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Suppose you see a new opportunity in front of a live audience where there are high expectations.

Do you risk trying something you’ve never done before in front of the audience, or do you go safe and file it away to try in a more familiar venue later?

That was a question at several points during the Transportation Sales & Marketing Association Bootcamp I did this week on “Shoestring Marketing – Doing New with Less.” We covered a wide variety of Brainzooming strategic thinking exercises during the workshop and had the extra time to consider trying some new things.

A Different Test for a Strategic Thinking Exercise

To demonstrate the value of using targeted creative questions to point groups in different creative directions, each row of attendees received a different modifier to explore ideas for how to do more with social media on a limited budget. Two rows received modifiers to “narrow” ideas (simpler, more focused). One of the rows had a “broadening” word (sophisticated), and the other received a “modifying” word (extreme).

Each row had four minutes to generate ten ideas using the assigned modifier. I then asked each row to share the favorite ideas to emerge.

Sure enough, each row had a different favorite answer. More importantly, the only rows that generated the same answer as another row’s favorite were the two rows that were both working with narrowing modifiers.

Modifiers

While I’d never used this test previously to demonstrate why it’s valuable to provide structure to generate ideas (vs. starting with the proverbial “clean sheet of paper”), this experiment was a great validation of the point for attendees.

Issuing a New Challenge to Marketers

In one of the strategic exercises, I asked the marketers to list their companies’ five most demanding customers and prospects as typified by those who:

  • Push for new products and services
  • Have higher expectations
  • Are more complex
  • Are eager to pilot new offerings

I introduced this completely new in-workshop strategic thinking exercise as a pre-cursor to sharing a research approach to stay in front of market trends.

Audience

As I watched the audience work on their answers, however, it was clear some participants were struggling to come up with five customer names.

In the spur of the moment, I told the group I wouldn’t ask them to report who could come up with five names and who couldn’t. But I cautioned those who couldn’t come up with five names that this signaled they, as marketers, were too far away from sales. A strategic marketer should be, if nothing else, in conversations with sales management and sales people that regularly surface the names of both positive and challenging accounts.

Taking the Risks and Getting the Returns

So, in answer to the opening question, I took the risk on both of these brand new twists on strategic thinking exercises. Both paid off successfully.

The learning for the workshop attendees, and hopefully for you, is two-fold:

  • Avoid starting to generate ideas with a clean sheet of paper, absent structure and direction to help your creative thinkers
  • If you’re in marketing, stay close to sales and learn, learn, learn about customers

And the learning for us is that both of these drop-in trial balloons have a high probability of showing up in future strategic thinking workshops. – 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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I’m recasting a variety of innovation-oriented Brainzooming strategic thinking exercises for a workshop on “Strategic Service Innovation” at the 2014 Compete Through Service Symposium at the Arizona State University Center for Services Leadership. Having organized many corporate senior management education programs at ASU previously, it’s exciting to get back to the Center for Services Leadership to facilitate two Brainzooming workshops on strategic service innovation.

Among the strategic thinking exercises we’re revamping is one where companies can explore potential opportunities to identify new markets with brand new service (or product) offerings.

For a traditional, established company, the prospect of entering a new market with something less than what it would have in place to introduce a new offering in its primary markets can scuttle innovation.

The thing is, however, companies emerging with a disruptive mindset aren’t approaching markets as established companies approach them.

If you’re in an established company trying to become a disruptive strategic force in a new market, you have to figure out a way to give your brand internal permission to pursue markets where:

  1. Your brand isn’t a blip of a presence yet.
  2. You’ll be starting from scratch (or close to it) to create a brand position so you can create distance from your primary brand.
  3. You may be introducing a niche offering, so targeting a small share at a premium price is viable.
  4. You may need to spread costs differently in order to consider pursuing a low-priced, share-stealing strategy.
  5. You are creating a product/service and price point combination that isn’t comparable to any market competitor.
  6. Your strategy needs to lower certain risks so you can move dramatically more quickly compared to new entries in your primary market.
  7. Heavying up on only one part of the marketing mix and largely ignoring others is acceptable.
  8. The entry point into the industry’s current customer model may seem radically different.
  9. You’re not over-focused on looking like current players in the industry since doing so can reduce your disruptive impact.
  10. You may be a part-time player, making it unnecessary to try to serve all the market needs with a complete product offering.
  11. It’s possible to be successful against traditional competitors even with major deficits in areas that industry players think are important, but really aren’t in customers’ eyes.
  12. You can over-deliver on a very different set of benefits than traditional players.

Sound scary?

If so, that’s good.

