons they’ve taught me are shared below.

Dave Brown – College Years

Dave Brown (no relation) introduced me to my wife and was our boss on the student activities board at Fort Hays State University. We later went to Southern Illinois University as a result of Dave introducing us to his former student activities boss from grad school. Dave was the first strategic mentor in my career.

I learned a number of very important lessons from Dave that have served me incredibly well since; they can probably benefit you also:

  • Whenever you’re bringing even a few people together, it’s an event and you should make it special. Under Dave’s tutelage, I produced small coffee house performances and a 5,000 person concert. No matter how many people were attending, he emphasized making the event something memorable. That perspective shaped me to view every meeting or presentation, no matter how small, as an event where there’s a duty to create a memorable experience.
  • You have to plan and manage the whole host of details for any event. Dave demonstrated the discipline of planning and producing large events. It became quickly clear I wouldn’t get into concert production (Kansas City’s most well-known promoter told me to forget it, because “you start at the bottom and work your way down”). Yet when another mentor entered my career later, and our company started producing large events, I was able to step into a production and on-stage role seamlessly even though I was a market research guy. That opportunity has profoundly shaped my career the last 10 years.
  • Create a huge vision and stick to it amid all odds against you accomplishing it. Dave created an incredible, nationally-recognized concert series at a small Western Kansas college, attracting an unbelievable string of #1 chart acts. He did it with an often hostile university administration that completely missed the significance of his accomplishments in gaining attention for the university. It was audacious, but it was the right thing for the school, and Dave was going to make it happen no matter what.

There’s a host of other things in my life that Dave shaped, but within this short post, he accounted for me meeting my spouse, making the introduction that ultimately led to me getting a nearly free graduate education, turning me into an “event person,” and paving the way to successfully seize one of the biggest opportunities of my career.

Bill McDonald – Early Career

The first week Cyndi and I were in in Kansas City while unpacking boxes and listening to Mike Murphy’s radio show, I heard Bill McDonald talk about how his company, Kansas City Infobank, researched and identified market opportunities. While unsure about my career, I loved school, was good at it, and Infobank sounded like school. Thus began my “second MBA” – spending 2 ½ years at Infobank doing strategic projects for entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between.

Despite our financial challenges as a small business, Bill became an important strategic mentor. As mentioned before, the business instruction he gave me encompassed lessons too numerous to list. One in particular transformed my writing, helping create a personal business writing style.

Three months into the job, I was struggling with my first major report about the market for a laser printer add-on. Despite the report’s focus, I was writing pages on the personal computer market as an enabler for this technology.

Bill finally sat me down and said, “You need to understand you’re not in school anymore. You don’t need to write a long litany of facts to prove you’re qualified. You’re writing for business. The fact we have this assignment presumes we know what we’re doing. Get right to the point of our recommendations and the rationale behind them.

The discussion was a wake up call that business writing was different. Unlike school, where you’re required to demonstrate understanding to support getting a good grade, business writing needs to get right to the point. That’s even truer today. Bill’s direction has been a tremendously valuable career-long lesson that I’ve shared with many others to help improve their written communication.

Greg Reid – Career Job

No one’s success depends exclusively on individual efforts. We’re products of the ideas and interactions in which we’re immersed daily.

Greg Reid (far right), one of my strategic mentors, provided an important gift relative to this and the importance of talking about “we” instead of “me” in business.

Why use “we” when you communicate?

Being able to talk from a “we” perspective brings responsibilities, requiring you work with others in developing a recommendation, opening yourself to challenges and different perspectives. Considering different points of view creates stronger recommendations. While it may take more time or work to build broader agreement, the benefits are tremendous. It forces others with a stake in the recommendation to voice their support. Credibly talking from a first person plural perspective also removes a recommendation from standing on your point of view vs. someone else’s.

While there’s plenty of valid emphasis on personal responsibility and accountability in business, the “we” approach doesn’t fly in its face. Instead, it helps mitigate sometimes unwise behaviors attributable to seeking too much personal responsibility.

In making his point, Greg suggested listening to a co-worker’s language. When focusing intently, it was clear how often he used “I,” “me,” and portrayed sole responsibility for a recommendation he was advocating. Unfortunately, “his” audience didn’t support it, and having characterized it as his own, the decision came down to whose individual perspective was deemed more valid. Guess what? He lost. Not long after, his failure to build alliances was cited as a factor when pushed out of his position.

Pay attention to your communication. What’s your frequency of using “I” or “me” when you could have easily said “we”? Even without formally including others, simply dropping self-attribution for ideas creates some mystery regarding how big your support base is.

