Looking for ways to spice up your organization’s strategic planning process before you lock into the same old strategy ideas shaped by your senior team’s conventional wisdom?

Try asking surprising strategic planning questions to push your leadership team toward new thinking.

Here is where we are coming from: when someone with romantic interest in you gives you a gift, it’s usually attractively, even lavishly, wrapped. Discovering the wonderful new treasure awaiting you requires tearing off the wrapping paper. Now apply that idea to the traditional industry knowledge – the conventional wisdom of your business.

Conventional wisdom is especially prized by executives with tenure and experience in one industry, company, and/or discipline. While conventional wisdom can speed decision making and prevent you from repeatedly making the same mistakes, it also is a powerful weapon to stand in the way of new thinking, innovation, and applying creativity to business strategy.

Just as you must tear away wrapping paper to get to the great gift inside, you must tear away conventional wisdom that stands in the way of innovative strategies. This is vital to move an organization in new, innovative, and disruptive directions.

Strategic Planning Questions that Create Surprise

One key to greater creativity and innovation is the ability to temporarily forget what you know. That’s where unusual strategic thinking questions provide an element of surprise when developing strategy. Executives quickly become overly familiar with standard strategic planning questions:

  • What are our strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are our threats?
  • What opportunities do we have?

Try twisting traditional strategic planning questions in new, unusual ways. You will quickly see how surprising questions lead to new, unexpected, and insightful ideas that spark winning strategies.

If you’re interested in a treasure trove of strategic planning questions addressing multiple important business areas, download our eBook, The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions (The Brainzooming Group Uses. So far.)

Also, for more ideas on spicing up strategic planning, you need to grab your copy of our FREE Brainzooming eBook: 11 Not Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning!

Don’t settle for boring strategic planning. Use these free resources to bring new life to your planning today! – Mike Brown

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

11 Hot Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

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


What are all the change management strategy roles a change agent plays?

My answers to that question grew recently because of an experience with a client developing its future vision.

We were working with an organization on its future vision while facilitating its strategic planning process. The organization’s leaders, and many of the team, have been in place for a long time, limiting the collective view of how other organization’s do things in bold, innovative, and different ways.

As we worked on strategic thinking exercises to explore the company’s future vision and user experience, the change management strategy vocabulary the group used was conventional, unemotional, and lacking innovative thinking. Despite the static language, strategic conversations with the team suggested they possessed a legitimate interest in pursuing innovative strategies.

Innovation Vocabulary and Change Management Strategy


Later in the strategic planning workshop, we used a collaging exercise as another way to help the team express its vision for the organization. In the exercise, the group cut words and images from magazines to express their depictions of various strategic concepts. We had selected specific magazines to use in the exercise that would stretch how the organization thought about itself and its clients. With a bolder innovation vocabulary than they possessed on their own, they did an incredibly strong job of articulating an innovative future vision.

Reflecting on the difference between the group members working from their own language and working from the innovation language in the magazines, the difference was apparent: they didn’t have their own vocabulary for major change, so they struggled to express their aspirations. When we provided a bigger innovation vocabulary, they could paint a bigger, bolder vision for their future and the change management strategy involved.

That’s when it became clear that another thing a change agent needs to do is make sure his or her organization has the innovation vocabulary to describe the degree of change management needed to realize a bold future. An organization trying to transform likely needs an external change agent with an outside perspective to provide a new vocabulary for innovation.

Lesson learned.  We’re developing new ways to immerse our client’s organization in all the innovation vocabulary they need for the change management strategy task ahead.

Want to learn more about that process? Contact us, and let’s talk about creating major change within your organization! – Mike Brown

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


Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!

Download Your FREE eBook! Big Strategy Statements - 3 Steps to Collaborative 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


This week marks the tenth anniversary of the Brainzooming blog. I’ve told the story of its inception previously.

Looking back ten years, suffice it to say that starting to write and publish about the work I was first doing in the Fortune 500 world as a VP of Strategic Marketing and then in launching Brainzooming was one of the most important career decisions I ever made. Not fully anticipating it at the time, the blog became created the opportunity for this phase of my career, plus serving as a personal repository of business tools, and, after a ton of writing and publishing, a highly-efficient and effective encyclopedia of Brainzooming content we can adapt for other uses.

