Performance | The Brainzooming Group - Part 157 – page 157
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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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5

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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1

Auguste Escoffier, a nineteenth-century French food connoisseur, popularized the idea that something should be served between main courses in a formal meal to clear the palate, allowing the diner to fully enjoy the next course as if it were the first. Because of his efforts, lemon sorbet has become the popular means to cleanse palates.

A Creative Thinking Lemon Sorbet

The idea translates to creative thinking also. As many topics as we generally have thrown at us to process mentally, it becomes difficult to move between them with the expectation that you’ll start the next project with the same creative thinking freshness as the first.

Can you identify your “creative thinking” lemon sorbets – the activities or exercises you can use to clear your mind when shifting between creative (or not-so-creative efforts)?

They may be simple (going for a quick walk or taking a nap) or more challenging to accomplish (one of mine is riding roller coasters, which unfortunately happens infrequently). Make the effort to identify a repertoire of activities you can use to effectively clear your mind, refresh, and get ready for more productive creative thinking.

As for me, I’ll be having an icy Diet Dr. Pepper and a quick nap on the floor to clear my mind before starting on tomorrow’s Brainzooming blog post! – Mike Brown

 

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative 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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3

It’s amazing how specific instances stick with you for years. A childhood memory that’s profoundly shaped my thinking was from the TV show “All in the Family.” Richard Masur played a mentally challenged grocery store delivery person ­that Archie didn’t trust because he was different. After an unpleasant exchange, the young man disappeared, only to return with a framed quote that was tremendously important to him: “Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him.”

Googling the quote provides mixed opinions on whether it’s from Emerson or Thomas Carlyle. In any case, it will always be linked for me to that program and the impact it’s had on my perspective ever since. It’s caused me to realize that I’m the lesser of every person that I meet and that I need to understand what I should learn from them.

Here’s Your Challenge – Think about the people in your life – the person ­that you don’t quite “get,” the person that gets under your skin, or even the person ­­­that circumstances has dropped into your life unexpectedly or for no apparent reason. What is there that you can learn from that person? It probably isn’t readily apparent, particularly with people that frustrate you. Don’t give up easily though because it may take years to discover; your perseverance will ultimately be rewarded.

I recently had the opportunity to learn from somebody whose personality posed a major challenge to me several years ago when our paths first crossed. Through a lot of prayer and reflection (on my side) and tremendous personal development (on her side), our working relationship improved dramatically over time.

As she left my day-to-day work life recently, what I learned from her became apparent: the incredible personal growth that can take place with someone who is receptive to feedback (even criticism), able to process it without personalizing it to the point of demoralization, and is motivated to truly transform. Under challenging circumstances, she demonstrated a level of poise to which I could only hope to aspire. But if we’d given up on each other, I never would have learned this lesson she taught me – one that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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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0

I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions for a variety of reasons that I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say in the past couple of years, I’ve tried to do a better job of personally committing a few overall goals to writing – albeit written during the Christmas holiday on a bunch of 25 year old note cards still in my room at my parent’s house.

Nevertheless, throughout January we’ll sprinkle in a few lessons and underlying challenges to consider while improving your strategic thinking & innovation successes in the new year. No need to take them all on or to report back on how you’re doing, but read them, grab the immediate learnings, and pick one or two of the challenges to work on throughout the year.

The first one is “Finding a Strategic Thinking Mentor.”

A mentor can be invaluable for any business person as part of your informal business team, providing a different and more experienced perspective than you’d have on your own. Not all mentors are suited to fill every role, so it’s beneficial to have various mentors to satisfy specific experience gaps.

Here’s Your Challenge – Do you have a strategic thinking mentor – one who can help you identify the things that matter in your business situation and provide new insights & perspectives on how to approach things innovatively? When seeking one out, look for the following characteristics – beyond those that any great mentor possesses. The best strategic thinking mentors are:

  • Smart
  • Experienced & diverse
  • Adept at asking productive, probing questions
  • Oriented toward innovation
  • Gifted with perceptive, accurate instincts
  • Able to identify “what matters” in a particular situation
  • Visionary
  • Open to challenging both you and the status quo
  • Comfortable holding a contradictory view
  • Able to make solid, insightful connections

I’ve had several great strategic mentors, two of whom I was able to spend time with over the holidays. One is Bill McDonald, my first boss in a professional job, at Kansas City Infobank. It would take pages to list what I learned from Bill about strategy, secondary research, and great business writing. Another is Greg Reid, who I met eleven years ago today and has been a wonderful strategic thinking mentor ever since.