Summary

These are three of my incredible strategic mentors. Strategic mentors are out there – find one of your very own!


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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 seen a variety of presenters and presentations at conferences – both good (a few) and bad (mostly). While it’s great to see a presenter who has creative presentation ideas, I think there may be more to be learned from bad presenters and avoiding their presentation mistakes. Based on what most bad presenters do with Powerpoint at conferences, here are a variety of (apparently) unconventional presentation tips that can lead to dramatically more effective presentation delivery:

  • Use fewer words on slides. Don’t show every word you plan to say in your presentation; it’s not that effective of a crutch. Fewer words (or only images) help maintain audience attention & cover your speaking flubs because the audience can’t compare what you’re saying to everything on the screen.

Ideally, you’ve never had to say during a Powerpoint presentation – “I know this is tough to read, but I think you’ll get the point” because if you have, that means even you realize your SLIDE SUCKS!!! You need to fix the Powerpoint slide or get rid of it and not subject the audience to your LAZINESS!!! Sorry about the outburst, but if you choose to fix your Powerpoint slide, here are three possible approaches to make it more effective:

* Prioritize the material on the Powerpoint slide – use the forced choice technique approach from a previous post to narrow the content.

* Help the audience focus– if it’s an overly detailed chart or spreadsheet on the Powerpoint slide, consider using custom animation in Powerpoint to circle the area you’re addressing or a picture insert to enlarge what you’re referencing. Other presentation design possibilities include breaking the single Powerpoint slide up into multiple slides which are legible or developing a graphic with only the point(s) you’re making.

* Do something completely different – think hard about whether there’s a story, anecdote, or image you could use to make your point in a more effective way and (I realize this is radical) completely eliminate the detailed slide.

I know this may not make sense to a bad presenter, because you think the audience REALLY needs to see everything on the Powerpoint slide to get the point. But on behalf of all audience members, we can’t SEE what’s on the slide anyway; it might as well be blank. So pick a course of action (and reach out to somebody who is a presentation design specialist to help if you’re struggling with points 2 or 3), and get back to us when you’ve fixed your Powerpoint slides!

* Practice less – and listen more. Record your presentation and listen to it. Hear what isn’t working, and fix it before you present to deliver a more effective presentation and improve your presentation skills. Reading your presentation over and over without listening to it causes you to miss obvious gaffes that listeners at a conference will readily hear.

* Cut back on multimedia & animation. Using various sounds, moving images, and videos won’t fix a presenter with poor presentation skills. It just puts more pressure on you to hit cues – the last thing you should have to be thinking about while presenting at a conference.

* Have fun – but if you’re scared or not funny, don’t throw one joke into a presentation to lighten things up.One funny comment reminds the audience how unamusing the rest of your presentation is. A better public speaking strategy? Smile throughout your presentation and quit trying to be funny if you aren’t in real life. Audiences are more forgiving of an underdog presenter who looks genuine and friendly than a public speaker who is trying to be slick but isn’t.

And if you’re still struggling with whether you have too much content on your Powerpoint slides, here are two quick presentation design checks to ensure you are more effective on the detail level and clarity of your presentation slides:

Check #1– Print out your “finished” PowerPoint presentation with 16 (or at least 9) slides on the page (you can usually do this in the Printer Setup dialog – not directly in PowerPoint). At that resolution, see if you can read what’s on EVERY Powerpoint slide without squinting. If you can, your conference audience will be able to read it as well. If you can’t, neither will your audience, so go back and revisit your presentation design again.

Check #2– Cover the headline on each Powerpoint slide and ask, “Can the audience get my point from the slide’s content?” Next, cover up the content and ask, “Can the audience get my point from the headline?” Then determine, “Is the point consistent for both the headline and the content?” The right answer to all these questions is “Yes,” if you’re slide is a good one. If not, you’ve got some more work to do.

An additional presentation tip for effective public speaking (and for everyday business speak) is to avoid business cliches. A report from Dow Jones points to its review of the most overused phrases by continent. There are interesting similarities among the cliches used around the world, and it’s well worth checking out the pdf. My thought? At the end of the day…go home, spend time with your family, say your prayers, and go to bed!

Simply using the principles outlined above will demonstrate to your audience that you’re thinking about them and are making strides to deliver value to them with your content. Many of the tips will help save prep time that you can use to ensure you know the content and can talk about it conversationally, even without PowerPoint. If you can do that, you’ll deliver a lot better presentation!  – Mike Brown

Mike Brown is a frequent and highly rated keynote speaker on business strategy, innovation, and creativity. Learn more about his presentation topics and availability by contacting The Brainzooming Group  at brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320.

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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