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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.”

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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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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

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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


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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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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.

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We mentioned how frequently we’re being asked to incorporate uncertainty into Brainzooming creativity and strategic thinking presentations. We have considerable content on moving forward amid uncertainty (including the 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times eBook), and we’re developing additional strategic thinking pieces on uncertainty and flexibility.

Considering that, I added new strategic thinking content on flexibility into my presentation at The Leadership Institute. It suggested ways to reduce your organizational dependency on aspects of your operation that may seem important, but are ripe for less (or even no) strategic attention. Walking away from what seems essential is frightening – and has been for a long time. That’s why I reached for a long-ago quote to inspire the content: “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” from the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.

The quote flies in the face of so many (nearly all?) media messages that say strength ONLY comes from having everything.

Yet, even in temporal situations, detachment from seemingly critical things can create the flexibility to look at compelling new options. Detachment provides freedom to chart your own preferred course of action, unencumbered by obligations to people or forces that don’t care about your best interests.

5 Ideas for Reducing Dependency on What Seems Critical

Here are five strategic thinking possibilities for reducing dependency on what seems to be critical right now:

  1. Find alternative approaches to what you are doing now
  2. Care less about a critical thing by setting your organizational desire to the side and changing your perspective
  3. Replace what seems important now with something else that is more abundant or more under your control
  4. Redirect your legacy needs so they aren’t as important anymore
  5. Give up what has been important cold turkey with a sudden and immediate stop

None of this is to suggest reducing dependency on critical things will be easy or without pain.

One example I shared was from a Catholic priest. He talked about how his parish school was starting to raise tuition $500 annually until tuition alone covers its operating costs. The objective is eliminating the federal money the school now receives. Taking money from the government can lock the school into teaching or doing things against its faith. He acknowledged the strategy change will cause hardship; the school is trying to work with parents impacted most by the new strategy. Ultimately, eliminating the dependency on outside funds will put the school in greater control of setting a strategy consistent with its faith.

What is your organization depending on currently where reducing your dependency will make you stronger? Start tackling an alternative strategy before outside forces require you to do it.  – Mike Brown

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

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 uncertainty is high. 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.

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We were driving home from the store this weekend, and saw this huge tree that fell over from its base. It made me think of the phrase “too big to fail.” In this case, this huge tree must have been completely ready for failure, whether that was apparent to anyone or not.

Disrupt Your Brand Before Something Else Does

A similar phenomenon applies to brand strategy. You may think your brand is strong and ready to withstand anything that might come its way. But all the while, competitors or market forces you may not even suspect are disrupting your place in the market.

While success can breed success, it can also lead to blindness about the importance of trying to disrupt your brand strategy before something else comes along to topple your brand.

104 Possibilities to Disrupt Your Brand Strategy

To help you stay ahead of disruption, here are 104 possibilities to do the work to disrupt your brand strategy yourself instead of letting another party do it for you. Beyond these articles, it’s a wonderful time with strategic planning coming up for many firms, to download the free Brainzooming eBook, Disrupting Thinking – 13 Exercises to Imagine Disrupting Your Own Brand Before Someone Else Disrupts You! 

Don’t allow your executive team to become complacent! Get to work on disrupting your business strategy yourself: it’s much less painful! – 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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Ten years ago, last week, I gave what I’ve always considered my worst presentation ever.

I call it my “Lee Harvey Oswald presentation.”

The horrible experience wasn’t for lack of public speaking skills, sufficient preparation, and scouting the unusual location ahead of time. It wasn’t for not being ready with options in case something didn’t work. And it wasn’t for not having a friendly audience.

Somehow, though, none of these things saved the presentation!

Public Speaking Skills and My Worst Presentation Ever

This early Taking the NO Out of Innovation presentation was at a Chinese restaurant. I visited it a few days early to see the meeting room. The arrangement was clearly going to present a problem. The room was small and had no natural area from which to present. As a result, I brought an easel, a big pad of sticky notes, and markers in case I needed to do something different to visually communicate the main points.

The day of the presentation, the luncheon was oversold. There was hardly room to move. The projector was placed on a highboy table in the middle of everything where it blocked the view for a significant portion of the room.

