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At the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned today’s topic would be recapping a project case study we’ve been involved with the past few months. Because of client confidentiality on strategic plans, it’s not often we can openly discuss learnings from what we do to help clients. In this case, we can.

Bring More Insights back from Boston

The Brainzooming Group has been working since earlier this year with the Centurions Leadership Program for future Kansas City leaders. The two-year program with more than 70 active members conducts an annual trip to another city for a learning and listening tour to meet with its leaders and bring back lessons for strategic plans and actions in Kansas City.

Before this year’s Centurions trip to Boston, Jake Jacobson of Garmin, one of the trip’s organizers, reached out to us based on his experience with The Brainzooming Group process at the Google Fiber brainstorming session. Jake wanted to see if we could help the Centurions do a thorough job of capturing and building upon learnings during the Boston trip to bring them back to Kansas City.

A Mobile-Based Brainzooming Approach Is the Answer

After talking further with Jake and Shawn Hickey of Perceptive Software, we designed a targeted mobile-based approach to capture reactions among the Centurions as each half-day of the April trip was completed. We also designed a more comprehensive wrap-up survey to gauge reactions to the trip overall. Through this effort, the Centurions identified a robust base of real-time reactions on a variety of pertinent topics including education, innovation, entrepreneurship, arts and entertainment, infrastructure, and biotechnology.

This approach allowed Jake and Shawn to have an interim recap of major learnings to close out the Boston sessions. It also set up our activity today, where we will be working with the Centurions during their Wild Card community service day to turn the concepts they highlighted into the start of strategic plans and actions.

Sticky Notes? We Don’t Need No Sticky Notes!

One of the important aspects of The Brainzooming Group process is flexibility, and we’ll be demonstrating that for today’s session.

We’d typically facilitate plan-building with a multiple strategic thinking exercise approach and lots of sticky notes. The venue for the Centurions session (a small restaurant with little available wall space, about 35 minutes of working time, and mostly tiny tables) won’t support our typical approach. Since we don’t have the time to adapt the venue, we’re adapting our process to fit the client need.

During lunch, we’ve designed a single strategic thinking exercise for the Centurions to tackle high-level strategic plans and actions on thirteen concepts from the Boston trip. The initial strategic plans and actions the Centurions will be working on will involve describing desired outcomes, important resources, and initial steps for each concept. It will be a lively discussion with much progress over this short luncheon planning session. Right after we’re done, the Centurions will be off to more community service activities around Kansas City.

A Real Impact for the Future of Kansas City

We look forward to how the Centurions will ultimately prioritize and move forward with these concepts from the Boston learning and listening tour. There is a real opportunity for this fantastic organization to make a real impact and improve the Kansas City community with their efforts! – Mike Brown

 

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If you’re facing a challenging organizational situation and are struggling to maintain forward progress because of it, The Brainzooming Group can provide a strategic sounding-board for you. We will apply our strategic thinking and implementation tools on a one-on-one basis to help you create greater organizational success. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you figure out how to work around your organizational challenges.


 

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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Dilbert.com

When I run a Dilbert comic strip, it is because there is some core idea or concept within the comic strip that really hits home with a theme we cover on the Brainzooming blog. This Dilbert comic strip’s subject is a little bit different in that it covers something that has not been covered directly here, but is on my mind frequently. The question is how to let people know about what The Brainzooming Group can do and the value we provide clients without violating my own sense that one should never engage in bragging?

If you spend any amount of time listening in social networks, it seems that online bragging  is rampant. If you spend TOO MUCH time listening in social networks, it can make you believe that you have to jump into the same level of online bragging to keep up.

I have had many days where the temptation is to follow Dilbert’s perspective, change our messaging direction here and in other social media channels, and engage in the same online bragging game that plays out on social networks every day:

  • Crowing about vaguely detailed client wins
  • Touting significant projects that might not really be all that significant
  • Bragging about everything else happening that can be fabricated into sounding like the most important things ever to happen in business.

However, every time it seems like trying to change our messaging direction is appropriate, there is a signal from somewhere that bragging is not the right thing to do. This one came, interestingly enough, via Twitter this weekend.

What can I say, other than Proverbs trumps Dilbert and online bragging every day of the week! We’ll stay focused on accomplishing stuff, one instance of which we’ll share, with great humility, tomorrow. – Mike Brown

 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic ideas! For an organizational creativity 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 may or may not become a new feature on the blog, but if it does, Saturday Surprise will feature an intriguing demonstration of creativity floating around the Internet. This first video comes from Google+ and Jeffrey J. Davis, who shared it Friday afternoon.

As the headline says, this Saturday Surprise is what happens when you combine Mark Zuckerberg, Game of Thrones, an X-Acto Blade, a ruler, free time and a unique vision from Malaysian artist-architect Red Hong who “likes to paint, but not with a paintbrush.” If you’d like to learn more about Red Hong’s “Facebook” depiction of Mark Zuckerberg, you can visit her website for pictures and the story.

Enjoy your first Saturday Surprise!  – Mike Brown

 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic new ideas! For an organizational creativity 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 innovation 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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Are you making sure the strategic questions you use are “open, neutral, and lean”?