Now give your brand permission to enter a market where some, most, or all of these permissions become realities. That’s when your brand can really shake things up and disrupt! – Mike Brown

 

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If you’re facing a challenging organizational situation and are struggling to maintain forward progress because of it, The Brainzooming Group can provide a strategic sounding-board for you. We will apply our strategic thinking and implementation tools on a one-on-one basis to help you create greater organizational success. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you figure out how to work around your organizational challenges.


Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Working on a creating strategic impact exercise the other day, I typed the words “Challenge” and “Change” on a Powerpoint slide.

Suddenly, it struck me that the only difference between challenge and change is the “lle” in the middle of challenge. Take the “lle” out and you get “change.” Add the “lle” to change, and you get “challenge.”

I think it was late at night (or some other time I was mentally exhausted), so I put messages out on Twitter and Facebook calling out the three-letter difference in challenge and change, commenting, “. . . Not sure what to do with that quite yet.”

By the next morning, I had several replies on Facebook and Twitter about what “lle” could represent. The most compelling answer came via Vince Tobias on Twitter, who suggested the acronym could stand for “lots of little excuses.”

What a brilliant answer, suggesting the potential for creating strategic impact and change if you can pull out all the “lle” or “lots of little excuses.”

While I took a little liberty in turning “lots of little excuses” into “lotsa little excuses,” the collaborative quote stands as a great reminder that excuses are all too convenient ways to avoid challenges and to stay stuck in the status quo with what we’ve always done.

 

Challenge-Change

Mike Brown

 

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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 info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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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In reponse to a re-share for a Brainzooming post on the negative impact on the creative process of 29 phrases used in business, Ying Ying Shi reached out to expand on the idea, mentioning the starkly different impacts of periods and commas on the creative process.

Her ideas expanding on the creative process impact of  punctuation intrigued the heck out of me, and I asked her to share her thinking for Brainzooming readers, which we’re featuring today.

Ying Ying Shi is a multilingual international manager currently working at Clueda AG, a big data start-up. Previously, she was an M&A and strategy advisor to small, medium and transnational companies. She shares her experiences and musings on leadership, business and self-improvement at www.yingyingshi.com

Here’s Ying Ying!

 

Creative Process – How Using Periods Harms You by Ying Ying Shi

Ying-Ying-ShiIn a previous Brainzooming post on the creative process, Mike listed 29 phrases blocking innovative ideas. The phrases listed are necessary, but not sufficient conditions to block our creativity. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging limitations or existing problems; this is part of life and the improvement process. It is how you deal with these observations subsequently that has an irrepressible consequence: either halting you from solutions or opening new roads and views.

Language is our main tool of thought. When you speak out loud or write things down, you organize your thoughts and bestow them with power. Care is, however, needed. The words you speak cannot be retrieved; there is no ctrl+z. The words you think and write have an impact on your brain; there is no escape from that.

Psychology has been telling us that positive words have a positive effect on us and that we can be primed by these. Some psychological studies even point out to the fact that our genes are modified by positive words.

The other language constituent (besides words) that is often neglected is punctuation marks. These are essential in our communication. Had I used not punctuation until now in this post, you would have probably had a hard time understanding it.

Punctuation assigns a certain meaning to our expressions. Is this a question? Or perhaps just a wonderful example! You can know that this sentence hasn’t come to an end, unless you see a period.

As opposed to the mere grammatical function of punctuation marks, they can also trigger different thought channels. Periods define the end of our thought process, whereas commas or even ellipsis leave us open to different options and ideas.

The phrases on Mike’s creative process post were written without punctuation marks. It is up to you to decide which ones to use.

Compare the following (the original number of the phrase in parenthesis):

  • Initial observation (3): We don’t know how to do that
  • Period: We don’t know how to do that.
  • Comma: We don’t know how to do that, but we can hire an expert.
  • Initial observation (7): We’ve done something similar before
  • Period: We’ve done something similar before.
  • Comma: We’ve done something similar before, but the circumstances are different now, and we should try again.
  • Initial observation (13): I don’t know anything about that
  • Period: I don’t know anything about that.
  • Comma: I don’t know anything about that, and I am willing to take this challenge.
  • Initial observation (15): It’s too new for our market
  • Period: It’s too new for our market.
  • Comma: It’s too new for our market, and we know it’s a great opportunity.
  • Initial observation (29): We don’t have time for that
  • Period: We don’t have time for that.
  • Comma: We don’t have time for that, though we could prioritize it for the next period.

While the phrases with periods killed a creative thought process, blocking creativity, the commas have given way to limitless possibilities of which I have only written one.

