Performance | The Brainzooming Group - Part 153 – page 153
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  1. Don’t multi-task – focus on one project at a time with your full attention.
  2. Surround yourself with smart people who will challenge you.
  3. When someone tries to pass a problem or question to you, ask for their recommendation or point of view before you comment.
  4. Pray for wisdom that can be used to benefit others and pay attention when your prayer is answered.

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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Throughout January, a number of posts have highlighted potential challenges to consider embracing in 2008 to improve your strategy skills. Here’s a recap of the challenges:

So have you selected one or two to pursue? If so, that’s great.

If not, you still have plenty to time to choose something to work on for the remainder of the year to expand your strategic impact. Best wishes, and please share how it’s going and what you’re learning.

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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At the start of a recent conference call for an upcoming strategy planning project, it was clear I was expected to facilitate the discussion. That was my suspicion coming in, but with other responsibilities, there wasn’t a chance to prepare as much as I typically would. So after a brief introduction, all eyes and ears turned to me to start talking – gulp.

Here’s Your ChallengeWhat do you do when you’re not ready to speak or don’t know what to say?

Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” How about a middle ground? Next time you’re in a similar situation, think for a moment, open your mouth, and ASK a great question.

Doing this provides three clear, immediate strategic benefits:

  • You shift the focus from your lack of preparation and give the floor back to the other participants.
  • The other people feel better because they’re able to provide input.
  • By actively listening, you can pick out cues from their comments that can shape your next move – to talk, to change course, or to ask another question.

The strategic key is asking the right type of question.

Be ready by developing a quick list of 8 to 10 questions that you can rely upon with ease. Here are a few to get you started (along with when to use them):

  • Can you elaborate? (If someone has provided information, but you’re not clear what it means.)
  • How have you approached this before? (If people have previous experience they could share.)
  • What are your initial thoughts for how to approach it? (When participants have pre-conceived notions about what to do.)
  • Can you tell me more? (When someone has a wealth of information that hasn’t been shared yet.)
  • What’s most important for you to accomplish? (To understand the other parties’ motivations – and what matters in this situation.)

In this example, I chose the last question, allowing participants an opportunity to share their individual and collective objectives for the upcoming planning session. Their initial comments set up a follow-up question (What percent of the plan should be devoted to each of the 3 sections you’ve mentioned?), creating the opportunity to start capturing topic areas. A productive meeting was thus snatched from the jaws of unpreparedness with two great, simple questions.

So what questions will you be better prepared to ask next time this happens to you? – Mike Brown

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 brainzooming@gmail.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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“If there is nothing very special about your work, no matter how hard you apply yourself, you won’t get noticed and that increasingly means you won’t get paid much, either.”
Michael Goldhaber, Wired

Here’s Your Challenge -This quote from Michael Goldhaber in Wired magazine is several years old, but it remains absolutely true. So what is special about your work? If you don’t have an immediate answer to the question, figure out which of the statements below best describes your situation and take action right away:

“There is something very special about my work, but I just haven’t found the words to describe it in a concise way.” Remedy – Craft, edit, rewrite, re-edit, and memorize the elevator speech for your “very special” work aspects immediately.

“There are very special things about my work, but nobody notices it.” OR “My work used to be very special, but it doesn’t feel that way anymore.” In both cases, there’s some mismatch between your work and the audience. Here are some possibilities behind one or both statements:

  • Possibility #1 – You’re kidding yourself; there’s really nothing very special about your work. Remedy – Change your work right away. Figure out a new audience, a new objective, a new approach, a new project, a new level of performance, or something (anything) to inject specialness into your work.
  • Possibility #2 – There is something special about your work, but your most important audiences, don’t get it because they lack either the sophistication, appreciation, or need for what you’re doing. Remedy – Decide if it’s worth trying to develop the audience you have, radically changing what you’re doing, or simply trying to find a new audience.
  • Possibility #3 – Maybe the work is (was) special, but it’s passed you by (you’ve failed to keep up) or you’ve passed it by (it just isn’t as motivating for you to excel as it used to be). Remedy – In either case, it’s time to transform your current situation (if that’s a possibility) or quit and transform elsewhere. (For more on this remedy, read this review of Seth Godin’s “The Dip” – the review is even shorter than the book and pretty much covers it.)

“There never has been anything very special about my work.” Remedy – Sorry – there’s no quick answer here. You’re not alive career-wise and probably never have been. But take heart, if you’re willing to put up with this situation, it’s highly unlikely you’d ever find your way to this blog.

“Let me briefly tell you (show you) what’s very special about my work!” Congratulations! That’s the right answer. Proceed immediately to starting your own blog on what’s special about your work and tell the world – or at least the 10 loyal friends who will read your blog! (P.S. For a great Seth Godin post about being passionate about your work – as opposed to being a workaholic – check this out. And no, despite the two references today, P.S. doesn’t stand for Pointing to Seth.)

