Collaboration | The Brainzooming Group - Part 5 – page 5

Yesterday’s Brainzooming mega-post was about how an introvert can go solo and still comfortably meet new people at a conference. I’m happy to report my initial audience of one for the mega-post used it with great success yesterday.

Before the event was set to start, she messaged me: amid her thanks for the post’s help, she mentioned planning to skip the opening keynote because it didn’t seem as if she’d learn anything. Thanking her for her graciousness, I asked if I could offer one more piece of advice.

She responded, “Don’t skip the opening keynote?”

“EXACTLY,” I replied.

She offered several reasons why she couldn’t make it. I suggested going for the last 30 minutes of the 90-minute talk. The reason? Part of the whole introvert trying to meet new people at a conference strategy depends on creating as many shared experiences with others as possible. Shared experiences are bonding opportunities and future conversation starters. People will be talking about the opening keynote at the next session. If she missed it, she’d already be left out of the conversation, reinforcing any views that this conference would be a lonely experience.

My cajoling worked. She attended the opening keynote.

And guess what? People were laughing, enjoying it, and she learned things!

Uh huh.

If you can avoid it, NEVER skip the opening keynote. Beyond the reason I shared with her, here are five others:

  • Getting there early allows you to scout the best spots to sit. You can also size up the crowd and see if there’s anyone you know that you can hang out with from the start.
  • If the conference is a good one, there should be a snazzy opening. Sure, there are plenty of conferences that DON’T have snazzy openings. If your conference does, though, you won’t get to see it again if you skip the opening keynote.
  • The conference opening delivers the setup for the entire conference: the key themes, flow, and take-aways to look for during your time there.
  • In all likelihood, the opening keynote will be one of the top two or three speakers: maybe the best one. Even if you think you won’t learn anything, the speaker’s energy and message will likely be worth going.
  • If the opening keynote sucks (which I’ve seen happen plenty of times), you can always write a blog post about how not to be a big-time speaker!

Trust me: NEVER skip the opening keynote at a conference! Mike Brown

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A friend is heading to a business conference by herself today. Over the weekend, she mentioned she is nervous about going because of “everything: driving there, being there alone, not knowing anybody, whether or not to do the dinner cruise thing, just imagining walking into any of the socializing stuff, what to wear, what to do in my down time. Will probably just hide in my luxurious hut.”

I told her she needs to make herself socialize and meet new people at the conference, suggesting she find a friendly face that also doesn’t know anyone and become buddies. She was skeptical based on her most recent experience of showing up alone. As she recalled, “I stood around, walked around, smiled, said hi, introduced myself. Nothing. Except an angry nerd attached himself to me. No grownups were interested.”

I suggested additional ideas, then realized: I was writing a blog post on how I, as an introvert, force myself to meet new people at conferences and business events. Granted, there are LOTS of other sources on this, but this one is based on my personal experiences.

Speaking is a central part of my personal conference networking strategy to meet new people. Speaking helps tremendously in getting people to approach you to chat. If you’re the type of introvert that is fine getting up in front of groups and talking, that’s my number one recommendation.

23 Ideas to Meet New People at a Conference

Here are things I’ve tried (or experienced) to meet new people at conferences where I am not speaking:

Way Before the Conference

#1. Try to convince someone to go with you so you know somebody.

#2. Do whatever you can to scope out the attendees and speakers upfront. Figure out if you have connections to any of them (or even to people in the city where you are headed), and arrange meetings. That’s how I met Diane Black (who has done such great inforgraphics for us) and Mess Wright, both of whom inspired ideas that could re-shape the future of Brainzooming.

#3. Try wearing message clothing. By that, I mean wear a shirt that creates conversation, which may require pre-planning. I met this young woman at Inbound2016. With a shirt like this, I HAD to ask why she was looking for a new boss. I took photos and tweeted them to help her get attention. What message clothes can you create and wear to start converstations?

Right Before the Conference

#4. Pack the clothing or jewelry you own that most often generates comments from others. Wear those as conversation starters. (Orange socks, an orange watch, and all the other orange stuff I have prompt many comments and conversations. Even from other introverts! That’s how I got to know Claire Denbo of engage5w.)


