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I found this article recently. It was written back in my corporate days during the blog’s first year (June 27, 2008). Honestly, I’d forgotten about it. A search on the Brainzooming blog to track down content for an updated strategic thinking presentation uncovered it. Reading “9 Ways to Understand the Political Fray and Stay the Hell Out of It” after all these years, it may be the most beneficial article we’ve ever run. That’s even with thousands of articles since its original publication. It serves as the foundation for nearly all our content, making it worth a republish and sharing it with all of you that never saw it originally.

9 Ways to Understand the Political Fray and Stay the Hell Out of It

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The title is from a leadership presentation that I do. It’s how I’ve tried to live my life in business, organizations, and relationships. I’d never specifically articulated what “understanding the political fray” means though until a good friend said recently that she’s just not politically savvy. Here are eight general principles I shared for being attuned to an organization’s political environment.

  • Understand the organization’s long-term needs.Use your strengths to best address those needs and create results.
  • Know “what” drives the business– which revenue streams and cost centers really matter.
  • Translate that into “who” drives the business. Then figure out where you stand now relative to the “what” and the “who,” and where you want to stand relative to both in the future.
  • Figure out the organization’s tolerance for variation from the norm in the areas (important and unfortunately, trivial) on which people judge people. Know what the expectation is for fitting a certain type and make very conscious decisions about where you’ll play along (i.e., “fit”), and where you’ll make your stand for being different.
  • Consistently and unequivocally deliver value. Do it for lots of people at all levels of the company – above you, with peers, and at lower levels of the organization.
  • Make sure you’re seen as someone people can talk to and confide in Ask open-ended questions, listen, provide a little bit of sound counsel, and keep confidences. You’ll help others and learn a lot.
  • Always know who you can trust. Challenging issues and situations are great tests of this. The people who support you and / or have your back during the intense times are the people that you should go out of your way to invest in generously.
  • Don’t stop thinking, and don’t say everything you think.
  • Cultivate as many personal options as possible, and know how realistically they can come to fruition.

All these ways to understand the political fray and stay the hell out of it still all stand up for me, and I hope they benefit you!  – Mike Brown

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It is possible that great ideas are expressed very clearly and distinctly so that everyone understands them right away and sees the appropriate value they deliver and the impact they might create.

More often, however, it seems great ideas come along with a variety of other things that are not going to add tremendous value to creating great strategy. That’s when having the strategic thinking skills to extract the great ideas from everything else is so vital to them seeing the light of day and getting the consideration they deserve.

9 Strategic Thinking Skills to Create Clarity for Great Ideas

Thinking about some of the strategic thinking skills involved in that task, here is a handy checklist you can use with yourself and others to see how adept you (or they) are at surfacing great ideas. How good are you at…?

  1. Organizing ideas in a logical way
  2. Being able to organize ideas in multiple logical ways (and a few surprising ones, too)
  3. Removing things that don’t fit so that great ideas are more apparent
  4. Identifying what is important from among lots of details
  5. Finding common threads others will understand, even though they cannot originally identify the threads
  6. Focusing attention on the few things (whether results, ideas, costs, issues, etc.) that account for most of the overall impact
  7. Adding in overlooked things that fit with other ideas to make them all better
  8. Sorting out what matters from what gets attention
  9. Hearing the ideas people mean to say even if they don’t say those ideas exactly

Do you stand out at these strategic thinking skills? Or do you potentially squander lots of great ideas because they don’t get the attention they deserve?  – Mike Brown

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“Do you see any returns from all the blogging and social media stuff you do?”

People routinely ask some variation on that question about our social-first content marketing strategy.

I understand why they ask.

If they follow the Brainzooming blog or our presences on Twitter and Facebook (where we are most active – so go follow us there, please!), it’s only natural to speculate about how much time it takes, what it is doing to help grow our business, and whether they stand to see comparable benefits from investing time, energy, or dollars in creating content.

23 Content Marketing Strategy Benefits for an Emerging Brand

The simple answer to the question is we certainly see returns from the blogging and social media sharing we have been doing since before the Brainzooming brand existed as an independent organization.