Strategic mentors are out there – find one of your very own this year! – 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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25

From experience and ongoing business innovation research, there are fairly common situations blocking business innovation across companies. No company has all of  these business innovation roadblocks, but the presence of just a couple of barriers will scuttle the most modest dreams of implementing a business innovation program to create value for customers.

None of these business innovation NO’s are insurmountable, so it’s important to understand what causes each of them and some steps to navigate around them and get business innovation going.

1. NO Knack for Innovation

There simply isn’t an orientation toward business innovation. It may be a mature industry, a company that’s had success with an intense focus, one that’s grown through M&A, or has been burned on previous formal innovation efforts. Whatever the reason, innovation doesn’t appear to be in the company’s DNA.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

2. NO Direction

Without a top-level mandate for innovative change, it’s tough for a business innovation-oriented culture to flourish. It could be that innovation is outside the company’s vision, there’s no upper management champion, or a lack of alignment stands in the way of innovation efforts.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

3. NO Rocking the Boat

There’s an unmistakable signal from management (whether it’s uttered directly or not): “If it isn’t broken, don’t mess with it. We’re not interested in risk taking; let’s just maintain the status quo.” These messages make it clear that good things don’t await those interested in exploring new approaches or trying to do things in different ways.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

4. NO Talent Pool

The company may have convinced itself the right people aren’t in place to make innovation happen. It could be a perceived lack of “creatives” or “outside the box” thinkers. More likely though, it’s a failure to get people with diverse perspectives together and let them work. It’s more about diverse talent not working together than not having the right talent in the first place.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

5. There’s NO Tomorrow

This NO springs from the conviction things will be won or lost in the short term, so there’s little need for long term business innovation development. Or it may be there’s no patience for protracted realization of opportunities. If a business innovation is going to be pursued, it needs to be developed and start paying out by the next quarter. In a challenging business economic environment, this sentiment becomes more prevalent.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

Top

6. NO Resources

As with a “no tomorrow” view, lowered interest in applying resources to business innovation may be more acutely felt right now. The absence of specific resources can be broad, including management attention, available time, and investment dollars. Without these vital inputs, innovation stalls or never takes off in the first place.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

7. NO Motivation to Innovate

Something’s lacking that dampens an internal drive to innovate. It could be an environment that doesn’t promote cooperation, no opportunity to receive credit for your effort, or a lack of other meaningful incentives to bring ideas forward and develop them. The net result is that innovation isn’t happening as naturally as it might.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

8. NO Process

There are instances where innovation appears to emanate naturally from within an organization. Chances are though that it’s been cultivated and developed through a process, even if it’s a relatively small scale and informal one. Without some type of planning and organized means to realize innovation, barriers and bureaucracy can easily block new ideas from coming to fruition.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

9. NO Implementation Success

Innovative ideas and concepts are cool, but only have value ultimately if they lead to successful implementation and deliver benefits for the intended audience. There are various roadblocks to successful implementation, including flaws in how ideas are recommended, prioritized, developed, and marketed to target audiences. With all those potential challenges, it’s a wonder anything new actually takes place!

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

10. No Measures

It’s difficult to sustain a formal business innovation strategy without metrics in place to report return on investment (ROI), showcase positive improvements, and troubleshoot issues. Even earlier in the innovation process, the absence of metrics makes identifying and prioritizing innovation opportunities a shot in the dark. Simply put: no metrics = no hope of long term innovation success.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

All the best to you in addressing the specific NO’s you face at work that stand in the way of business InNOvation.

If you’d like more information on exploring the personal perspectives you need to approach your whole life more innovatively, you can download an eBook version of “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation.” It’s a great companion on your mission to bring business innovation to life!  – 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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0

The Importance of Strategic Mentors

A mentor can be invaluable for any business person as part of your informal business team, providing a different and more experienced perspective than you’d have on your own. Not all mentors are suited to fill every role, so it’s beneficial to have various mentors to satisfy specific experience gaps.

Do you have a strategic mentor – one who can help you identify the things that matter in your business situation and provide new insights & perspectives on how to approach things innovatively? When seeking one out, look for the following characteristics – beyond those that any great mentor possesses. The best strategic mentors are:

  • Smart
  • Experienced & diverse
  • Adept at asking productive, probing questions
  • Oriented toward innovation
  • Gifted with perceptive, accurate instincts
  • Able to identify “what matters” in a particular situation
  • Visionary
  • Open to challenging both you and the status quo
  • Comfortable holding a contradictory view
  • Able to make solid, insightful connections

I’ve been blessed to have several great strategic mentors. Some of the lessons they’ve taught me are shared below.