Assessing the options, I decided to ditch the PowerPoint. Instead, I planned to cartoon the presentation on the big easel pads. That went fine, other than I hadn’t adequately tightened the easel legs. As I marked on the pad, the easel legs would slide toward the ground. Not wanting to stop the presentation to figure out how to the legs worked, I leaned the easel pad against the giant TV on the shelving unit behind me, attempting to use it to stabilize the paper pad.

During most of the presentation, the waiters were serving lunches, announcing the dishes (which you’ll notice got more space than I did in the invitation!) they were delivering at the top of their lungs. At one point, I said aloud that it was like presenting in the middle of a bowling alley.

Photo credit: Michael Irvin

I survived the presentation, and had the opportunity to meet Michael Irvin, “The Big Idea Guy.” Michael won the creative kit door prize I gave away.

Why do I call it my Lee Harvey Oswald presentation?

After Lee Harvey Oswald was picked up by the Dallas police, they let the press interview him. At one point, he said he was waiting for someone to come forward to offer him (legal) assistance.

Throughout me fumbling with the easel, I was hoping one of the people I worked with would come forward to offer ME assistance. When I asked them later why they didn’t come up to help me, they said they didn’t want to detract from the presentation. I about fell on the floor. There was NOTHING that could have made the presentation go worse than it did!

The intriguing footnote to this story is several people attending that day have graciously said later how helpful the Taking the No Out of InNovation presentation was and how much they enjoyed it. Which just goes to show you, even if you’re completely frustrated by your temporary absence of public speaking skills, if you are earnestly trying to make it good and valuable for the audience, you have a chance of reaching them despite all the challenges.  – Mike Brown

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Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help  generate extreme creativity and boost your creative thinking skills! For organizational innovation success, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative growth strategies. Contact us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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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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Chuck Dymer and I presented to a group of logistics managers in Chicago last week. The topic was how to handle uncertain times successfully.

Tomorrow, I’ll be closing the Nature Explore and The Outdoor Classroom Project Leadership Institute with a comparable message. The conference theme is building resilience and joy in uncertain times. The audience for the presentation consists of educators, landscape designers, government officials, and others involved with creating outdoor classrooms for children. It’s all about getting kids outside to experience nature, interact, and learn. The closing presentation will be about staying strong as an idea magnet even you are uncertain of what is ahead.

Next month, Emma Alvarez Gibson and I will be delivering a couple of workshops for the Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites. The message will once again be similar: carrying out your mission when times are changing in ways you have not previously experienced.

Yes, dealing with uncertain times (while facing fewer or nonexistent resources) seems to be in the forefront for many different types of organizations these days.

25 Infinitely Renewable Things in Uncertain Times

One theme for the Leadership Institute presentation is finding the blue sky – the open opportunities – even amid what seems to be an onslaught of constraints and limitations. That took me to the idea of abundance thinking, one of the fundamental strategies of idea magnets. These creative leaders recognize constraints but turn their attention to the available resources that are plentiful and can always be grown.

Wanting to leave the Leadership Institute participants with a starting list of ideas, here are twenty-five things that are abundantly available – even in hard-nosed business settings.

  1. Affiliating with Others
  2. Asking Others for Help
  3. Asking Someone If You Can Help
  4. Caring for Others
  5. Cheering Each Other On
  6. Coming up with another idea
  7. Creativity
  8. Determination
  9. Doodling a Smiley Face or Heart
  10. Enthusiasm
  11. Focusing on Your Core Purpose
  12. Forgiveness
  13. Good Humor
  14. Good Intentions
  15. Hugs
  16. Humility
  17. Imagination
  18. Jumping for Joy
  19. Positive Thoughts
  20. Prayer
  21. Reaching Out to Others
  22. Remembering Successes You’ve Already Had
  23. Sharing Stories
  24. Smiles
  25. Trying One More Time

What else is abundantly available in your part of the world? If your team could use some ideas and motivation right now with handling uncertainty, we’d love to come spend time with you to share strategies that are working!  – 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.

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