Thinking about the list of impacts for our emerging brand, our content marketing strategy:

  1. Built and and continues to cultivate a global audience for the brand
  2. Paved the way for transitioning a capability inside a Fortune 500 organization into the separate and standalone Brainzooming brand
  3. Provides credibility with human and search engine audiences that the website is a worthwhile place to go for information on strategy, innovation, and branding
  4. Attracts audiences on social media networks
  5. Demonstrates how and what we think
  6. Helps new people begin to understand what we do
  7. Allows us to demonstrate what we know and what we can do without having to beat down doors or pester people with phone calls they don’t want
  8. Offers a reason for people to come to the website or subscribe to our content (which leads to them seeing information about what we do and can offer them)
  9. Keeps our name in front of people interested in our brand that develop into clients later
  10. Has created (and continues to create) fans for the brand
  11. Sustains relationships with current and future clients until they are ready to buy our services
  12. Attracts potential partners
  13. Provides the ability to create new formats (such as custom tools for clients) in a fraction of the time that creating brand new content would require
  14. Creates interest in our services among social media audiences, leading to new clients
  15. Leads to speaking opportunities, which create income and new blog readers and then lead to additional new clients
  16. Sends a message that the brand has substance
  17. Lets us rapidly answer questions for potential clients with little incremental time or dollar investment
  18. Is a source for new presentations, workshops, and keynotes
  19. Turns into diagnostics that become core pieces of our service offering
  20. Interests like-minded people in wanting to work for us
  21. Opens the door for us to compete for and win work against some of the world’s top strategy and branding consultancies
  22. Allows us to deliver on client projects more quickly and efficiently than we otherwise could
  23. Feeds into creating downloadable eBooks that attract major new clients

That’s a quick list of what all the blogging and social media sharing (in short, our content marketing strategy) has done for Brainzooming as an emerging brand. We’re a brand that started from scratch and bootstrapped into a viable business and an emerging brand, largely based on a content marketing strategy.

So yes, we do see results from all our content. Moreover, we are committed to the strategy and benefits we can deliver with our social-first content. Thanks for being a part of it!  – Mike Brown

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  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

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An April story in Fortune suggests, in so many words, that TED Talks are enough to break open the flow of ideas in your organization. It detailed how TED and its CEO, Chris Anderson, are trying to aggressively penetrate the corporate event strategy and production market. Targeting Fortune 500 companies for revenue, TED is pitching its event strategy production capabilities (with full conferences and Salon events), popular TED Talks speakers and TED fellows, speaking workshops, and even space at its headquarters to immerse in the TED vibe.

Rubbing elbows with the TED brand is pricey. The article reports the cost of the TED crew’s producing a one-day conference for your organization starts at $1.5 million. That involves a healthy premium for the TED brand and the halo from its well-known production look and feel.

An Event Strategy to Tell Your Stories and Ideas

While the multi-million-dollar investment takes many organizations out of the TED Talks event strategy market, the need for high-impact corporate events exists in many companies. Some get it right, too many don’t. That is why too many conferences with the potential for game-changing impact fizzle: they fail to embrace an event strategy incorporating the important basics that TED delivers in its conferences.

If you are looking to an event strategy that creates impact but TED is not the answer, try these practices TED masters. You can emulate all of them to improve your internal meetings:

1. Pick a Theme and Use It for All It’s Worth

TED events feature intriguing themes that set the tone for the featured presentations. You can use a theme to help your audience understand the presenters and the overarching message you want them to take back to their daily work. The easy part is placing a theme on slides, lanyards, and posters at the venue. The challenging, and much more important aspect, is developing the right theme and using it to drive EVERYTHING you do with the conference.

Here are several suggestions for exploring the right theme:

  • Don’t delay selecting a theme until late in the conference preparation. Invest time early to develop the theme so it drives all your event planning and execution.
  • Create a theme that ties both previous and future activities within your organization. It should feel as if it springs from your culture, but also challenge and inspire your team to future successes.
  • Strategically tie everything to the theme leading up to, during, and after the event. Repeatedly communicate it from the stage, using it to link the speakers and the messages they share. Doing this elevates a theme from a few spiffy words to a powerful communication tool that helps instill and align strategy.

Remember: a great meeting theme will work hard to align your activities and reinforce your messages during the meeting and afterward.

2. Feature People with Untold Stories

The easy answer for any organization’s conference is putting all the executives on stage, whether they are dynamic presenters or duds. That’s not the TED approach. To paraphrase its direction, TED looks for stories that haven’t been told and ideas worth sharing. That’s a very different direction than essentially turning the company organization chart into a conference agenda.

Look for untold stories and shareable ideas inside and outside the company that effectively convey the theme. Reach into your organization for stories of successes, learnings, innovations, and personal accomplishments. Not every story has to be fact-driven. Emotion is a major component of TED events. An audience will remember personal stories carrying messages of struggle, hope, and overcoming challenges far longer than a senior executive’s PowerPoint full of business statistics!

Sharing the stage with new presenters featuring relevant, albeit different types of stories, introduces risks. You will be putting untested people on the stage. Lower this risk by working with the presenters to hone their stories and delivery. Identify what they want to share, and find ways to help them streamline messages, linking ideas to the theme. Simplify talking points, eliminate text-based PowerPoint in favor of compelling images, inject emotion, and help them practice many times to gain comfort and familiarity with presenting. You will find that the right speakers with strong stories will carry the day, no matter their organizational titles.

