Surprisingly, one of the old war horse business maxims speakers and audience members at the Compete Through Services Symposium started repeating at every turn was, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Introducing a completely foreign strategy to an organization can be a recipe for disaster and the culture swallowing the strategy whole. This will happen because of either cultural sins of commission (the strategy is sabotaged by the culture) or omission (the culture collectively ignores the strategy).

If there’s a situation where culture eats strategy for breakfast, however, it represents a huge mistake in strategic thinking and how the leadership developed, communicated, and/or implemented the strategy.


Strategic Thinking on Culture and Strategy

In reality, a healthy culture doesn’t eat a smart strategy for breakfast.

Instead a healthy culture and a smart strategy complement and reinforce one another. (You can pick whichever breakfast item combo you enjoy complementing one another to finish that thought.)

How do create a situation where culture and strategy are working together?

There are multiple strategy development approaches that can ensure culture and strategy are working together productively.

Most of our strategic thinking on accomplishing this positive result is in our Brainzooming Strategic Thinking Manifesto (which turns eight years old this month).

The short list of strategy development approaches we advocate includes:

It’s easy, especially when you’re speaking in front of a crowd of smart, successful, action-oriented folks to take swings at strategy.

Strategy is a pretty cheap target. It sounds dynamic to trot out, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” as a presentation punch line.

It’s a lot smarter to be a smart strategist who knows how to deliver strategy that successfully works with your culture. – 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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


Suppose you are under the gun to get your strategic planning done before the end of the year and time is running out quickly.

The problem is you have delayed strategic planning, the holidays are creeping up, your team is in multiple locations, and there’s no budget or time left to get everyone together. And even IF you did get everyone together, you know the meeting won’t be as innovative and productive as you need to be more successful next year.

What’s an Answer to Your Strategic Planning Questions?

One possibility for answering your nagging strategic planning questions is shutting the door and trying to sketch out next year’s plan all by yourself.

Unfortunately, that’s a crappy answer.

Your team won’t feel involved or have deep buy-in (with good reason) and chances are the plan will be either too incremental (because you’re just trying to slide by) or overly aggressive (because it lacks multiple, realistic perspectives from your team).

What’s an Answer to Your Strategic Planning Questions that Will Work?

So, would you prefer a positive, productive answer to your strategic planning challenge? One that can even make planning interactive, productive, and enjoyable?

If that sounds like what you need to get your planning completed, let us facilitate your strategic planning ONLINE in a Zoomference.

You’re likely asking, “What’s a Zoomference?”

A Zoomference is where we invite your team to address your important opportunities and challenges inside a collaborative, facilitated Brainzooming session that takes place online.

A Zoomference is not just any online hangout where people chat and bounce ideas around.

During a Zoomference, The Brainzooming Group uses its incredibly efficient and engaging strategic planning approach to your bring your team together in one place online. We’ll work with you through the fundamental steps you need for a collaborative plan. In the process, you will see stronger interaction and strategic understanding among your team because of the engaging, stimulating experience. And it will take place in less time than you’d ever imagine possible.

We’ve been using Zoomferences with clients for several years. Amazingly, they can be even more productive and thorough than getting everyone together in one physical location.

How is THAT possible?

Because the online environment lets everyone participate simultaneously, contributing planning ideas. They can also group, rank, and prioritize the group’s strategies so ideas turn into strategic impact with a solid plan.


How do you get started?

Email (info@brainzooming.com) or call us at 816-509-5320 to schedule time to learn how The Brainzooming Group can create a Zoomference to help you address your strategic planning questions and complete your plan for next year while there’s still time.

Trust us; it’s not too late – if you take that first step NOW! – Mike Brown

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.


Download: FREE Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookAre you making the best use of customer input and market insights to deliver innovation and growth? Creating successful, innovative new products and services has never been more dependent on tapping perspectives from outside your organization.

This new ebook features sixteen strategic thinking exercises to help you ideate, prioritize, and develop your best innovative growth ideas. Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Learn and rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate crowd sourced perspectives into your innovation strategy in smart ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s growth.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


The latest social media “strategy” to land off the mark, be co-opted by the crowd, and subsequently crashed into the ground comes via Bill Cosby.