Be more special this year (don’t just pretend) and deservedly earn some more of your audience’s attention.

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 new year is a time for reflecting on what’s really important. If I may get creative and turn that concept on its side a little, since articulating a new definition for “strategic thinking” (addressing things that matter with insight & innovation), I’ve been trying to get down on paper a list of strategic thinking questions whose answers would help shed light on, “What matters?”

What are great questions to best identify what’s strategic, i.e., what really matters in a particular business situation? This is a starting list of strategic thinking questions:

  • What does our brand stand for?
  • What do we most want to accomplish in the organization?
  • How would we describe our best, most valuable customers?
  • Who don’t we do business with?
  • Who do we win the most business from and why?
  • Who do we lose the most business to and why?
  • What are the biggest cost drivers in the organization?
  • What things would be most devastating (or most embarrassing) if our customers knew about them?
  • What’s the biggest unknown in our market?
  • What are the best opportunities available to us?
Feel free to start using strategic thinking questions from the list above. Feel even freer still to comment on other strategic planning questions you’ve used successfully to identify “what matters.” – 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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Going back through some old files, I re-discovered the following self-assessment that was prepared for my team 13 years ago this month in response to a question about what my expectations were of them. It’s reassuring that with minimal updates, the list of personal checkpoints stills works for our team today. Having stood the test of a dozen years, here it is for you to use as a self-check on your orientation and performance or for adapting and sharing with your own team.
Self-Assessment – You should be known for . . .
  • Stepping up to challenges as they arise with your time, effort, learning, innovativeness, etc.
  • Honesty–with yourself and with everyone in the department and the company.
  • Attention to detail and accuracy in everything that crosses your desk.
  • Absolute integrity in using and reporting information.
  • Asking and answering for all analysis: “What does it mean for our brands, customers, competitors, and/or the market?” and “What actions do we need to take to realize an advantage from it?”
  • Making communication clear and simple–getting to the point without jargon and unessential information. Constantly work to improve both oral and written communication skills.
  • Completing assignments in a timely manner.
  • Being innovative–what can be done differently to increase efficiency, productivity, value, and revenue or reduce costs?
  • Being above reproach in dealings with all parties within and outside of the company-how you conduct yourself reflects on you, your co-workers, the department, and the company.
  • Using the knowledge and expertise of others inside and outside the company; recognize and acknowledge their contributions.
  • Sharing your own knowledge and expertise with others, i.e., what were the five most important things you learned at a seminar or from a book you just read.
  • Being a leader–even if you are not personally heading a group or project.
  • Being oriented toward helping people solve problems.
  • Embracing technology and using it to further profitable revenue.
  • Solving problems if they arise.

Originally delivered 1/09/95

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 a big believer that bold distinctions made between strategic and tactical people are nonsense. The contrasts are mutually perpetuated by “strategic thinking” people who want to seem “important” and by “tactical, action-oriented” people who don’t want to expend the mental energy (or give up the apparent decision making freedom) to do strategic thinking and connect their activities to an overarching business purpose.

For me, there’s a very fuzzy space between strategic thinking and tactical implementation. Strategy is the connecting principle that ties tactics together. Tactics are absolutely necessary to successfully carry out a strategy.

As a result, neither strategies nor tactics can be successful without the other, and business people can’t maximize their contributions & success by paying attention to only one of them.

Here’s Your Challenge– Do you view yourself (and the business world) as either strategic OR tactical? If so, abandon that view and focus on increasing your overall business contributions. Here are a few straight forward tactics you can use to increase your contribution to successful business strategy in very subtle ways:

  • Show up at a meeting with a proposed agenda, suggested topics, and/or relevant information. Often even the person calling a meeting isn’t properly prepared. There have been countless occasions where by showing up with a little pre-thought and something written out, a person not leading a meeting has inserted themselves to set the meeting’s (and the ultimate project’s) direction.
  • Offer to take and report out the notes. Somebody said that “history is written by the winners.” What better way to help solidify a winning business position than by offering upfront to write the meeting’s “history.” This provides the opportunity to shape the messaging and direction coming from the meeting, setting the stage for future steps.
  • Get to the whiteboard first. If you can’t write the history, at least do the reporting. Picking the right time to go to the whiteboard or the easel pad provides the opportunity to visually depict what the meeting looks like. Within the bounds of being an above-board, unbiased reporter, you can choose what goes up for display, how it’s worded, and begin inserting a specific point of view.
  • Volunteer to lead an analytical effort. This can be more challenging and more work, but taking the lead on identifying and delivering insights is an outstanding way to shape its progress and direction.
  • Volunteer to develop a draft hypotheses / business model. Potentially more involved, framing a starting hypothesis or model allows you to influence overall thinking on the effort.

Doing a great job on any of these options will start to make your co-workers view your business contributions in a new and different (and probably a more strategic) light. Just make sure that if you pick “getting to the whiteboard first,” you take a moment to select a dry-erase marker!

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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