3. Develop a Format and Flow that Works for Your People

TED employs a couple of standard talks, the longest of which is eighteen minutes. While that strategy is great for later packaging thousands of talks as videos, it creates a monotonous in-person experience. The take-away from TED is to plan for brief, focused talks compared to typical corporate meeting presentations. Whether it’s ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, select shorter speaking times, ditch the podium (as TED does), and give speakers some flexibility to use a format that showcases individual speaking talents.

While you may want to start the conference with the CEO delivering his or her message, we suggest caution. The best conference flows mimic frequently-used patterns in concerts, comedy routines, and firework shows: start with the second strongest element you have and end with the strongest one. In between, arrange other elements to maximize moments of excitement, drama, surprise, and quiet. Within this framework, look for the best places to showcase senior executives delivering messages tied to the theme.

TED events do a stellar job in staging and production. Never underestimate how these variables shore up speakers that might not be as strong as you would like. Even if your meeting budget falls FAR short of the $1.5 million TED price tag, using a solid outside production company is generally money well spent. The right production team will bring experience across conferences along with lighting, sound, and other resources to maximize your event’s impact.

Developing Your Event Strategy for Impact!

Obviously, this doesn’t cover everything you need to know to create a TED-like event. It may surprise you (or maybe not), that strategic creative production for corporate events is something The Brainzooming Group regularly does for clients.

If you are facing this type of challenge, contact us, and let’s chat about ideas. We love see an organization chart a new course and succeed dramatically with a breakthrough event! Mike Brown

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One of our clients recently conducted their own internal interviews to get a sense of what their employees thought about their current situation, future opportunities, and persistent challenges as an input into the strategic planning process. During the interviews, a standard theme from the participants was to share their comments EXACTLY as they stated them. Our client made the commitment to do so.

While that commitment translated into capturing and typing up exacting notes with their specific words, conveying what participants want to communicate during the strategic planning process is a little more complicated than that.

6 Keys for Conveying What Participants Want to Communicate

via ShutterStock

When it comes to conveying exactly what participants wants to communicate, there are multiple steps involved. These are some of the things we suggested to honor the team’s request for faithfully reporting their comments:

  1. Ask questions that allow individuals to express their own thinking instead of having to conform their language to how the strategic planner describes things.
  2. Make a concerted effort to capture the exact language participants used if they are not directly capturing their own language.
  3. If there is a gap between what they say and what they mean, don’t hesitate to fill in the white space so the final reporting is as representative as possible of their big messages.
  4. Do not hesitate to insert your own comments to focus reader attention on the most important messages.
  5. Develop a vocabulary list of common language the organization uses, and default to words and phrases from the list as you recap the interviews and work on subsequent deliverables.
  6. Identify themes among individual interviews and responses, featuring the most descriptive language people used to represent the significant issues the organization faces.

As with a lot of things in business and life, being faithful to what participants want to communicate during a strategic planning process can involve extra steps to adjust things and make sure it happens. We’ve taken these types of steps for years and have had clients consistently say, “That’s exactly what we meant, except you said it even better!” – Mike Brown

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You may want to take a seat before reading this rest of this.

An Awkward Social Media Strategy Moment, Brought to You by The Brainzooming Group

We’re going to ask a tough question about your social media strategy. An uncomfortable one that may be awkward.

Ready?

Here it is: When you take an honest look at the social content your organization produces, can you think of any reasons why your customers and prospects would be interested in reading, viewing, listening, or engaging in it?

Before you check, think about this: you’re not evaluating your social media strategy as a company insider. You’re evaluating your social content as a customer or prospect that may know very little about your company, let alone have a burning desire to learn more about it right this second. What they care about is content that is beneficial, entertaining, or otherwise good for them. End of story.

Now, go take a look and consider the question. We’ll wait while you poke around your blog, tweets, videos, Facebook updates, LinkedIn articles, Instagram images, and such.

(And BTW, if none of the abovementioned has been recently updated, the answer to the question is NO.)

*whistling while we wait*

You’re back. Great!

What’s your answer?

If it’s YES, that must mean you’ve invested time into thinking about your audiences’ interests beyond your company, creating and sharing content where you can credibly address those concerns. And that means–

What’s that?

You’re now unsure about whether YES, THEY WOULD LOVE OUR CONTENT is the right answer?

Well…we thought you might have some second thoughts about that.

Boost Your Brand’s Social Media Strategy with Social-First Content!

Whether you wavered in your YES, or you fessed up right away that the answer is NO, it’s time to download our latest Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy.

