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Merry-Christmas-FamilyAmid all the advertisements pummeling people to shop right up to Christmas Eve for holiday gifts and to resume shopping as early as possible the day after Christmas, some of the most memorable holiday gifts aren’t found in retail stores.

These holiday gifts do not cost anything and will never be directly measured in an economic recap of the holiday buying season.

12 Free Holiday Gifts

Thinking back on some of the incredible things people have done for me this year or I’ve witnessed people do for others, here are twelve ideas for holiday gifts you can still make happen in time for Christmas that cost only the commitment and effort to do something special for someone.

This holiday, how about . . . ?

  1. Cheering another person toward greater aspirations than they have imagined themselves pursuing.
  2. Dependably reaching out to someone when you suspect he or she might most need it.
  3. Leaving a voice mail message for someone you have not talked to in some time saying you are going through withdrawals because of it.
  4. Extending empathy to another person and then devoting yourself to listening to what is bothering them.
  5. Praying for a miracle for someone who can really use a miracle.
  6. Being a beacon of positivity when your own situation looks to others to be anything but positive.
  7. Letting someone who is struggling know that even though they feel messed up, they are really on the right track.
  8. Telling a friend, “I love you,” even if it is in that beer commercial kind of way.
  9. Being giddy when you see an old friend you haven’t seen in ages (other than on Facebook).
  10. Putting yourself squarely in the middle of a life situation to help someone who can’t help themselves right now.
  11. Respecting someone you fundamentally disagree with, even on serious issues.
  12. Showing up when hardly anyone has made an effort to do so.

That’s a list full of true blessings!

Life Lessons

As much as I love “commerce,” these free holiday gifts are what will really make a lasting impact in someone else’s life more than anything you’ll ever lug home from a store.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from The Brainzooming Group!  – Mike Brown

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success 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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Some project management techniques arrive early in life and never leave you. One of my favorite project management techniques originated in grade school.

Project Management Techniques for a Lifetime

Stones

Photo by: Ingenium-Design | Source: photocase.com

There was a new boy in class with a Southern accent who arrived after our fourth grade school year started. We discovered his dad worked in the oil fields; their family moved around a lot based on where his dad was working. One result was Dominic wound up in several schools every year, disappearing at some point in as unannounced a fashion as he had appeared perhaps a month before.

One result of continually being in and out of schools was Dominic couldn’t read much, if at all, and was unable to even write his own name.

During the time Dominic was at our school, our class was preparing a couple of plays to stage for the rest of the school. Our teacher stressed that everyone in the class actively participate in the play.

When it came to Dominic, that was a challenge.

We fashioned a part in the play “Stone Soup” with only one speaking line. Even though he couldn’t write his name, Dominic could memorize one line of dialogue. When it came time for the play, he delivered his single line perfectly, and Dominic was an actor!

Simply making the effort to tailor a part that recognized his talents and limitations, Dominic could perform successfully.

Creating Success for an Untalented Team Member

I always recall the Dominic story whenever a team member presents more challenges than beneficial talents to accomplish the task at hand. The project management opportunity is to create perhaps a very non-traditional role offsetting an individual’s limited or non-existent talents to allow him or her to perform at a disproportionately useful level, with greater impact than you might otherwise imagine.

This involves the strategic and creative thinking (and subsequent planning) to determine how to successfully feature a person no one expects to contribute productively.

Having done this on many occasions, more often than not, the person you are trying to help realizes what is happening, tries very hard to make it work, and rewards your efforts with a greater degree of appreciation and loyalty than if you’d have ignored them or let them off the hook by not participating.

Do your thinking and planning, and see how you can find a way to showcase even a challenged person with a role that lets him or her create meaningful value. – Mike Brown

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success 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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This Sunday Dilbert comic strip featuring Dogbert sharing his “research” on leadership ideas hit home. It is certainly funny on the surface, with the executives more attuned to eating cake as a successful leadership practice rather than hard work and diligent preparation.

Dilbert.com

More important, however, is the transition Dogbert goes through in this Dilbert comic strip. His leadership ideas shift to satisfy the audience. The executives not only WANT the message of how easy successful leadership is, they won’t seek out or settle for leadership that contradict the belief that being a great leader is as easy as following a few simple steps.

The Easy Route to Successful Leadership

If you look at what’s popular and gets the most attention among leadership ideas, it’s clear the “easy route to successful leadership” message is what sells. There seems to be a preponderance of books and articles offering the simple, easy, no-fuss, no-muss three-step formula to successful leadership as ALL anyone would ever have to do. And if a simple leadership ideas formula doesn’t work for you, it’s obviously a flaw in you rather than with the author’s superficial formula.

Personally, I come from a world offering very few examples of the “it’s all simple with no hard work involved” leadership formula working for a prolonged period of time. I can point to many more instances where people who believe in the easy route to successful leadership never attain real success, although they are always ready to embrace the next easy leadership formula. There is also the string of people who apparently ride the “easy” wave to success but crash when the “easy” formula invariably leads them right back to where they started – or often, worse than where they started.