Searching through the blog this weekend for additional material to incorporate into an upcoming book, I found the list below. I can visualize the list on a piece of paper when I first wrote it in the mid-1990s. But if not for the blog, it would live in a file somewhere with no way to effectively retrieve it, even though it still holds up all these years later as a guideline for servant leadership and solid business behavior.

If you are in a leadership position or aspire to one, feel free to borrow and adapt it to share with your team. It’s a good starting point for setting the stage for making sure your team understands servant leadership and what it means to be an effective, successful team member:

15 Expectations for Servant Leadership

This self-assessment was prepared for my team 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 today. Having stood the test of many 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 . . .

  1. Stepping up to challenges as they arise with your time, effort, learning, innovative ideas, etc.
  2. Honesty–with yourself and with everyone in the department and the company.
  3. Attention to detail and accuracy in everything that crosses your desk.
  4. Absolute integrity in using and reporting information.
  5. 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?”
  6. Making communication clear and simple–getting to the point without jargon and unessential information. Constantly work to improve both oral and written communication skills.
  7. Completing assignments in a timely manner.
  8. Being innovative–what can be done differently to increase efficiency, productivity, value, and revenue or reduce costs?
  9. 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.
  10. Using the knowledge and expertise of others inside and outside the company; recognize and acknowledge their contributions.
  11. 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.
  12. Being a leader–even if you are not personally heading a group or project.
  13. Being oriented toward helping people solve problems.
  14. Embracing technology and using it to further profitable revenue.
  15. Solving problems if they arise.

Originally delivered 1/09/95


Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

Download Your FREE eBook! 321 GO! 5 Ways to Implement Faster and Better!

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


We have been discussing strategic planning process approaches for next year with multiple people. While they are all considering different ideas, there is one common element to the conversations. They all want to spend less time planning, making it more productive and beneficial than in the past.

3 Strategic Planning Process Tweaks to Make Right Away!

There is no one answer for every organization to improve its strategic planning process. We can share some important fundamentals, however, to improve planning productively in significant ways.

1. Adapting the Strategic Planning Process for Your Organization

Make sure your strategic planning approach fits how your organization addresses:

  • Developing information and insights
  • Exploring opportunities
  • Making decisions
  • Implementing successfully

While you may want to change planning, recognize you are doing so relative to what creates the highest likelihood of success. Against what will work best for your team, consider these ideas to shape specific planning activities.
11 Hot Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

2. Capture Current Ideas and Imagine New Ones

The most important strategic planning activities are those that help participants think about capitalizing innovatively on opportunities and addressing challenges. Don’t forget, however, to begin by asking everyone to identify their starting lists of opportunities and threats along with sharing their best current ideas to address them. Documenting these starting points acknowledges current thinking and typically frees participants to consider new ideas.

To accelerate thinking about new opportunities and approaches, ask unconventional strategic planning questions. You can try these five hypothetical situations we find valuable to spur innovative thinking:

  • Suppose we have the same goal we have now, but severely constrained resources. What can we do differently?
  • If our goal were two times greater than what is now with the same resources, what would we do differently to hit it?
  • Select some of the starting ideas we shared to accomplish our goals. What are completely opposite ways we might be able to try that have a chance of working?
  • If another company outside our industry were addressing these opportunities and challenges, what would they do to achieve success?
  • If a non-traditional, emerging competitor were trying to disrupt our market position, what would it do? How can we adopt those same moves to protect and improve what we do now?

These types of scenarios set the stage for dramatically different strategic thinking and innovative possibilities.

3. Deciding on Strategies and Writing the Plan

Relative to making decisions about which strategies to incorporate into the plan, we recommend soliciting input from the planning participants while recognizing who owns the ultimate decisions. Specify upfront which individual or group will prioritize the ideas to form the final plan.

When it comes to documenting the actual plan, spare participants the chore of writing it during the workshop. Identify who in your organization is strong at shaping project management plans; those people are likely the best equipped to efficiently translate all the input into a plan people will use.

Customize to Make It Work for Your Organization

Incorporating even a few of these suggest will make your planning more productive this year. If you want help to identify which ideas will work best in your organization, contact us, and let’s talk about what our experience suggests for your situation! – Mike Brown

Want to Avoid Typical Boring Strategic Planning Process Meetings?