#6. Find out the conference hashtag(s) ahead of time, and begin monitoring them. Reach out to other attendees and speakers using the hashtag. Ask and answer questions to start building relationships.

#7. If there are free times for lunch or dinner, book a reservation for four at a nearby restaurant and start asking people you meet to join you (and bring friends). I tried this the first time at the GasCan conference; long-time friend Kathryn Lorenzen became my anchor guest, bringing two other friends, while I invited Mike Farag of Fervor. We had a fantastic lunch!

#8. Prepare a few open-ended, easy-to-answer multiple part questions to ask. Prepare to use them. Try, “Is this your first time at the conference?” If it is, ask why they chose it or what they are looking forward to at the event. If they are returning, ask why they came back, and what you should not miss. This helps you uncover experts you can depend on or refer others to for meet-ups.

Onsite Before the Conference Starts

#9. If the registration is informal, chat with the people handling registration. Let them know this is a new environment for you, and you’d love to meet new folks. Maybe even give them a card or two that includes a way to track you down onsite. Tell them if they come across anyone looking for a buddy, you’re interested in hanging out with others.

#10. Arrive early and get the lay of the land in and around the conference facility so you can easily answer questions. Take on the role of being an informal conference concierge since answering questions is a great way to meet people. Be ready to point people to where meeting rooms and bathrooms are, know how long it takes from the elevators to the conference area, figure out fun things to do, where to eat, and the closest convenience and drugstores.

#11. Get up to speed on the agenda in a deep way. Understand the event flow, themes for the day or evening, and when things are. This positions you to pipe up with answers and meet people that will be at your table and ask general questions about the conference hoping someone can answer them.

During the Conference

#12. Wear your nametag. Make sure it’s visible. If it keeps flipping around, rig a binder clip to hold it in place.

#13. Be deliberate about your seating strategy at sessions with round tables. You can join a group and have people to start talking with right away (asking if a chair is free, introducing yourself, asking a question, etc.) Alternatively, you can scope out a table where no one is sitting. You then “own” the space and can play the role of a host. Either one works. One may suit you better than the other, though.

#14. Serve other people at the conference. Stock up on cough drops, mints, phone chargers, an extension cord, pens, and paper. Know how to download and use the conference app. Sit near the water pitcher at a table so you can offer to pour water or go get a drink for someone that just sat down. Be the one to get the Uber or car pool arranged. Those are easy ways for an introvert to meet new people and seem as if you are one of the most engaging people at the conference.

#15. Compare schedules with others. Learn what sessions they are attending. If it makes sense content-wise, give preference to sessions where you suspect you’re going to find people you have already met. (While it wasn’t a conference, this is why I, as a political science undergrad major, took a summer school accounting class: a woman I was interested in was going to be taking it, and so I just happened to be taking it, too.)

#16. Take advantage of social media to reach out and increase your visibility. Live tweet the sessions you attend (I’ve had people change sessions and meet me based on live tweets that made where I was sound more interesting.) Change the profile pics on social networks daily so they show what you look like and are wearing. This makes it very easy to spot you in a crowd.

#17. Type up your top ten take-aways from the day’s events and publish a blog post that evening or before the conference begins the next morning. Share it using the conference hashtag so people notice you are there. Invite conference goers reading the post to reach out to you at the event to request your full set of notes afterward.

#18. Unless you are actively using your phone for networking with social media (be honest here), leave it in your purse or pocket. Don’t make it look like your phone is your date for the event.

#19. Be careful with how you approach uber-confident, uber-outgoing, and uber-interested in telling everyone how great everything is people. I don’t know about you, but they can suck away what networking energy I have and leave me beating myself up for not being more outgoing and successful. That means I, at least, must be very careful about how much time I spend trying to hang out around them.

Networking Events

#20. Sign up for networking events and excursions. Make yourself go. Boost your confidence that you can enjoy these events on your own, while you look for opportunities to share experiences with others!

#21. Know how much alcohol gets you to where you start being engaging. Be careful if you need to drive afterward, but get to that amount of alcohol early on at a networking event to loosen up your conversation skills.