As a society, we want the easy message – no matter how misguided it is – so that’s what authors and experts serve up.

Other Leadership Ideas

For myself, I just can’t go there. I’d rather present lessons, ideas, and guides that have worked and CAN work, but only in the right situations with an appropriate level of diligence on the reader’s part. Success takes applying yourself in a smart way.

If you’re still reading by this point, odds are you share this perspective. If it weren’t what you wanted to hear, there are SO many other places you could go to spend your self-improvement time since there are a LOT of Dogbert leadership ideas out there. – Mike Brown

 

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Seth Godin wrote a post last week that seemed to be the inverse of his book, “The Dip.”  (Affiliate Link)

PeakWhile “The Dip” was about the deep trough that can take place right before things take off (or don’t), this new blog post called “The Moderation Glitch” was about “The Peak.”

This Seth Godin post discussed the challenge of knowing when the marginal benefits from your strategy peak and additional incremental efforts will yield negative rates of incremental benefit.

As is frequently the case, the blog post was more about pointing out a problem than how to do something about it. In fact, Seth Godin offered little in the way of even knowing WHEN you hit the peak.

That’s where this piece comes in.

While we don’t have the answer to WHEN the peak happens for your brand, his article got me thinking about questions you should be asking to better understand your peak as early as possible so you can take appropriate strategic action.

6 Strategic Thinking Questions for “The Moderation Glitch”

So from the Brainzooming strategic thinking R&D Lab, here are six strategic thinking questions to aid in estimating the potential timing of the peak Seth Godin identifies and who might help anticipate its arrival.

Gauging the Peak’s Timing

  • How long do customers in your market typically stick with something before moving to the next new thing? Cut that number by 1/3 or by 1/2 – or maybe 3/4 to get a sense of when you should start looking for the peak.
  • How long do you need your current strategic direction to work before you’d be okay with it falling apart on you since you’ll be doing something better already?

Use the answers to these two strategic thinking questions to estimate the initial timing expectations for when the peak may appear.

Identifying Your Strategic Guides

  • Whose sense of fatigue with this strategy will be the best indicator that it’s “enough” – whether it’s enough in the opinion of your customers, your organization, or someone else?
  • Will your salespeople or Finance people first know that things aren’t as good as they have been – or will it be your market research people or someone else?
  • Who understands the leading indicators in your business?
  • Who in your organization isn’t so enamored with the current strategic direction that they are willing to step away from it before everyone else in order to start thinking about the NEXT strategic direction?

Based on answers to these strategic thinking questions, you can identify the canaries in YOUR coalmine – those individuals who will sense a problem before anyone else does.

It’s impossible in one article to figure out your peak moment (or peak period). In just a few moments, however, you can document a better sense of your timing and the canaries who will signal it’s too late WHEN it’s too late, as opposed to AFTER it is too late. – Mike Brown

 

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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 info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

 

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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GolfballLet’s talk about project management techniques by way of the old joke about a golfer who gets home after a round of golf and tells his wife it was the most exhausting round of golf ever. When she asks why, he tells her he was playing with his buddy, Frank, who had a heart attack and died on the 10th hole.

She replied, “Oh my gosh, that must have been horrible.”

“You’re not kidding,” he said, “The whole rest of the round it was ‘Hit the ball, drag Frank; hit the ball, drag Frank.”

Identifying “Lazy” Early

The phenomenon of “Hit the ball, drag Frank,” can feel like working on a project team with a team member whose laziness renders them dead to the project. Who hasn’t been on a project team where it feels like, “Work on the project, drag Frank; work on the project, drag, Frank”?

If Frank has been on one of your project teams before, you may know ahead of time what is ahead of you. If you have a project team with new, unfamiliar teammates, however, are there ways to determine upfront who will and won’t perform as the team tries to reach its strategic objectives?

We typically find project team members fall down because of either of two types of laziness:

  • Mental laziness – They aren’t up to doing strategic thinking, working on issues, and taking necessary actions.
  • Organizational laziness  – They don’t – or can’t – work diligently with the people and processes critical to creating strategic impact.

Either one is frustrating. Someone who exhibits both of these types of laziness, however, can cripple a project team and its efforts.

Project Management Techniques to Address a Lazy Project Team Member

Here’s one of our project management techniques you use early on in a project to identify any “Franks” so you can start planning for alternatives to dragging them throughout the project.

Talk to team members (especially new ones) early, asking questions about their expectations and initial thoughts on potential solutions for the team successfully accomplishing its objectives and creating strategic impact. As each individual team member responds, listen to their answers. Which cell in this matrix do their answers most closely resemble?

laziness-grid-2

Based on where the responses fall, you can get an early sense of whether your project team contains some individuals with mental laziness, organizational laziness, or both.

