Collaboration | The Brainzooming Group - Part 117 – page 117
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  • Be friendly to people who may not seem to “count.” Chances are they do count, and you simply don’t realize it yet.
  • Ask questions, or at least listen more than you talk. You’ll appear smarter, in part, because of all the things you’ll learn.
  • Say “please” and “thank you” very often. You’ll seem nicer than you probably are.
  • Be “quick” to apologize. That means both doing it sooner than later and getting it over with fast. Don’t dwell on the mistake.
  • Actually do and repeat the four previous ideas!!! Mike Brown

Mike Brown

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

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Say you have a conference call scheduled with geographically dispersed parties. You decide to email the multiple documents needed for the conference call 2 minutes before it begins.

Don’t assume:

  • I’m in my office.
  • I have a clue why this conference call with no agenda is being held.
  • The meeting before this didn’t put me behind schedule.
  • You have my undivided attention, especially when things are frantic.
  • There’s a computer in front of me – with current versions of the necessary software.
  • If there is a computer, it’s functioning properly.
  • Your email is the most important thing I’m dealing with right now.
  • There’s time for me to print the documents for the conference call.
  • Someone’s available to print and retrieve the documents if I’m running behind.
  • You won’t be sitting around waiting for me to open / save / print / retrieve documents for the conference call which could have been handled more efficiently with adequate prep time.

You know what? All these assumptions are manageable by sending the documents in adequate time.

So manage the situation, make sure we have the information, and are setup for strategic thinking and productive work.

Stop playing the “we don’t want you to look at the documents ahead of time” game. Please. – Mike Brown

Mike Brown

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

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Not sure where I learned this originally, but it’s a great, simple strategy for business meetings where you’re voicing a position contrary to someone else’s: never sit across from them.

Try sitting next to, or at least on the same side of the table as, whoever might be an adversary. The arrangement makes it so much harder to employ confrontational body language. Instead, you’re likely forced to discuss your differences strategically rather than posturing about them.

And while we’re at it, here’s one more strategy for arranging seating: if there are going to be two or more distinct “teams” represented in a meeting, consciously keep them from sitting in groups. Forcing group members to intermingle helps break up confrontational group body language.

These two strategies may sound silly, but I’ve seen them work too many times to not try and carry them out in every situation where they’re appropriate.

So come sit over here by me! – Mike Brown

Mike Brown

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

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Unreasonable time expectations or well-intentioned but unachievable deadlines are a fact of business life. As a two-person operation at Kansas City Infobank, we constantly battled the swings between trying to sell projects and then having too many to be able to meet every deadline we faced. This imbalance created the need to strategically negotiate project timing expectations with clients.

I learned you’ll always have a better shot at successfully negotiating more advantageous deadlines if your strategy is to present value trade-offs that go beyond simply asking for more time. Instead, talk about what more you can deliver with more time.

Step one is figuring out what you can deliver within the initial time expectation:

  • How complete can you be?
  • Are there critical elements you won’t get completed?
  • What impact might this gap have on the project outcome or business relationship?

Just as importantly though, understand and communicate other valuable elements you could deliver with an extended timeframe. Among the possibilities:

  • Greater completeness
  • Clearer organization of the information
  • Greater detail
  • Better summarization
  • Richer creativity or innovation
  • Deeper strategic insights

Your client may still need to stick with the original deadline, but presenting a valuable strategic alternative creates a much better likelihood of successfully negotiating for more time. Mike Brown

Mike Brown

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

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I’ve done several posts on strategic mentors who’ve fundamentally shaped my thinking and approach. In an early one, I mentioned multiple posts could be filled with lessons learned from Bill McDonald when I worked for him at Kansas City Infobank. The next few days will feature several great lessons I’m sure you’ll benefit from as much as I have.

Get on the Phone and Ask Your Question

Bill had an amazing ability to phone total strangers, chat with them, and prompt them to share incredible information through asking questions. Listening to these calls made a strong impression on me about the value of directly asking great questions of knowledgeable people. I’ve never matched Bill’s skills, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the gift he has for conversation and questioning.

Today, however, since it’s so easy to email someone a question – type a few lines, hit send, and wait for a reply – fewer people seem to phone directly when they need information or something resolved.