There is a lot on the Brainzooming blog about the value of collecting and asking great strategic questions. Complementing those articles, a recent piece from the Pointer Review Project Blog by Jason Fry on the ESPN website highlighted a recommended strategic question formula. The recommendation comes via John Sawatsky, a well-known Canadian investigative reporter.

Sawatsky uses a method he developed systematically over the last thirty years that centers on open, neutral, and lean questions. The breakthrough to his strategic question formula occurred working with students to conduct research for a book on Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Each week during the project, he gave all his students the same questions to ask potential interviewees. He expected some students to be good interviewers and some not so good, but nearly without fail, the type of question determined success more than an individual interviewer’s skills.

Sawatsky found that “open, neutral, and lean” questions were consistently more successful at getting interview sources to open up with answers that yielded useful information and insight.

What are Open, Lean, and Neutral Questions?

Here are the three characteristics and how they play into the strategic question formula:

  • Open questions – These can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.” Open questions probe on what, how, and why.
  • Neutral questions – The queries avoid adding value statements and judgments, which distract and bias the respondent.
  • Lean questions – As the name suggests, these are brief and conceptually simple. Lean questions keep the respondent on point and don’t allow them to pick and choose what they want to answer.

This strategic question formula is an intriguing guide in not only developing new questions, but checking those already in use to make sure they’re as productive as possible.

What ways do you hone strategic questions you use? How might the open, neutral, and lean question formula influence your approach? – Barrett Sydnor

Need Fresh Insights to Drive Your Strategy?

Download our FREE eBook: Reimagining the SWOT Analysis

swot-alternatives-cover

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Whether you are just starting your strategy or think you are well down the path, you can use this eBook to:

  • Engage your team
  • Stimulate fresh thinking
  • Make sure your strategy is addressing typically overlooked opportunities and threats

Written simply and directly with a focus on enlivening one of the most familiar strategic thinking exercises, “Reimagining the SWOT Analysis” will be a go-to resource for stronger strategic insights!

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Ways to Reimagine Your SWOT Analysis

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Amid all the fervor about content marketing and the importance of sharing frequent, compelling content about your brand, there could be a real problem.

Your may be dealing with challenging content. It could even be inaccessible to parts of your intended audience. Maybe your content is:

  • Overly technical
  • Meaningful to only a small audience
  • Difficult to understand or interpret
  • Boring
  • Obscure

Maybe you have challenging content for some other reason entirely. If you are saddled with the responsibility for building an audience and making challenging content accessible, what can you do? Here is an idea if you’re doing content marketing in this type of situation.

Making Challenging Content Accessible

My friend Emma Alvarez Gibson, who is perhaps the biggest Nick Cave fan in the world, has been talking about Nick Cave on Twitter and Facebook as long as I have known her. In an effort to discover shared connections with an online friend, I’d even sampled Nick Cave music on iTunes and eMusic several times. For me, Nick Cave’s music could be considered eclectic and challenging content. The songs were generally way too slow for my liking; I didn’t “get” his music and certainly didn’t download any of his songs.

Then recently, I was direct messaging with Emma and complaining about some things going on that day. Emma said she’d gone through some similar situations and songs from a couple of Nick Cave (Grinderman) albums had been helpful in getting her through it all.

With that, Emma stepped through a masterful plan to make Nick Cave’s music accessible to me. The steps are worth reviewing because they’d be appropriate for any organization trying to make its own content more accessible to its audience:

1. Build a personal connection

Beyond connecting my current situation to one where Nick Cave’s music had helped her, Emma had shared stories previously about getting to interview the drummer from the Bad Seeds. Her connection made me more intrigued to discover what she enjoyed about the music.

2. Introduce relevant context

When Emma shared links with Nick Cave song recommendations, she offered background information about the songs, the characters, and what the lyrics mean. Now, I had some elements to listen for when checking out the songs.

3. Select a relevant subset of content

Rather than trying to get me to go through the whole Nick Cave catalog, Emma recommended songs from only a couple of Nick Cave records. This provided a pool of content more likely to click with me.

4. Suggest an appropriate and easy starting point

Within the subset of Nick Cave songs Emma recommended, she identified several songs as a good place to start listening. With her input, I created a download list starting with her recommended songs. I liked the very first song I listened to on the list.

5. Check back to gauge reactions

Since I started listening to the recommended songs, Emma has checked back several times to see my reactions and offer suggestions for edgier content to listen to next. Here, she made sure I didn’t get frustrated or disaffected and stop listening.

The Result? A New Nick Cave Fan

Emma’s efforts turned me into a Nick Cave fan. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to the song “More News from Nowhere,” one of starter songs Emma suggested. Between the hook in “More News from Nowhere” and Cave’s delivery, I’m definitely a fan!