#22. Find other people that are alone and appear uneasy but hopeful. Reach out to them, essentially offering them an opportunity to be a part of a posse. Invite them to the group lunch or dinner you are planning!

#23. Look for small groups at networking events, ideally with people you’ve seen at sessions during the day. Find a way to join them through proximity, listening, smiling, and shared interests (i.e., you all are at this event, were in some of the same sessions, and have drinks). Being around the crowd can be the right opening to start meeting other people on the edge of the crowd.

That’s Not All the Ideas

I’m sure there are more ideas than this for an introvert to meet new people at a conference, but since this is probably the longest Brainzooming post ever, that’s all for today! – Mike Brown

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The folks at Armada Corporate Intelligence profiled a Bloomberg Businessweek story on Fanatics, the sports apparel manufacturer and marketer, in its Inside the Executive Suite. Fanatics introduced disruptive innovation to its marketplace with an agile strategy. It employs technology, focused creative teams, new manufacturing processes, and communications to remove time and waste when creating post-sporting event apparel featuring the winners and exciting story lines. For NCAA basketball tournament games, Fanatics can put a newly approved shirt on its website within 15 minutes. It also uses its agile strategy to market apparel for niche opportunities where it might sell as few as ten t-shirts.

Along with the recap, Inside the Executive Suite offered sixteen strategic thinking questions inspired by the Fanatics case study that you can use to explore agile strategy options within your own organization. We thought the list was intriguing, so we secured the go ahead to share the strategic thinking questions with you here.

16 Strategic Thinking Questions to Explore Agile Strategy and Disruptive Innovation

via Shutterstock

Developing an Agile Strategy

  • Where can your organization realize the greatest leverage from improved agility – cost savings, an improved customer experience, sales opportunities, greater financial efficiency?
  • Beyond making investments and process changes to increase agility, are there other opportunities to cost-effectively manage demand?
  • How can you develop a super-agile process that disrupts other industry players’ competitive advantages?

Identifying Process Changes for Agile Strategy

  • Where can you aggressively remove steps (especially low-value ones) from today’s process to boost agility?
  • How can you completely redesign today’s process from scratch to create a super-agile approach?
  • What roles do you need on your agile execution team to move from idea to market with previously unheard of speed?
  • What characteristics and behaviors are important for agile execution team members to display?
  • What resources (even if they are redundant or eventually discarded) are critical to enable rapid execution?

The Interplay Between Flexibility and Agility

  • How can you improve your organization’s ability to pre-plan and anticipate the uncertain?
  • In what ways can more / better / faster data access increase forecasting accuracy, and your ability to delay decisions without compromising agility?
  • What are the various types of reviews, approvals, and decisions you will need during crunch time? How can agile decision making happen in an easier and more timely way when speed is most important?
  • What does the time window around peak need look like?
  • Is there additional flexibility you can create / exploit in lead times, the length of the selling opportunity, and / or the long tail of demand?

Strong Relationships Enable Agility

  • Who are the outside people and entities vital to ensuring your agile processes perform as expected?
  • What foreknowledge, training, and support will outside parties require to perform their duties at peak levels?
  • What do agile relationship-building skills necessary for supporting your process look like?

Across these questions, you’ll get a start thinking through how an agile strategy can push disruptive innovation in your industry.  – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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Short Story: There could be better ways to formalize your organization’s innovation strategy, so ask The Brainzooming Group for ideas (via a FREE conversation) to make sure you consider alternatives!

How do you introduce an innovation strategy for your organization?

Do you start from scratch and unveil innovation as a new initiative with a focused team? Or do you look around the organization to identify where new things are happening, even in informal ways, and roll them into a more overt innovation strategy?

We discussed this question with the head of a business services firm. He wants to focus greater attention on innovation within the organization. His goals are to ensure innovation is a driver in maintaining the firm’s strong growth. He also is looking ahead to potential disruptions in the organization’s industry, trying to position the organization for success.

Take Credit for Everything New within Your Innovation Strategy

In a pre-meeting discussion and during our conversation, several innovations from the past several years emerged. These included new revenue lines and process improvements. They have done some great work. While it may not be completely coordinated or have produced dramatic revenue gains, they have steps in place for management team members to surface ideas, develop business cases, and secure approval to move forward with them.