As Internet reports recount, a meme creator was installed on the Bill Cosby website. Using the meme creator, visitors could combine classic reaction photos of the comedian coupled with the visitor’s own funny / pithy / scathing / inflammatory copy to create a shareable meme.

Within a short time, the tone of the user-generated memes turned scathing and inflammatory as the crowd started creating memes directly centered on long-standing rape allegations against Bill Cosby.

To deal with the meme debacle, the meme creator was removed, and the Cosby camp tried to eliminate evidence that the whole thing ever happened.

This joins a string of examples and brand lessons where a brand, as part of its social media strategy, decided some type of user-generated content would be great to promote the brand because all user-generated content for big brands goes viral on social media (yes, I’m being sarcastic, but it’s what many brands seem to believe).

Exploring the Downside of Social Media Strategy with User-Generated Content

In case your brand (or an agency that does not know any better) is thinking about a comparable social media strategy resting on giving your brand’s fans the venue, the means, and/or the opportunity to express their opinions about your brand in an “organized” manner, please run through these questions first. PLEASE. For your own good:

  • Have we thoroughly “listened,” both online and offline, to the very worst things our brand’s haters are saying, even if they are being said by one crackpot that NO ONE would ever listen to?
  • When we put together and read the list of all the things we hear our brand haters saying, how much of the list would we regret all of our current audience starting to hear and believe?
  • How much of the aforementioned brand hater list would we regret our potential audience learning as they form their first impressions of our brand?
  • How much more attention will our brand haters receive (than they do currently) if we were to share with them the most visible venue our brand has ever used to get our message out to our audience?

Exploring an Alternative Social Media Strategy

Now compare the cumulative impact of all that potential downsides against what we hope to accomplish with this social media strategy . . . More people visiting our website? Extending our brand’s reach? Getting more people to talk about our brand? Free PR? Or something that’s not even that well defined? Are any of these impacts big enough that we’re willing to risk the potential downside?

If we’re not willing to risk the downside (including the exposure of all our brand’s dirty little secrets), how can we adapt this social media strategy, exploring ways to:

  • Give the public a narrow set of choices with which to generate content instead of encouraging open-ended creativity on their part?
  • Filter the user-generated content first and then giving greater exposure to only the best examples?
  • Celebrate the great content our brand fans are already sharing without being heavy-handed about it?

So how about that social media strategy tied to user-generated content?

A Smarter Social Media Strategy Approach

Running through this exercise should, ideally, put things in a lot better perspective when it comes to thinking user-generated content is the answer to a great social media strategy for your brand.

Maybe there is value to it, and your brand haters aren’t THAT bad. Or maybe you can adapt the strategy to reduce the potential downside significantly.

Either way, you owe it to your brand to do this type of strategic thinking before you give the power of your brand’s attention and its big corporate microphone to the people who most hate what your brand does and what your brand represents. – Mike Brown


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


“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question.

Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social  Strategy.”

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


Each year around this time, I’ve been running a post with twenty-five lessons learned from the past year away from full-time corporate life. With prompting from a Brainzooming blog reader who is a long-time friend and incredibly kind supporter, here’s this year’s edition of lessons from another year away from corporate life.

