Communication | The Brainzooming Group - Part 4 – page 4

Last week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” article from Armada Corporate Intelligence picked out highlights on leadership skills from Fast Company magazine. They found these items particularly relevant for the year ahead. There are a number of team development and leadership skills mentioned that fit themes we talk about here. We added supporting links on many of the points and wanted to share the ideas with you:

Leadership Skills – 15 Ideas for Innovative Leadership in 2017

The February issue of Fast Company arrived, featuring a special report called, “Find Your Purpose – 175 Inspiring Business Lessons to Navigate the Year Ahead.” The article shares the thinking of ninety-six global business leaders on a variety of leadership skills. We wanted to highlight specific questions, recommendations, and challenges that seem particularly pertinent for leading strategically and innovatively in the year ahead.

Intriguing Interview Questions

Asking great questions is an important aspect of discovering and selecting the right talent for your team. We are fans of asking open-ended, unusual (but still real-world) questions that potential hires are not automatically prepared to answer. These questions all fit that profile.

What are you trying to prove?

Emily Weiss (Founder and CEO, Glossier) is looking for people that have the drive and the hustle to show someone – whether now or from somewhere in their past – that they can accomplish something no one expected them to be able to accomplish.

What would you do if there were no money involved?

Abby Falik (Founder and DEO, Global Citizen Year) is hiring people who are passionate about a cause. Having people share what they would tackle out of desire for change when no money is involved helps provide a better sense of what drives them.

What does your worst day look like?

Tom Ogletree (Director of Social Impact, General Assembly) uses this type of question to get people to open up about what bugs them. He finds that peoples’ negative perceptions can disqualify them for the job they are seeking.

What do you want from this experience?

Kimberly Bryant (Founder, Black Girls Code) is trying to find people that connect with her organization’s bigger mission. Through this question, she is looking for self-motivated individuals who want to develop and create progressively greater impacts.

Can you give me another example?

Will Dean (CEO, Tough Mudder) does not like to settle for stock, well-rehearsed answers. He will ask a candidate a question. He will then ask for two or three more examples so candidates are forced to think on their feet during interviews.

Leadership Practices

Some leaders dismiss the idea of collaborating with their teams because it takes too much time, keeps team members away from daily tasks, and can lead to ideas that the organization is not ready to embrace. One counter to this outlook is that a diverse team is in a position to see opportunities from many more vantage points than that of a single leader. These tips for leadership skills help clarify ways to make collaboration work effectively as a leadership practice.

Push yourself out of your routine – continually.

Blythe Harris (Chief Creative Officer, Stella & Dot) challenges herself and other leaders to push beyond the everyday activities of normal life. She seeks out new ideas and experiences to “actively disrupt” her routines and sharpen her creativity.

Never forget the customer and how they fit into what you are doing.

Regina Asborno (Deputy Director, New York Transit Museum) stresses the importance of connecting to the ultimate customer to orient and motivate teams to excel, even at the mundane aspects of what they do.

A leader should create strategy with a team.

Ashley McCollum (General Manager, Tasty at BuzzFeed) advocates for leaders collaborating with their teams to create business strategy. The reason? Leaders are often looking for teams to push beyond what seems possible or even well advised. Involving a team in planning increases the likelihood that it will step up to that challenge.

Keep meetings to the essential people.

Susan Reilly Salgado (Founder, Hospitality Quotient) makes a concerted effort to keep meetings as small as possible by reaching out only to essential people. She identifies participants based on those who “need to be there,” making sure those core people are the only ones invited.

Keep meetings short.

Trevor O’Brien (Chief Technology Officer and Partner, Deutsch) recommends trying to shorten meetings (say, to 20 minutes) to get the best out of bringing people together while not bogging them down with extended, unproductive meetings that slow progress.

Shaping Teams

A leader’s role involves pushing the team, but not necessarily for more productivity. Innovative leaders push a team to imagine bigger, better possibilities, paving the way for individuals to step out and realize new scenarios.

Push team members out of their comfort zones.

David Lee (Chief Creative Officer, Squarespace) sees a leader’s job as pushing team members beyond typical comfort zones, stretching them through goals that require them to do things they might have not originally thought possible. He takes time for celebration, but ensures the next goal falls into place right away.

Surround yourself with experts and have them explain.