If you are involved with content marketing and making challenging content accessible for a brand, what steps do you take to build an audience? In case you’re struggling with it, I’d recommend the five-step approach Emma Alvarez Gibson took to turn me into a new Nick Cave fan. You’ll see results! – Mike Brown

 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic ideas! For an organizational creativity 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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There was an American Restoration marathon on the History Channel recently, so I bought in for multiple hours of the Pawn Stars spin-off. American Restoration features Las Vegas’ Rick Dale and the crew at his business, Rick’s Restorationsn. They specialize in restoring classic objects that time has not treated very well, turning them into show pieces by hammering out dents, repainting, and tracking down all the missing parts and pieces that used to be there.

Photo by: ohNe22 | Source: Photocase.com

When you think about it, the restoration strategy principles on the American Restoration television show (affiliate link) are similar to what we face in business when a product, program, or process that was once shiny and new isn’t anymore, but it’s too valuable, for whatever reason, to eliminate. These types of business restoration situations aren’t pure turnarounds since you can’t apply the same type of scorched earth strategy a turnaround often requires.

Working from that rationale, here are five product, program, or process business restoration strategy principles to implement:

1. Understand expectations for authenticity and the restoration’s ultimate vision.

Before launching into a restoration, Rick Dale asks a customer about the ultimate vision for what the restoration looks like. There’s a different restoration strategy if they want it like brand new versus improving it but leaving the look and feel of an object that’s clearly been used. With a business restoration strategy, you similarly need to understand customer and management expectations upfront. Are you going for a complete refurbishment to take it back to day one, or are you trying to refresh and make it more valuable, even if it only suggests what it used to be?

2. Document where you are starting from so you have a reference point.

On American Restoration, they take multiple photos of an item coming into Rick’s Restorations before the restorers start working. These photos provide an important reference point for how the item looked originally, the placement and nature of specific features, and a measure to benchmark results. When beginning a business restoration, documenting your starting point (through various means) plays a similar role as a comparison point throughout the restoration and to measure your progress.

3. Be willing to do short term harm in the interests of a stronger end result.

When restoring a valuable item that is damaged, the experts on American Restoration may take steps which seem extreme, i.e. using a pickle bath of acid to loosen rust. This potentially harmful move, however, is necessary to remove the negative effects and potentially ongoing damage being done to the item. Taking on a business restoration, you will have to come to grips with the possibility of destroying particular elements of the current product, program, or process to revive performance. Rigorous analysis, an innovative perspective, tough decision making, and rapid implementation make up one formula for the “acid” needed to start a business restoration.

4. Be willing to completely redo something to make it seem more like the original.

Someone brought a really old baseball arcade game in horrible shape into Rick’s Restorations. The images on the game’s backdrop – which depicted the upper decks of a baseball stadium filled with fans – were barely visible. Rather than trying to rehabilitate the old backdrop to maintain authenticity, Rick Dale and his crew created a new backdrop. This freed them to use the old backdrop as a model to paint a new one that looked exactly like the original when it was new. The same principle can apply in business restorations: ditching an old component process or system can lead to a better result, even if it isn’t completely authentic.

5. Infuse the final restoration with emotion.

Rick Dale adds a special flair unveiling the shop’s work to customers. At a minimum, restored items are usually draped or behind some type of moveable surface to create a synchronized reveal. After restoring a toy wagon, they wrapped it as the original Christmas present it was originally. While there may be natural emotional components to the projects on American Restoration, these examples are good reminders to incorporate the right emotional experience when you’re ready to reveal the results of your business restoration effort.

What works for you?

What are your go-to strategies when you have a business restoration project ahead of you? At The Brainzooming Group, we help direct a lot of business restoration efforts for clients, so if you’d like to learn more about specific steps we find valuable, let’s talk!

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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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The Big Ideas in Higher Education conference (or #BigIdeas12) was several weeks ago, and I am still missing it. The experience was a very special two days. Going back through my notes and tweets, here are nine ideas (some bigger than others) the Big Ideas in Higher Education conference triggered for me:

  • You’re life’s goal: absorb as many influences as you can and then mix them up so well that the mixture can only represent you.
  • When you want to change the world, start with your distinctive talents. Then go from there.
  • I don’t care how radical you think you are, if you REQUIRE someone to share your world view in order to interact with you, you’re part of the conformity problem. Invite. Don’t require someone to be like you.
  • There is no need to apologize for shortfalls others will never notice.
  • What do you do when things are really, really hard? Rejoice, because that means if you persevere, few (if any) other will.
  • How you react to someone who says they’re going to kick your business model’s ass says so much more about how likely and how soon it will happen than any research you could do about the question.
  • How good are you at asking for opportunities to do incredible things? How can you improve at it?
  • Don’t wait for an emergency to act when you know you’re going to need something at some point in the future anyway.
  • If you believe God created the world, why wouldn’t you look to God as the ultimate guide to creativity?

That is just a start, with a couple of more potential #BigIdeas12 posts in the offing! – Mike Brown

 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

If you’re facing a challenging organizational situation and are struggling to maintain forward progress because of it, The Brainzooming Group can provide a strategic sounding-board for you. We will apply our strategic thinking and implementation tools on a one-on-one basis to help you create greater organizational success. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you figure out how to work around your organizational challenges.

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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