Despite these apparent innovation strategy successes, he wanted to create an innovation team distinct from what they have previously done. The team’s charge would be to generate more substantial innovative ideas to drive disruption and top-line growth. The innovation team activity would be focused on a day-long event to do its work.

Our counter strategy, based on the organization working from a combination of previous success and future aspiration, is for them to take credit for EVERYTHING that looks like innovation in the past few years. This includes:

  • Innovation champions that identified fresh opportunities
  • New service lines and revenue streams they introduced
  • A rebranding initiative
  • Award-winning process improvements
  • Anything else that remotely fits an updated, more formal innovation strategy

My other suggestion was to integrate the innovation strategy into the firm’s overall strategy, raising it to the level of a strategic initiative.

What are the advantages of a backward-looking innovation strategy?

It recognizes an innovation strategy as:

  • Something familiar with the potential for greater impact
  • Part of the fabric of an organization looking for inspiration to innovate more dramatically
  • A part of the firm’s culture that has both internal impact and the potential to deliver significant value for clients

It is still early. I’m not sure they will get behind this approach or even work with us if they do adapt it. Either way, though, their smartest move is to forego an innovation day for an innovation strategy.

There Are such Things as Free Ideas!

By the way, the ideas we suggested for them were all part of a FREE initial conversation to understand what they are trying to accomplish. As much as we ask questions, listen, and take notes, we can’t help challenging current thinking and offering ideas right away.

If you’re an executive exploring a fresh look at strategy (whether organizational, branding, innovation, marketing process improvement, or just about any other type of strategy) and would benefit from a thirty-minute FREE conversation to provide you fresh ideas, contact us at The Brainzooming Group, and let’s talk! – Mike Brown

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For many business people, it’s intimidating to walk into an unfamiliar situation (whether that’s a new company, client, team, initiative, or project) knowing you are expected to contribute new business ideas right away.

If you face those types of situations, you know how nerve wracking it can be to have to go from “nice to meet you” to new business ideas in perhaps minutes.

One answer is to simply regurgitate ideas you have used previously in other situations. That can work, but often, it seems people wind up revealing that they’ve used the idea elsewhere. This lets everyone know you’re simply recycling new business ideas that aren’t so new anymore.

9 Ways to Never Suffer from a Lack of New Business Ideas Again

In place of only recycling ideas, try these nine strategic thinking questions and creative thinking paths. The formula is to ask a specific question, LISTEN for responses from others, and follow a related creating thinking direction to generate ideas more quickly:


  1. What’s been tried before? then REACT to historical activities with new twists
  2. What are the current ideas? then BUILD on those ideas to make them stronger
  3. What ideas have been passed over previously? then TRANSFORM them so they are more pertinent to the current situation
  4. What’s causing roadblocks to progress? then try to SOLVE the barriers
  5. What has been successful before? then find ways to REFRESH them with something new
  6. What is working now? then share ways to MULTIPLY it for even broader impact
  7. What are you developing right now? then generate ideas to SPEED UP development for a quicker impact
  8. What competitors’ strategies are in the market? then share ideas on how to IMPROVE what they are doing
  9. What is the most popular idea you have? then suggest ideas to PRIORITIZE it

You don’t need all nine strategic thinking questions in very situation where you are expected to quickly develop new business ideas.

It is great, though, to have these and other strategic thinking questions ready to go whenever you walk in and want to be ready share ideas right away! – Mike Brown

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  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation

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In nearly every instance, we spend time with a prospective client discussing three aspects of their strategic planning process needs:

  • What they think they want to achieve
  • What they need to achieve
  • The best way to make it happen using our collaborative process.

Do you see your organization in any of these three current conversations we are having with prospective clients?

Conducting a Strategic Planning Process with a Certain Framework

What the prospective client wants to achieve: “We’ve sold-in a specific strategic planning process methodology, so that’s the approach we need to take.”

What they need to achieve: They need to deliver a plan with the framework their leadership has approved, but still make sure it’s collaborative and engaging in a way their strategic planning process never has been previously.