Jonny Bauer (Global Chief Strategy Officer, Droga5) looks for experts in unfamiliar areas that his team needs to understand. He then has experts go over what they see, know, and understand, repeatedly, until everyone else gets the picture.

Extend the voices of your team members.

Jason Cornwell (Communications UX Lead, Google) challenges leaders to use the power they have based on position to put their teams forward. His view is that a smart leader amplifies the team by giving it his power.

Emphasize results over being busy.

Darren Walker (President, Ford Foundation) keeps a goal front and center, assessing performance based on generating impact. This contrasts sharply with placing the emphasis on generating a lot of activity that keeps an organization busy, but falls short of accomplishing an overall objective.

Exploit easily measured goals to help maximize progress.

Noah Weiss (Head of the Search, Learning, and Intelligence group, Slack) recommends dealing with fast growth by giving smart, emerging leaders freedom to act and clear goals that are easy to measure.

What new leadership skills are you using this year?

We found these leadership skills suggestions from Fast Company particularly intriguing. What are you changing in your leadership style to be more strategic and innovative in 2017?

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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 had the opportunity to see Dayton Moore, General Manager of the Kansas City Royals, discuss his perspective on organizational harmony as he opened the Jump Start 2017 conference in Atlanta. SMC3 sponsors the annual conference.

Moore said he carries the seven organizational harmony principles with him on a card as a reminder.

Here are the organizational harmony principles as I captured them (the intent is on target, but I may have missed some exact phrasing):

  1. Settle disputes quickly.
  2. Care more than anyone else does.
  3. Give people more than they expect.
  4. Make sure you stand up for your own people.
  5. Share the glory.
  6. Remain calm in the eye of the storm.
  7. Emphasize one-on-one communication.

We would all do well to keep those in mind!  Mike Brown

10 Keys to Engaging Employees to Improve Strategic Results

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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 came up with this list a few years ago when some friends were searching for high school reunion ideas that would help pass the time.


It’s reunion time again. Here’s the list of fun questions in text and image form. Try them out, and see who fits each category at your high school reunion!

High School Reunion Ideas – 18 Fun Questions to Ask

  1. Most unrealized intellectual potential?
  2. Who has most over achieved?
  3. Most changed physically—male?
  4. Most changed physically—female?
  5. Least changed?
  6. Person I would most like to change places with?
  7. Would have taken better care of him/herself if he/she had thought he/she would make it to this reunion?
  8. Great news! __________ showed up.
  9. Great news! __________ didn’t show up.
  10. Too bad. ________ didn’t show up.
  11. Highest (unwarranted) opinion of themselves?
  12. Most changed?
  13. And I would know you from?
  14. When did you get so big?
  15. Boy…I’m glad I’m not __________.
  16. Over/under—plastic surgeries? 2
  17. Most interesting conversation?
  18. Most thought provoking conversation?

High School Reunion Ideas – 18 Fun Questions to Ask (image)

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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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Waiting at O’Hare airport for my flight, another business traveler stopped in front of me, and asked, “Mike Brown?”


He was a former corporate sales executive where I used to work. He’d been pointed in my direction to talk about content marketing strategy and social media and just happened to run into me in the hallway at O’Hare. He is now the C-level sales and marketing executive at a B2B service company.

His big question about social media and content marketing strategy was, “Why would a B2B company engage in these areas?” He’d never heard of a B2B company gaining business from their efforts.

Incredible as that statement may sound, I understand his reluctance. I told him The Brainzooming Group is a B2B company, and we gain business from our social media and content marketing strategy. And we are definitely NOT by ourselves in that!

8 Reasons a B2B Company Should Engage in Social Media


For a B2B company, a content marketing strategy, along with a social media presence, allows it to:

Those are only eight reasons. There are plenty more.

Those provide a fantastic starting point for identifying and quantifying the benefits for a B2B company to dive into content marketing – even if it feels late to the game to start! – 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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This shouldn’t be a newsflash, but it needs to be said: You are completely free to edit your personal backstory.

Each of us has a backstory.

A personal backstory is what we say about ourselves (along with our behaviors, physical cues, and beliefs that may speak louder than our words) about how we reached where we are right now. A backstory provides others an important input toward beginning to form perceptions about you.