Here is your answer. These 11 not stuffy for work techniques will spice up strategic planning with new thinking on:

  • How to move out of long-established comfort zones that limit strategic thinking
  • Livening up strategic discussions with exercises designed to generate disruptive ideas
  • Capturing the benefits of an offsite meeting right in your office

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Not Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

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


Ask most business executives about strategy, and they don’t spit out well-articulated strategy statements.

Instead, executives talk about customers or growth or cost cutting or new markets or a whole variety of other areas that can contribute to business success.

That realization was a breakthrough in how we would create a strategy development exercise back when I ran strategic planning for a Fortune 500 corporation.

The consultants we worked with to help us develop our first big strategic marketing plan back in 1997, didn’t provide productive structure to help us. To them, a strategy development exercise involved PowerPoint slides with boxes and grids to complete. It was about fully-formed answers with no real support to help business and marketing managers do the strategic thinking to develop their strategies. The process was difficult, slow, and only worked because the consultant staffed the engagement with a bunch of MBAs that did the work for our people. They billed high-dollar hours like crazy, turning a single strategic planning initiative into a seven-figure annual engagement.

Over time and hundreds of strategy development workshops, we changed all that.

The Secret to Making a Strategy Development Exercise Faster and Easier

We streamlined strategy by giving our own people a strategic planning structure allowing them to showcase their experiences, knowledge, and perspectives. We sped up the process by assembling a multi-functional team that together had many more great ideas than a single marketing manager. We time-constrained strategic planning so that we spent less time on non-productive speeches and information sharing, instead focusing on productive strategic conversations.

And importantly, when we developed a new strategy development exercise, we actively used creative thinking techniques to help them very naturally think about typical strategy issues in very different ways.

This fundamental change in planning happened over a ten-year period. The Brainzooming strategic planning process was the result.

Brainzooming is all about streamlining strategic planning, making the process engaging, and the outcome actionable.

Sound like the formula your organization needs? If so, contact us, and let’s talk about the possibilities for develop faster, more successful business strategy at your organization! – Mike Brown


fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make Planning Strategy More Fun!

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog 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


Based on executives visiting the Brainzooming website, there is considerable interest right now in “strategic planning icebreaker activities.”  I guess that isn’t surprising. This is the time of year when most organizations that are going to do strategic planning are thinking about it or have already started.

2 New Strategic Planning Icebreaker Activities

Here are two brand new ideas for strategic planning icebreaker activities. They both materialized last week. One is from a misunderstood comment at a strategic planning workshop. The other is a spin on a strategic planning technique someone told me about.

#1. Why can’t we have nice things?

Walking up to a small group at a Brainzooming strategic planning workshop, I mistakenly thought one participant said, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” That was enough of an inspiration to jot the idea down on this sticky note.

It occurred to me that this could be one of those fun strategic planning icebreaker activities to start a conversation about challenges and roadblocks an organization is facing. As it’s shown here, people can introduce themselves, then state a reason the organization can’t have nice innovations. Nothing about the question suggests whether the responses must be serious or silly. You may want to arrange for an early participant to share a silly answer to keep the tone light.

#2. Fill in the Blank

The second icebreaker activity idea came from someone telling me about a strategic planning workshop exercise where they used fill-in-the-blank questions. That made me remember the Match Game television program. On the game show, contestants completed a sentence by filling in a blank. The players scored points based on whether celebrities matched their answers to the typically suggestive questions.

Why not use a similar approach for strategic planning icebreaker activities?

Based on the same theme of getting a conversation started about innovation challenges, possible questions are:

I’m thinking we’d print the questions on sheets of orange paper, allowing people to answer them in writing and then hold them up as they introduce themselves.

Remember: These Are from the Brainzooming R&D Lab

We haven’t tried either of these in a real workshop yet, but we will soon. If you beat us to it, contact us about how they go! – Mike Brown

Download our FREE eBook:
The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation

Download Your FREE eBook! The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

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


How can you develop strategic thinking exercises to envision the future when it’s so easy to let previous experience cloud your imagination?

In an a mid-August 2017 article in The Wall Street Journal, Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, Inc., discusses the future of electric cars and why the charging station model will break from the gas station model. Romano shared an important insight into the challenge of developing strategic thinking exercises to envision future strategy: “Until you drive an EV, you are colored by 135 years of going to the gas station. Under that scenario, you say ‘Where is the new company that’s doing EV charging on street corners or in my highway entrance?’ but that isn’t really how this works.”