Dave Brown – College Years

Dave Brown (no relation) introduced me to my wife and was our boss on the student activities board at Fort Hays State University. We later went to Southern Illinois University as a result of Dave introducing us to his former student activities boss from grad school. Dave was the first strategic mentor in my career.

I learned a number of very important lessons from Dave that have served me incredibly well since; they can probably benefit you also:

  • Whenever you’re bringing even a few people together, it’s an event and you should make it special. Under Dave’s tutelage, I produced small coffee house performances and a 5,000 person concert. No matter how many people were attending, he emphasized making the event something memorable. That perspective shaped me to view every meeting or presentation, no matter how small, as an event where there’s a duty to create a memorable experience.
  • You have to plan and manage the whole host of details for any event. Dave demonstrated the discipline of planning and producing large events. It became quickly clear I wouldn’t get into concert production (Kansas City’s most well-known promoter told me to forget it, because “you start at the bottom and work your way down”). Yet when another mentor entered my career later, and our company started producing large events, I was able to step into a production and on-stage role seamlessly even though I was a market research guy. That opportunity has profoundly shaped my career the last 10 years.
  • Create a huge vision and stick to it amid all odds against you accomplishing it. Dave created an incredible, nationally-recognized concert series at a small Western Kansas college, attracting an unbelievable string of #1 chart acts. He did it with an often hostile university administration that completely missed the significance of his accomplishments in gaining attention for the university. It was audacious, but it was the right thing for the school, and Dave was going to make it happen no matter what.

There’s a host of other things in my life that Dave shaped, but within this short post, he accounted for me meeting my spouse, making the introduction that ultimately led to me getting a nearly free graduate education, turning me into an “event person,” and paving the way to successfully seize one of the biggest opportunities of my career.

Bill McDonald – Early Career

The first week Cyndi and I were in in Kansas City while unpacking boxes and listening to Mike Murphy’s radio show, I heard Bill McDonald talk about how his company, Kansas City Infobank, researched and identified market opportunities. While unsure about my career, I loved school, was good at it, and Infobank sounded like school. Thus began my “second MBA” – spending 2 ½ years at Infobank doing strategic projects for entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between.

Despite our financial challenges as a small business, Bill became an important strategic mentor. As mentioned before, the business instruction he gave me encompassed lessons too numerous to list. One in particular transformed my writing, helping create a personal business writing style.

Three months into the job, I was struggling with my first major report about the market for a laser printer add-on. Despite the report’s focus, I was writing pages on the personal computer market as an enabler for this technology.

Bill finally sat me down and said, “You need to understand you’re not in school anymore. You don’t need to write a long litany of facts to prove you’re qualified. You’re writing for business. The fact we have this assignment presumes we know what we’re doing. Get right to the point of our recommendations and the rationale behind them.

The discussion was a wake up call that business writing was different. Unlike school, where you’re required to demonstrate understanding to support getting a good grade, business writing needs to get right to the point. That’s even truer today. Bill’s direction has been a tremendously valuable career-long lesson that I’ve shared with many others to help improve their written communication.

Greg Reid – Career Job

No one’s success depends exclusively on individual efforts. We’re products of the ideas and interactions in which we’re immersed daily.

Greg Reid (far right), one of my strategic mentors, provided an important gift relative to this and the importance of talking about “we” instead of “me” in business.

Why use “we” when you communicate?

Being able to talk from a “we” perspective brings responsibilities, requiring you work with others in developing a recommendation, opening yourself to challenges and different perspectives. Considering different points of view creates stronger recommendations. While it may take more time or work to build broader agreement, the benefits are tremendous. It forces others with a stake in the recommendation to voice their support. Credibly talking from a first person plural perspective also removes a recommendation from standing on your point of view vs. someone else’s.

While there’s plenty of valid emphasis on personal responsibility and accountability in business, the “we” approach doesn’t fly in its face. Instead, it helps mitigate sometimes unwise behaviors attributable to seeking too much personal responsibility.

In making his point, Greg suggested listening to a co-worker’s language. When focusing intently, it was clear how often he used “I,” “me,” and portrayed sole responsibility for a recommendation he was advocating. Unfortunately, “his” audience didn’t support it, and having characterized it as his own, the decision came down to whose individual perspective was deemed more valid. Guess what? He lost. Not long after, his failure to build alliances was cited as a factor when pushed out of his position.

Pay attention to your communication. What’s your frequency of using “I” or “me” when you could have easily said “we”? Even without formally including others, simply dropping self-attribution for ideas creates some mystery regarding how big your support base is.

Summary

These are three of my incredible strategic mentors. Strategic mentors are out there – find one of your very own!


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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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