Ideally, your backstory provides a strong representation of your path to where you are and helps people quickly understand where you can benefit them (and where they might be able to benefit you).

In a less than ideal situation, your personal backstory can limit you in who you start believing you are, what you can imagine yourself doing, and even the people you associate with personally and professionally.

Your Personal Backstory Can Change


That brings us back to the starting point: there is nothing to stop you if you want to edit your personal backstory to serve you better than it does right now.

I was chatting with a friend that has lost touch with some of her talents and very positive characteristics. She hasn’t used certain talents as fully as she did in the years leading up to her current job. These talents have essentially disappeared from how she thinks and talks about herself with others.

We discussed the benefit from editing her backstory to open up possibilities or make her diverse experiences work hard to boldly communicate in professional settings.

What’s your personal backstory?

Is it helping or hurting you?

While you may have some sense of how others perceive your backstory, it’s worthwhile to ask them. Talk to people around you (both very and less familiar with you) that can help you better understand how your backstory plays for them.

If the personal backstory others perceive isn’t serving you well, edit and revise it to serve you better.

No one is going to stop you. It’s yours to decide. – Mike Brown

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Learn all about how Mike Brown’s workshops on social media and content marketing can boost your success!

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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While traveling recently, I met with two online friends I’d never spoken with before. We’d chatted, messaged, and emailed, but had never spoken in person.

All I can say is I highly recommend turning online friends into IRL ones whenever possible.

A New Business Collaboration in Dallas

In Dallas, I met and spent two days with Mess Wright. We originally met on Twitter several years ago. I think Mess reached out online after reading some Brainzooming articles. I have been reading her multiple blog sites the last few years chronicling her career and life. I’ve said multiple times that I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone online that’s written about their personal successes and challenges in such a real, raw way.

Leading up to the Dallas trip, we were discussing her new role as a Communications Animator at The Grove, a social impact-focused co-working space located across the street from what was the Texas School Book Depository.


We spent time together seeing “Mess Wright’s Dallas” and attending the Social Media Strategies Summit. Our conversations led to us pursuing a new business collaboration we’re currently defining. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about collaborating with Mess!

A Chicago Creative Nudge

While in Chicago following the Dallas trip, Diane Bleck of The Doodle Institute met Anthony Vannicola (our Brainzooming intern) and me. Diane has graciously created a couple of infographics for Brainzooming articles. Nevertheless, we didn’t have any particular plans for our meetup.


To put it succinctly, Diane came in and kicked my creative and content marketing ass in the nicest possible way. She dropped a strategy and business model on me that both makes so much sense AND runs wildly against the balance I’ve tried to create between The Brainzooming Group brand and how visible I am in the mix. We did a Periscope video (my first). She also kindly shared one of her Innovation Think Pad kits and issued a creative nudge to create a visual vocabulary for Brainzooming.

Being the dutiful student, I spent the flight home starting to craft a set of doodle icons for Taking the NO Out of InNOvation.


As an introvert, meeting online friends IRL has definitely extended my social boundaries in incredibly positive ways. It’s made me more open to meeting new people. That includes sitting down and talking with complete strangers in airport restaurants on both trips. When I got back to a flooded-out Kansas City after the Chicago trip, I gave the guy across the aisle on the plane a ride home. Our introduction stemmed from a mutual friendship with Paula Holmquist. I met Paula at a copy shop years ago while preparing for our first big community collaboration event.

San Francisco and the SMS Summit

In late September 2016, I’ll be co-presenting and hanging out with Whip-Smart Wordsmith, Emma Alvarez Gibson, at the Social Media Strategies Summit and Marketing Conference in San Francisco. I met Emma in 2009 via an introduction from Jan Harness. Emma’s helped develop the initial Brainzooming brand messaging. We collaborate online frequently, and Emma co-facilitated an in-person workshop we did for CompTIA in San Diego several years ago. Additionally, she’s been editing our eBooks this year.


And btw, if you’re focused on marketing in general or social media and content marketing specifically, you should join us at this great event!

Want to Meet IRL in Your Town?

Introverts can grow and gain comfort with going from online to IRL friendships. Every time I’ve done this, it has led to learning more about online friends and about myself. In multiple cases, these meetings have fostered further collaboration.