25 Lessons Learned in Year Five Away from Corporate Life


  1. Some things aren’t going to change. Lots of things will get worse; change the hell out of all those things.
  2. When it comes to business development, there’s a huge difference between enough business and enough possibilities to yield enough business exactly when you need it.
  3. You have to replenish the wind in your sails . . . you can’t afford to simply coast forever.
  4. It’s nice to have someone who will call B.S. on you in a constructive way.
  5. Someone new and unfamiliar with what you do may be exactly the right person to throw you the huge challenge you’ve been avoiding even considering.
  6. It’s fine to have a positive attitude and firmly believe you won’t deal with the same issues that other entrepreneurs do in their companies. When reality shows your positive attitude to be ill founded, get over it and learn quickly how others dealt with the issues now befalling you.
  7. Sometimes your family obligations are going to have to take a back seat to doing what you need to do for your business. Other times, family obligations will be so important that you’ll turn your back on business without even a thought. There’s no hard and fast rule (at least that I’ve found) for predicting in advance which will be which.
  8. When a future opportunity goes away for no apparent reason, be vigilant for the often subtle demonstration in the future that reveals exactly why the opportunity had to go away.
  9. Make very few statements about how you will ALWAYS do something or NEVER do something. Things will change. Then you’re left figuring out how to make a graceful change to what you’ve been proclaiming with such certainty.
  10. It’s vital to improve your skills at saying no to the right things.
  11. Maybe I can only write in less than 1,000 word chunks. And putting together one hundred 500 word chunks doesn’t seem yet like it’s a practical way to create a book. But, I did say, “Yet.”
  12. There have been many more opportunities this year to teach people how to do their own Brainzooming. Those experiences have been invaluable in shaping how we present the material and helping to realize “teaching” may be the important piece of the business that didn’t seem nearly as important when we started.
  13. If you would have ever asked me before we started, I don’t think I’d ever have included nonprofit organizations as an important client group for us. Yet, our relationships with the nonprofits we’ve worked with closely have been tremendously rewarding. It’s one thing to work with someone who is looking up two or three layers in an organization to get things done vs. an executive director who may have fewer resources, but can make things happen once the direction is created.
  14. I never thought it would get challenging to write either list posts or recaps from conferences I attend (considering I’m typically generating 100 or 200 tweets as a starting point). But for some reason, both of these forms became real blocks in the past year. It’s important to recognize, however, I’ve stuck with blogging as a form of creative form expression longer than I have probably any other form in my life. It seems as if it’s time to reinvent the boundaries and what’s within them.
  15. This is the year where I feel I’ve done less practicing what I preach than at any time since the business started. Thus, the renewed importance of surrounding myself with people who will keep me honest in doing for ourselves what we’d readily recommend to others.
  16. The coming year has to become the year of recasting content. There is value to deliver from the body of work in blogs, presentations, and workshop material. The job now is to create it.
  17. Feeling alone and not liking it isn’t a new lesson. In fact, it was one of my biggest concerns in starting the business five years ago. In several ways, however, this past year was the year of feeling alone.
  18. Easy answers and good answers aren’t going to be the same. When I wade into social media channels, it seems people are much more intrigued by easy answers than good answers. That leaves me focused on the smaller portion represented by where the two intersect. I just can’t pump out easy answers that aren’t good ones.
  19. I’d never considered the possibility that the golden egg may be golden inside and look plain outside. If that’s common, how many golden eggs have I walked by in my career?
  20. If you want to learn things you would never suspect about your business, categorize and re-categorize information about what you do. Simply putting different labels and different sorts on even skeletal data can tell you volumes.
  21. As much as some people get excited about paying attention to things that are changing, I get excited about paying attention to things that aren’t changing.
  22. I wrote perhaps the most revealing post about myself ever this year. It was the one about the twenty-five steps I go through on every presentation. Now that all the steps are spelled out, I can actually tell where each presentation is and how far away it is from reaching a happy place.
  23. I never realized how often I’d be thankful for my ability to act oblivious when I’m really not oblivious to what’s going on around me.
  24. When you’re getting four hours of sleep on a consistent basis, it’s harder to shift mental gears whenever you need to do so.
  25. It only takes one reader writing a very sweet and completely humbling email to get me to do just about anything differently. This one’s for you, Jennifer Nelson! – Mike BrownMike-Brown-Gets-Brainzoomin

    Learn all about what Mike Brown’s creativity, strategic thinking and innovation presentations can add to your business meeting!

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

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


Today’s Brainzooming article is courtesy of our friends at Armada Corporate Intelligence and their weekly “Inside the Executive Suite” feature.

Last week’s article highlighted a Fast Company story on Oreo, its global head of media, Bonin Bough, and the Oreo transformation as a brand that’s more than a century old. “Inside the Executive Suite” featured five strategic thinking lessons from the story to highlight innovation opportunities for any well-established brand. 