But just because you sent an email doesn’t mean you really asked a question. That implies the recipient actually read the question, and is in a position to adequately respond without ongoing dialogue.

Despite the apparent ease of email, it’s often a much better alternative to pick up the phone and call. If you can talk live, you’ll at least know they received the question, find out if your question prompts questions for them, clarify any confusion, and engage in a dialogue that could provide a much richer understanding.

So put down the Blackberry or push away from the keyboard and call with your question! Mike Brown


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This week’s guest post is by Marissa Levin, an award-winning and well-recognized entrepreneur, and founder and CEO of Information Experts. The company creates technology-based integrated communications solutions, human capital strategies, and learning strategies for government agencies and firms in a wide range of vertical markets.

Marissa shares her perspectives here on tapping the incredible creative and innovative talents existing among the diverse group of people inside her company:

How well do you really know your co-workers and employees?

Sure, you see them on a daily basis and know just enough about their personal lives to be dangerous. You may even know what they like for lunch. There’s probably a “comfort level” you’ve established. You’ve identified some personal boundaries, designating topics acceptable for discussion and those off the table.

But have you ever stopped to consider what defines your co-workers outside their jobs? More importantly, have you ever thought about how these aspects influence our jobs, and what they add to the workplace?

As a CEO focused on company culture, I’m always thinking of ways to maintain a connection with my employees and protect the valuable connections among everyone working here. As organizations grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve this. Employees become more scattered (thanks to telecommuting), are assigned to client sites, and work amid additional layers that develop to ensure adequate management structure.

Adding to these challenges, I am out of the office for appointments, meetings, and networking events. Despite email exchanges and conference calls, it is far too easy to lose the human touch. When I am working “on” the business, it is often difficult to work “in” the business.

I’ve always known we have incredibly creative, passionate, intelligent, and highly individualized people. We are not a typical organization. We have many out-of-the-box thinkers who display individuality throughout their lives. This uniqueness gives us an edge with our culture and customers.

To find a way to understand and bring all this creativity into the company, I surveyed our employees about what defines them outside work. The results were unbelievable.

Beyond having top-quality instructional designers, project managers, strategists, writers, graphic designers, developers, & human capital experts, we also have scuba divers, college-level volleyball players, swing and belly dancers, scrabble professionals, marathoners, environmentalists, a competitive U.S. Master’s swimmer, competitive soccer players, classical pianists, wine enthusiasts, equestrian experts, poker players, gardeners, and chefs.

That’s not all – our staff also includes:

  • A certified “High Power Rocketeer” who has launched rockets to 6,000 feet at 550mph
  • Someone who taught welding at a vocational school
  • A four-time Outward Bound participant
  • A Special Operations Sergeant whose unit’s experience was the basis for “Blackhawk Down”
  • A two-time patent holder for educational technology who served on Barrack Obama’s Education Policy Committee
  • A published physique photographer and bodybuilder known at WOLVERINE

Think about the creative & innovative power of that incredible diversity of skills, interests, and passions. The question now is how to integrate these interests and skills into the company. I hope to celebrate their individuality in some sort of event or create an internal online tool that brings people together based on their interests.

Here’s your question: What creativity & individuality is beneath the surface inside your company? Ask around, and you may be in for some surprises of your own! Marissa Levin
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Face it: there are a bunch of expectations placed on each of us that, quite frankly, are completely arbitrary.

Oh sure, someone (maybe even someone very important) thinks they’re absolutes. Yet relative to what’s really important (i.e., strategic), there’s more whimsy than criticality in the request.

What can you do when presented with tasks, duties, or expectations that fall into this category?

  • Ask the fundamental question: “What are we trying to achieve?” Invite the other party to participate in answering it to develop a more refined sense of what’s strategic.
  • Suggest more innovative or workable alternatives that still deliver on what you are trying to achieve.
  • Be prepared to creatively negotiate and develop a mutually-agreeable approach.
  • Don’t discount that doing nothing could be the best answer for whoever is requesting you do something that doesn’t really matter.

Give this approach a try to better expend your efforts on things that will legitimately make a difference. 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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