Depending on the team composition you can start planning and implementing other project management techniques to minimize the amount of time and effort you will have to expend dragging Frank through the upcoming project. – Mike Brown

 

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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 info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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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Think about the common, albeit under-followed, presentation tips for speakers who want to deliver content more effectively:

  • Use more and bigger images to engage the audience visually
  • Don’t include everything you’re going to say on the slides
  • Use high-contrast foreground and background colors to improve readability
  • Make ample use of builds to keep the audience from getting ahead of what you are saying

I preach and try to follow these presentation tips whenever I speak.

Do Traditional Presentation Tips Still Apply?

Yet, at three recent seminars I covered (including ones from Walmart and IKEA), these traditional presentation tips were blatantly ignored by three high-profile presenters.

eKaterina-SlideTheir slides were loaded with text and more detail than I had seen on slides in “good” presentations in ages. Usually when a speaker uses that much text on slides, I figure the presenter threw the slides together at the last minute and simply typed up whatever he or she was planning to say.

That was not what was going on in any of these presentations, though.

Instead, my own interaction with the content indicated a potential change in thinking on presentation slides.

Rather than simply typing live tweets of the speaker’s remarks, I was taking photos of the slides – some of which I was tweeting while capturing othrs for later reference (including writing a blog post from photos of Chad Mitchell’s slides). This phenomenon, coupled with how people are increasingly taking picture of more detailed slides at my own presentations suggests we are entering the era of creating photogenic slides for presentations.

If this is a trend, traditional presentation tips for constructing slides as visual support begin to shift.

In these three instances, the slides provided the most detailed content each speaker offered since none provided hard copy documentation. If you wanted the details, your best option was to start taking photos, diverting your attention from the speaker’s live content.

Presentation Tips for Creating Photogenic Slides

If we are in the age of creating photogenic slides, what are the new success factors for strong presentations?

IKEA-stageFrom these early examples and my own experience, here are five critical success factors to consider when creating photogenic slides:

  1. Use high-density text – If the slides are intended for later consumption, it suddenly makes sense to include as much detail as possible to address detail and questions the audience will want to review afterward.
  2. Incorporate online references – Rather than simply embedding a video, featuring a graphic, or telling a story, it becomes more valuable for later viewing to have a link on the slide for an audience member to reach the underlying content afterward.
  3. Detailed, over-complicated infographics – Process diagrams and slides with incredible detail become feasible, even desirable – as long as the detail is not so small it is lost when the audience later zooms in to review specific items.
  4. Less radical light/dark shifts between the room and the slides – At the session depicted in this photo, the room and stage were dark (except for focused lighting on the speakers) and the slides were light, creating a jarring contrast for photos. If you are aiming for photogenic slides, inquire ahead about the staging and adjust the color and contrast of your slides accordingly.
  5. More screen time for slides with mega-content – While builds work to keep the audience with the speaker, they are maddening when taking photos of slides. The answer either is fewer build slides or, if you are using builds, allowing time for a photo once all the content is displayed instead of moving briskly to the next slide.

Are you taking more photos of slides during presentations? And when you are presenting, are you thinking about creating photogeneic slides? In either case, what critical success factors would you add to this list? – Mike Brown

 

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I saved the October 2013 issue of Fast Company, its 10th annual innovation by design issue, from the recycle bin when my wife we de-cluttering for me. To justify saving the innovation by design issue from recycling oblivion, I combed through the brand profile articles in the innovation by design section to identify these fourteen strategic thinking questions as innovation starters for 2014.

Strategic-QuestionsYou can use these strategic thinking questions as inspiration for taking advantage of innovation and change, addressing change challenges, and shoring up your brand’s customer experience.

Creating Innovation and Change

  • After you’ve identified the absolutely essential elements of your brand, how can you start changing all the other elements right away?
  • What might be the place or way you start every new initiative so they are all solidly grounded in your brand?
  • How can you more aggressively prototype the huge change you need to start making right away?
  • What can you change that, if it didn’t work, could be completely restored to how it was before?
  • How about expecting everyone in your organization to create something new and improved EVERY day?

Addressing Change Challenges

  • Who in your organization is obsessed with problem solving, and what are you doing to keep them busy solving problems for clients?
  • If you’re trying to inject new thinking into an old organization, what is the senior leader in charge of innovation doing to morph corporate oldsters into new thinkers?
  • What ways can you track things people originally hated about the new big change that they now love – so you can use it to sell-in the NEXT big change?
  • How can you deliberately move the “How do we build it?” question until later in the innovation process?

Improving a Brand’s Customer Experience

  • What are the two next-most detailed questions you can explore about your brand’s customer experience?
  • How are you determining the “ooh and ahh” moments of your new ideas before and after you introduce them?
  • In what ways are you figuring out what you need to deliver to customer’s in the future beyond asking them – since they likely don’t know what they are going to need?
  • How are you improving your ability to prioritize and align disparate innovation processes in different parts of your organization so they maximize value for customers?
  • If you considered everything you have accomplished so far as “day one,” where could you be at the end of “day two”?  – Mike Brown

 

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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 info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

 

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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