Strategic Thinking Lessons – Keeping Your Company Fresh via Armada Corporate Intelligence

1. Start innovating with what “can’t” change

AEIB-GraphicAt Oreo (AO): An advertising executive previously on the Oreo account reports, “Every (Oreo) commercial had to have two generations of people . . . over a cookie and a glass of milk” leading to a feel-good experience. After thirty years of the same ad, the brand now describes its marketing approach as coming “from the side and-boom!” That translates to reaching consumers in dramatically different ways and well beyond the brand’s traditional TV advertising.

For Your Brand (FYB): When modernizing a tired brand, don’t rope off a list of people, processes, and other elements to protect them from change. Instead, start by addressing the things you might be tempted to put on a protected list. We use a strategy-setting exercise that asks participants to list everything integral to a stale brand’s characteristics and market position. The group then classifies each item on how aggressively management should consider changing it. With the exercise’s built-in bias to leave very few “sacred cows” at the conclusion, it is a valuable technique to get management to address difficult, but positive change opportunities.

2. Generalize your organization and discover new possibilities

AO: The familiar way to eat an Oreo (as celebrated in decades of ads) is to twist, lick, and dunk it in milk. That verbal threesome sounded to Bough like the title of the popular video game, “Slam Dunk King.” As a result, Oreo worked with the game’s creator to develop an Oreo-centric game called Twist, Lick, Dunk. It was a top game in 15 countries and turned a profit through outside advertisers participating.

FYB: We employ a question-based exercise to help management teams generalize organizational activities and identify comparable situations for inspiration. It involves asking, “How does our business _____ like _____?” The first blank is filled with sense words (feel, look, sound, smell) and goal words (accomplish, serve audiences, communicate), among others. Just a few rounds of this exercise generate an ample list of innovation-inducing comparisons to fill the question’s second blank.

3. Watch Customers for Ideas

AO: One Oreo fan posted a video demonstrating how to dunk an Oreo without getting milk on your fingers. Oreo’s digital agency used that inspiration for a series of short videos on how to “hack” an Oreo. This included using Oreos in new ways (frozen in milk as an iced coffee addition) or as a cooking ingredient (breading for fried chicken). Coincidentally, we saw a photo recently of Oreos baked inside chocolate chip cookies.

FYB: Do you REALLY understand how customers use your product or service? Ask customers what types of hacks they use to get your product to work better, and ask employees what customer-precipitated work-arounds they see, deal with, or enable. This is a valuable line of questions to identify innovation opportunities to increase your value to customers.

4. Look for radically different parties targeting your customers

AO: Oreo realized that as an impulse item at grocery and convenience stores, it faced new competition. Rather than snack products, Oreo was competing against online games and apps, both for attention (since people are focusing on mobile devices instead of snack items while standing in line) and for available dollars spent on online games. This insight helped precipitate the headlong Oreo dive into digital.

FYB: Any company thinking its competition all looks like it does is wildly mistaken. We encourage executives to focus on the benefits their brands provide. They can then identify other, often very different brands delivering comparable benefits. The Oreo example also suggests examining what else customers may be doing with the time, attention, and resources that have typically led them to buy from your company. You can also explore how other brands, in or out of your market, are inserting themselves and disrupting traditional buying processes.

5. Figure out metrics before you innovate

AO: The Fast Company article underscores the troublesome inability for Oreo to link its digital activities to business results. While Oreo has experienced revenue increases, these are attributed to expansion into new Asian markets, not more tweets turning into sales.

FYB: When innovating, developing metrics must be closely integrated with developing the innovation strategy. Tackling metrics early helps identify gaps while there is still time to adapt strategies to ensure collecting relevant data throughout the innovation process. All the metrics, however, may not be quantitative. As you implement innovation initiatives, you should accumulate a mix of metrics that are:

  • Activity-based (i.e., “We’ve done this many”)
  • Indicative of early reactions (i.e., “We see this many more customers inquiring about the product”)
  • Business return-based (i.e., “We see this increase in sales revenue”)

Planning for varied metrics at the start helps set expectations within the management team for key progress indicators. – Armada Corporate Intelligence


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 creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


There was considerable interest in marketing metrics and ROI at our two-day “Doing New with Less” marketing workshop for the Transportation Marketing and Sales Association.

One question we addressed was, “When do you develop marketing metrics during strategic planning for new initiatives?”