In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we’ll show you how to quickly develop and use an audience persona to:

  1. Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  2. Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  3. Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content shares actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises.

We use these same tools to help clients develop solid, brand-building social media strategy plans and implement them successfully.

And now you can, too. At no charge. In no time at all, you’ll be back, confidently saying YES, THEY WOULD LOVE OUR CONTENT.

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Emma Alvarez Gibson is here today, as a Gen Xer, to get the multi-generational workforce on the same program. Well, maybe as a first step, to get the Baby Boomers and Millennials to understand there are options for them (beyond whining to the Gen Xers) to upgrade their own performance and make more sense to each other. Because the Gen Xers have their own work to get done, and translating for all of you is making it tough for them.

Short story, it’s a powder keg out there in the multi-generational workforce, so here is to making it a little safer!

Field Notes: A Gen Xer Speaks to the Multi-generational Workforce from Emma Alvarez Gibson

Hello, colleagues.

We have a pretty decent working relationship, don’t we? We are gracious and professional, we exchange pleasantries even when we don’t have to, and we weather the ups and downs of corporate life together, or anyway near one another. Things are fine! I think we probably all agree on that.

You may not be aware of it, but as the lifeblood of our organization, as a Gen Xer, I’m holding together two disparate worlds in the multi-generational workforce. Having one foot in Baby Boomer Biosphere and the other in Millennialandia, I translate all day long, you to me to them and back again. I tell the youngs what the olds want, and I tell the olds what the youngs mean. I switch gears so that the inhabitants of both worlds will understand that I know what I’m about and that I’m trustworthy. (It’s tiring, yes, and I imagine this is the sort of situation that led Atlas to shrug, but that way lies a discussion about Ayn Rand, which, frankly, I’m too worn out to consider at the moment.)

It is in the spirit of our mutual respect and collaboration, then, that I implore you to consider a simple upgrade to your modus operandus. Herein I shall recommend one upgrade for the Baby Boomers, and another for the Millennials. In both cases the goal is the same: greater productivity within our multi-generational workforce.

via Shutterstock

Millennials, I’m going to start with you.

You are much maligned, it’s true; but all of us could benefit from some improvement. (And hey, Gen Xers know from being maligned. Everything was our fault until you guys were in grade school, at which point everything magically became your fault.)

Here is the one weird trick to improving your reputation around the office: have good manners. That entails, for instance, making eye contact. It means that when someone greets you in the hallway, you say hello back, even if you don’t know the person who’s just spoken to you. (The odds of your needing to ask that person for permission in order to carry out various parts of your job repeatedly over the course of an average week will be high. Trust.) Don’t just waltz into someone’s office and say, “I’m supposed to get a folder from you?” Knock, even if the door is open, and introduce yourself. Say please. Say thank you. Respect the pecking order, or make the effort to appear as though you do. You’re probably way faster at what you do than the majority of the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers you work with. But we’ve got years on you, which translates into breadth, depth, context, and relationships. Relationships are everything. Remember that.

Baby Boomers, you’re up now.

You have that aforementioned breadth, depth, and context. You have the relationships. We rely on you for structure and order, for insight and reason. So please, please, please: learn how to use technology, already.

Stop spending so much time talking about the ways you used to be able to do your job without it. Stop finding clever ways to avoid doing tech-related things because you don’t want people to think you’re too old. Spoiler alert: it’s heartbreakingly obvious to us when you’re avoiding it. We can tell from the language you use whether or not you’re scared of technology. Avoid the mental calisthenics: admit what you don’t know, and then learn what you should know. Stop pretending you can be as good as you once were without it. Change is inconvenient for everyone. It’s just that your generation is the only one still in the workforce that’s ever had the luxury of stability. We understand the impulse to ignore this pesky quicksand atop which we all stand. But we know it’s futile at best and self-destructive at worst.

Manners, meet technology. Technology, say hello to manners.

And yea verily will the skies part and the hallelujah chorus sound. Well, anyway, things will get better for our multi-generational workforce: we will grease the wheels of both form and function, and the Gen Xers will get a little breathing room, which in turn will make us a whole lot less resentful and irritatingly prone to dramatic statements about what martyrs we are.

So, now it’s your turn. Because fair’s fair. What are Gen Xers doing to drive you nuts? How can we contribute to the good of the group? Let us know on the Brainzooming Facebook page. (Yes, Millennials, we know it’s for old people. Yes, Boomers, we know you don’t want your life all over the internet. But everyone else is using it, so…c’mon. Do it for the team.)

Change is not only possible; it’s inescapable. So let us go willingly. The only thing we stand to lose is a bad stereotype.

– Emma Alvarez Gibson

 

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