So if I’m coming to your city (including Evansville, Indiana, San Francisco, Denver, St. Louis. Las Vegas, Indianapolis, and other locations before the year is done), are you interested in meeting IRL? Let me know! – 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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I’m at the Social Media Strategies Summit in Dallas today, delivering a two-hour workshop on developing a branded content marketing strategy. The key is finding the right balance between employing outside-in topics and outside-in timing while still making sure your brand personality and messages come through clearly.

We recently conducted a dedicated content marketing strategy workshop for a client on this very topic. We worked with nearly thirty of its business and communication leaders to explore topics four different audience personas would find valuable and that the organization, a healthcare non-profit, could credibly address.

The client is a non-profit focused on healthcare. It entered the workshop with five profiles of target audience members that The Brainzooming Group helped them develop. These profiles, called personas, are three-to-five paragraph descriptions it developed describing specific individuals it serves, seeks to hire, or collaborates with in serving clients.  Small groups prepared the personas in advance by brainstorming answers to ten questions on each audience member.

The personas provided the basis for other workshop activities imagining topics audience members would be interested in and willing to read, watch, or listen to if the non-profit were to address them.

Here’s an overview of each of the strategic thinking exercises:

5 Content Marketing Strategy Exercises to Generate Audience-Oriented Topics


What questions do audience members ask during the buying journey?

The initial exercise explored three phases of an audience member’s journey. The first phase (Awareness) encompassed their initial exploration as they became aware of an opportunity or issue an outside party might address. The second phase (Consideration) involved the audience member describing the relevant opportunity or issue and looking at organizations to help satisfy needs. The final phase (Decision) involved the audience member selecting, engaging, and evaluating the relationship with the outside party they chose.

Within each phase, the small groups identified questions audience members might ask. The comprehensive list of questions each group identified became the basis for the second content marketing exercise.

What topics address important audience questions?

The second exercise used questions from the first one to generate content topic ideas. For each audience question, participants suggested one or more topics or working titles. The topics they generated were not intended to communicate an overtly promotional brand message. Instead, the content would help audience members be smarter in their exploration, evaluation, decision-making, engagement, and post-purchase experiences. As the brand addresses topics of interest to audience members, it has the opportunity to subtly convey its helpfulness, expertise, and audience-focus through sharing beneficial content throughout has the audience journey.

Why do audience members select the brand?

Another exercise focused participants on the relationship stage where audience members either choose or do not choose the brand. Workshop participants identified five primary reasons audience members select the brand. They then identified five reasons audience members do not pick the brand. For each positive reason, they generated multiple topic ideas (of interest to audience members) that would back up the brand’s attractive characteristics. For reasons the brand was not selected, they brainstormed possible topics to help counter or refute misperceptions about the brand.

What do audience members say about the brand relationship?

One exercise focused on interactions audience members have with the brand further into the relationship using a 4-box grid. One axis listed “questions” and “statements.” The other listed “negative” or “positive” interactions.  Each of the four cells named a relevant situation and several questions to trigger potential topics. For instance, positive questions present “Education opportunities,” and negative questions signal “pain points.” Positive statements suggest highlighting ” brand value.” Negative comments indicate “objections to anticipate.” Questions associated with each of these four areas suggested jumping off points for additional topic ideas.

What do we think, know, and do that is relevant for audience members?

Audience members’ interests primarily extend beyond the brand’s traditional focus areas. That is why brands focusing only on content about themselves miss so many rich areas in which to share content. To counter this, one exercise explored areas in which audience members exhibit interests, seek information, and focus priorities. For each of the areas identified, participants generated audience-oriented topics. They made the brand connection to the audience based on what the brand thinks about audience interest areas, knows about the information they seek, and does relative to their priorities.

Coming Away with Plenty of Audience-Oriented Topic Ideas

During the Brainzooming content marketing strategy workshop, participants generated hundreds of potential content topics. Before adjourning, each person walked the room to review the topics and select those they thought had particular potential to interest audience members.

The next step is documenting all the topics on a content calendar. This enables the brand to address topics in an organized fashion across the year when, as they can best determine, audience members are most interested in the information.

If you want to learn more about specific details of this approach, contact us. Let’s collaborate to develop richer content that matters to your audiences. – Mike Brown

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Learn all about how Mike Brown’s workshops on social media and content marketing can boost your success!

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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