Should you develop metrics as you start developing your strategy? Or should you develop metrics after the strategy is developed as a final (or near-final) step in strategic planning?

Our recommendation is to address marketing metrics as you start developing your strategy.



Addressing metrics as you first work on strategic planning pays multiple dividends. Doing so can:

  1. Identify gaps in the systems and processes to track the metrics you need.
  2. Suggest new strategies designed to create needed metrics.
  3. Reveal that you are not aggressive enough in your strategy to fully exploit all the opportunities to generate needed returns.
  4. Show that there is a mismatch between management expectations on the timing of business returns and when you will realize them.
  5. Uncover disconnects between your strategic direction and the metrics you currently have to track progress and success.
  6. Help you sequence developing marketing metrics to match up with the timing for implementing other marketing efforts.

If you’re in the midst of strategic planning currently, make sure marketing metrics are getting due attention early in the process before you’re plan is figured out. If not, you may miss that you are missing the marketing metrics you need while you can still do enough about it! – Mike Brown


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

If you’re struggling with determining ROI and evaluating its impacts, download 6 Social Media Metrics You Must Track” today!  This article provides a concise, strategic view of the numbers and stories that matter in shaping, implementing, and evaluating your strategy. You’ll learn lessons about when to address measurement strategy, identifying overlooked ROI opportunities, and creating a 6-metric dashboard. Download Your Free Copy of “6 Social Media Metrics You Must Track!



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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading


Suppose you see a new opportunity in front of a live audience where there are high expectations.

Do you risk trying something you’ve never done before in front of the audience, or do you go safe and file it away to try in a more familiar venue later?

That was a question at several points during the Transportation Sales & Marketing Association Bootcamp I did this week on “Shoestring Marketing – Doing New with Less.” We covered a wide variety of Brainzooming strategic thinking exercises during the workshop and had the extra time to consider trying some new things.

A Different Test for a Strategic Thinking Exercise

To demonstrate the value of using targeted creative questions to point groups in different creative directions, each row of attendees received a different modifier to explore ideas for how to do more with social media on a limited budget. Two rows received modifiers to “narrow” ideas (simpler, more focused). One of the rows had a “broadening” word (sophisticated), and the other received a “modifying” word (extreme).

Each row had four minutes to generate ten ideas using the assigned modifier. I then asked each row to share the favorite ideas to emerge.

Sure enough, each row had a different favorite answer. More importantly, the only rows that generated the same answer as another row’s favorite were the two rows that were both working with narrowing modifiers.


While I’d never used this test previously to demonstrate why it’s valuable to provide structure to generate ideas (vs. starting with the proverbial “clean sheet of paper”), this experiment was a great validation of the point for attendees.

Issuing a New Challenge to Marketers

In one of the strategic exercises, I asked the marketers to list their companies’ five most demanding customers and prospects as typified by those who:

  • Push for new products and services
  • Have higher expectations
  • Are more complex
  • Are eager to pilot new offerings

I introduced this completely new in-workshop strategic thinking exercise as a pre-cursor to sharing a research approach to stay in front of market trends.


As I watched the audience work on their answers, however, it was clear some participants were struggling to come up with five customer names.

In the spur of the moment, I told the group I wouldn’t ask them to report who could come up with five names and who couldn’t. But I cautioned those who couldn’t come up with five names that this signaled they, as marketers, were too far away from sales. A strategic marketer should be, if nothing else, in conversations with sales management and sales people that regularly surface the names of both positive and challenging accounts.

Taking the Risks and Getting the Returns

So, in answer to the opening question, I took the risk on both of these brand new twists on strategic thinking exercises. Both paid off successfully.

The learning for the workshop attendees, and hopefully for you, is two-fold:

  • Avoid starting to generate ideas with a clean sheet of paper, absent structure and direction to help your creative thinkers
  • If you’re in marketing, stay close to sales and learn, learn, learn about customers

And the learning for us is that both of these drop-in trial balloons have a high probability of showing up in future strategic thinking workshops. – Mike Brown


Learn all about what Mike Brown’s creativity, strategic thinking and innovation presentations can add to your business meeting!

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

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

Continue Reading