The best way to make it happen: We’re proposing arranging our strategic planning exercises within the framework they have already advanced. Rather than having a Brainzooming stamp on the steps, we’ll morph our approach to work within what they client wants to see happen.

A Small Innovation Team Is the Way to Introduce Innovation

What the prospective client wants to achieve: “We think the answer is to get an innovation team together and have them come up with new ideas.”

What they need to achieve: Instead of innovation seeming like a disconnected initiative, we recommend they integrate innovation with:

  • Successful new service lines they already introduced
  • Existing ideas that haven’t advanced
  • Current strategic initiatives already underway

The best way to make it happen: We’re early in the conversation, but we suggested casting a wide net to incorporate work they’ve already done into innovation. Rather than looking at innovation as a “team,” we expect the success they want will come from greater collaboration, a team to move it forward, and a process that makes innovation sustainable for years ahead.

The Struggle Between Major Decisions and Collaboration

What the prospective client wants to achieve: “We have some major decisions to make about the company’s future, so we need to limit the planning to just the immediate leadership team.”

What they need to achieve: They clearly need to wrestle with major issues only appropriate for a small top management group. Yet, to advance in a way that sets them up for success with the big decisions, they need to involve a broader team of employees in strategic planning and implementation.

The best way to make it happen: We recommended a two-pass strategic planning process. The first pass will only include the senior team and vary the steps to create a closely-held implementation strategy for the biggest strategic issues. We would then make a second, more typical looking collaborative planning sweep across a much larger part of the organization.

Are any of these situations familiar?

We tackle these and whole host of other issues as we work with each prospective client to identify the most effective and efficient way to introduce a strategic planning process into an organization.

If you’re looking at boosting the impact of your organizational strategy, let’s get on the phone and discuss the best way to make it happen for your brand! – Mike Brown

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Short Story: Look for specifics and things that people can actually do or perform to move creative thinking into action.

How do you move from creative thinking into action?

That was a persistent question during a recent Brainzooming strategic thinking workshop that also included a heavy dose of content on creative thinking. Two of the client’s senior staff members said this was a question they expected us to answer during the strategic thinking workshop. They also wanted a sense of when and why you should think creatively. Specifically, one wondered whether a problem is necessary as a precursor to creative thinking.

I loved the questions. They signaled these two guys had likely been through similar workshops touching on creative thinking that were big on creativity and light on applying the ideas to daily work.

Their qualms about applying creative thinking are familiar. Working in a B2B marketing environment, I had to develop a knack for applying creativity quickly directly to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities. We did not work in an environment with tolerance for a fun creative path that didn’t deliver real world answers expeditiously.

Does there have to be a problem to justify creative thinking in a work setting?


The workshop participant asking about creativity and problems was persistent. I changed the workshop’s flow to answer his question early, using a chart we previously published and regularly use with clients. It helps assess how broadly an organization perceives a need for improved results compared to its frustration with the status quo.

Placing your organization on the chart helps identify how you apply creativity and the related expectations for your efforts. In the lower right quadrant, creativity is likely first applied to helping the organization realize the need for change. As you build that understanding and hope for improvement, you shift creativity toward exploring what it will take for a better future. If your organization is starting in the upper right though, you can apply bigger creative thinking right away toward transformative ideas for bringing about dramatic change.

Turning Creative Thinking  into Action


When it comes to shifting from ideas into action, that’s where everything we’ve published over the last several years about implementation, project management, and creating strategic impact comes into play. That work is oriented toward preparing and activating an organization to act on creative ideas.

Addressing the specific workshop query about how to move creative thinking into action, I shared five questions you can use to push a group more fascinated with ideas than acting toward specific tactics:

  • What will it take to accomplish this?
  • What are the first actions it will take to move forward?
  • Can you identify a specific individual that will have responsibility for implementing this?
  • What would you walk out here and do based on what we’ve talked about here?
  • What verbs (that demonstrate what people will do) are the first words for the tactics to make this happen?

These and comparable questions help curb coming up with more questions to push for the specifics leading to action.

And in case you were wondering, my action-oriented friends walked away from the Brainzooming strategic thinking workshop satisfied we gave them the types of help they were looking for at the start! – Mike Brown

5 Ways to Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

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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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