Romano sees the future model revolving revolve around charging stations located where people are already stopping for extended periods. The quick-in, quick-out charging station won’t garner a significant place. Understanding this change, however, is challenging when your perspective hasn’t broken from the past.

4 Strategic Thinking Exercises to Envision Future Strategy

Inspired by his observations, here are four strategic thinking exercises to better envision future strategy for your organization when success depends on breaking (as best possible) from a historical perspective.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Simulation and Role Playing

Challenge #1 – Extrapolating from Today: Romano stresses the futility of imagining a car charging model by extrapolating from the current auto fueling one. The key is to experience (or imagine the experience of) driving an electric vehicle with its differing needs.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Create an interactive, day-in-the-life scenario to imagine the future. Do the homework upfront via research, forward-looking case studies, immersing users in prototypes or virtual reality experiences, and simulating the future ahead. Providing a robust future view helps people more thoroughly envision it for your audiences and organization.

Participants will take on roles as future audience members. Within the role playing, they will brainstorm specific questions, challenges, opportunities, and behaviors they will encounter. This lets participants envision a typical future day unfolding sequentially.

It’s not unusual for brainstorming exercises to stipulate that every starting idea is good. To help future-imagining Brainzooming participants detach from today as much as possible, we anticipate one person steeped in the forward-looking research taking on a unique role: Owner of the Future. This person will listen for present-day thinking that no longer applies, in the future. If they hear speculation inconsistent with the future, they’ll exclaim loudly, “The future doesn’t work like that!” Yes, the role is different. Played by the right person, we think it will lighten things up and focus ideas.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Flipping Minimal and Abundant

Challenge #2 – Emerging Events Seem Microscopic: Before the next major event becomes major, it has minimal impact. Maybe 1% of the next big thing will be apparent while the status quo accounts for 99% of what we experience. At some point in the future, whatever the next big thing is will account for the overwhelming majority of instances, but not immediately.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Quantify statistics about the current status quo and emerging situations, using them in an exercise where you flip the numbers. Associate the minimal numbers of the emerging development with the abundant numbers of the status quo, and vice versa. Once you blatantly reset the future view through a number flip, have participants imagine the future by asking:

  • What will be important for success in this scenario?
  • How will audience member expectations change?
  • Who else would want to become a supplier or supporter in this scenario?
  • What new opportunities could develop with so many things flipped versus today?
  • What new problems might emerge with many things the opposite of now?

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Constrain Thinking to a Completely Technological Future

Challenge #3 – Thinking Technology Impacts Will Come Up Short: As we conduct future-looking research, several things are clear: digital availability, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things are all super-charging forward.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: While maybe not EVERYTHING will be digitized and automated, for the sake of imagining the future, you can comfortably say everything will be. Stipulating an all-digital future enables questions that make it more difficult to hold a today-centric perspective. Ask:

  • If a function is completely digital, with no human intervention, what will it mean for audiences? How will we provide our product or service in relevant ways?
  • If every object/thing can report what it thinks / knows / senses, how will that change how other things act? What will it mean for robots? For humans? What will the object / thing do with the information to learn and improve?
  • If robots handle that function (and every function before and after it), how will the experience change?
  • If AI continually improves the audience experience, where will it focus improvement efforts? What will humans do differently to cope or stay ahead?

Strategic Thinking Exercise: Accessing the Excess

Future Strategy Challenge #4 – Dismantling What’s No Longer Necessary: Romano notes that when electric vehicles predominate, there will be need for only a tiny percentage of the 168,000 gas stations in the United States currently. The impact of dismantling this excess is significant.

Strategic Thinking Exercise: While it is cooler to restrict future thinking to new, innovative ideas, the impact of currently valuable assets losing utility provides another path to imagining the future. Use today’s abundant things you flipped earlier and ask questions about what happens with them:

  • How could we retrofit them to provide value in a radically different future?
  • What other replacements will develop to provide the value and utility they currently offer?
  • If we blew them up and started over, what would we do with the space / materials / resources / time they now occupy?

What does your future strategy hold?

If you are trying to prepare your organization for an uncertain future, contact us. We can design in-person and online collaboration exercises to get as ready as possible for big changes in and around your organization! – Mike Brown

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.
Download Your FREE eBook! 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times

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