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How do you help people with varied creative thinking skills perform most productively in a group setting?

We ask ourselves that question regularly, both in a general sense and with specific groups participating in creative thinking sessions we design and facilitate.

If you lead group meetings or teams, you should be asking this question also. If you don’t you’ll waste a lot of your time and others’ time fumbling around and hoping they individually, collectively, and spontaneously apply their creative thinking skills in the best possible way to solve whatever challenge you’ve presented.

From hundreds of formal creativity and strategy sessions and thousands of less formal meetings, here’s how we answer the question. The best way to help people with a wide array of creative thinking skills perform most productively is to provide questions for them to answer.

Sometimes they are simple questions. Other times, the creative thinking questions are more complex or approach an issue from multiple directions.

When you give someone a creative thinking question and some structure, however, you set the stage for people with different perspectives to work together successfully.

Questions and Structure Fostering Creative Thinking Skills

For example, at the Literacy Kansas City strategy session we facilitated, we wanted the group to react (in a constructive, additive way) to in-process planning underway for a new initiative’s launch. After two staff members shared their current plans, we could have moved to a blank flip chart and asked for reactions, which is what happens in most meetings.

Instead, we used the strategy poster in the photo below with targeted creative thinking questions. We designed it to help participants focus on critical success factors, ramifications from implementing a new model, and the metrics needed to measure success. By using multiple questions, people had a target for how they could contribute to the discussion and the planning’s progress.

Session-Poster

At the meeting’s end, one participant told the group she came to the session intimidated and wondering how she’d be able to contribute. After she saw the collaborative approach, however, she realized she had a lot to contribute throughout the day.

That’s a wonderful confirmation for using questions and structure to help people contribute to a productive meeting and a successful strategy.

Next time you’re expected to plan a meeting, spend time thinking about how YOU can help participants tap all their creative thinking skills through questions and structure.

Or if it’s a high-stakes, big, complex meeting, call us. We’ll do the planning for you to get the results you want! – 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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Before tackling the current topic on strategic thinking exercises, I have to admit something: In my capstone MBA strategy class, we ran a business simulation throughout the semester. Upon its completion, my partner and I won an award for our performance. We garnered the “Understock Award” for stocking out of product more than any other team.

Yes, I had created a spreadsheet-based model to perform what-if analysis and forecast our business levels. But my tendency to plan for surviving the downside of a situation led us to repeatedly under-forecast our sales volume in the simulation. Thus we invariably experienced more demand than we had product to satisfy.

Flash forward to last week’s strategy session we designed and facilitated for Literacy Kansas City. The organization, under the leadership of executive director, Carrie Coogan, is a nonprofit advancing literacy for teens and adults in the Kansas City region through direct services, advocacy, and collaboration.

While we were identifying critical success factors for a new Literacy Kansas City program launch, one of the board members announced she was going to play the “Positive Devil’s Advocate” role. By “Positive Devil’s Advocate,” she meant she wanted to plan for overwhelming success with the new program. Would the organization be ready to handle a dramatically higher enrollment than expectations?

Literacy-Kc-Session

Playing the Positive Devil’s Advocate in Strategic Thinking Exercises

This role came up once before in a strategy session. Based on my award-winning tendency to plan for the worst and not for wild success, however, we haven’t developed specific Positive Devil’s Advocate roles in current exercises or designed new strategic thinking exercises focused on dealing with overwhelming success.

We’ll fix that and incorporate the “Positive Devil’s Advocate” role into strategic thinking exercises. It will a bit of a flip to the Black Swan exercise we’ve talked about previously. We’ll also incorporate this role into other exercises, making sure we identify a person to push thinking on wild success wherever it’s appropriate. – Mike Brown

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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.

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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.

Smiley-Face

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.

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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.

141116-Zoomference

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.

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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

 

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“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.

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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

Year-Five

  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!

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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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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

 

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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.

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