Remember when you were disappointed or feeling down? You were most probably using a period. Maybe you thought: “I failed.” Yet it really should have been “I failed, I learned, and I moved forward.”

Try replacing periods more often in your thoughts, especially when you are identifying a problem.

While the correct punctuation usage might not yet modify your creative genius, it will certainly prevent your thoughts from being stopped by a period. With the right use of punctuation marks in life, your options can be infinite . . .

Ying Ying Shi

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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How big of a deal is creating an innovative workplace culture?

That question opened one of two Brainzooming workshops I facilitated at the Construction Financial Management Association Heartland Conference.

Consider these factoids on the importance of creativity and an innovative workplace culture pulled from various studies:

  • “Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs.” IBM Global CEO Study, “The Enterprise of the Future”
  • “Seventy‐eight percent of Millennials were strongly influenced by how innovative a company was when deciding if they wanted to work there.” The Deloitte Millennial Survey, 2014
  • “Employing a worker in a creative occupation is an innovation input in a similar manner to employing a scientist.” The Creative Economy Report, London School of Economics, 2008

Not surprisingly, we also think an innovative workplace culture is a pretty big deal, and we’re glad we’re not alone on that.

Innovative-Workplace-Cultur

7 Keys to Creating an Innovative Workplace Culture

What constitutes an innovative workplace culture, i.e., one where people are able that to readily create fundamental, valuable improvements relative to the status quo?

Here are seven characteristics of innovative workplace cultures. They:

1. Provide Direction

Company leadership points the way and lets team members throughout the organization run with opportunities to innovate.

2. Invite Broad Participation

Diverse participants from varied levels and areas of the company, plus customers, outside experts, and other relevant parties are included in innovation efforts.

3. Meaningfully Engage and Involve Employees

Innovation team members receive training, structure, and access to opportunities that take best advantage of their knowledge and expertise to innovate.

4. Encourage Change

There’s a continual push to challenge past strategies and anticipate what the future holds to increase the value delivered to important audiences.

5. Pursue Smart Possibilities

There are clear processes in place to explore, assess, and prioritize the best innovation opportunities and meaningfully propel the organization forward.

6. Stay Agile

Despite a quickly changing environment, there is a focus on what’s most important for the organization’s success while embracing a willingness to change direction rapidly when necessary.

7. Celebrate Progress and Success

For all the fanfare about celebrating failures, an innovative workplace culture recognizes and celebrates trying and learning, progress and determination, AND success.

What would you add to or subtract from this list based on innovative workplace culture successes you’ve seen?

Mike Brown

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation and strategic thinking success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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If you’re inside an organization, see the need for change, and realize senior management isn’t leading innovation, what do you do?

Making Strategic Innovation Happen

I was talking with an attendee at the CFMA conference about this challenge. The session I presented on creating an innovative workplace culture prompted him to consider pushing the innovation possibilities his company SAYS it embraces, but really doesn’t (his perspective, not mine).

We talked after the session about initial first steps he might take to harness the expertise resident inside the organization to create change. His first inclination was gathering a group of predominantly creatively-strong co-workers, calling it the “innovation team,” and commencing brainstorming sessions.

4 Keys When Senior Management Isn’t Leading Innovation

Caution-TestHis idea makes sense on the surface.

And it certainly fits with my earlier advice to not wait around for your organization’s senior management to start innovating when you could start in your own area to get things moving.

But his strategy has some high-probability pitfalls. I suggested these fundamental modifications:

  1. Start by understanding where senior management has its biggest innovation priorities and focus on leading innovation to address those in significant way.
  2. Assemble a diverse team with creatively-strong individuals, but not too many of them.
  3. Don’t call it the “innovation team. “ That’s like putting a huge target on the initiative and everyone involved. Better to call it something less politically-charged, even if all the participants understand innovation is your objective.
  4. Reach out to someone expert at conducting these types of strategic innovation efforts to help design and facilitate the process.

I made it clear these weren’t self-serving recommendations, while acknowledging that given his description of the situation, we could definitely be of service in making this strategic innovation initiative successful.

Alternatively, I told him what I tell everyone. Nearly everything we’ve done is addressed on the Brainzooming blog.

But our expertise comes into play significantly in selecting the right exercises, knowing when they’ll work and won’t, designing the right environment, and filling the dual roles of being both vitally interested and disinterested – all at the same time.

If you’re facing a similar situation, reach out to us so we can help you accomplish your strategic innovation objectives, just as we hope to do for this firm.

It’s just one thing we do really well! – Mike Brown

 

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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 info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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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This week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief newsletter focused on an intriguing article from Inc. online. The article identified reasons why major companies invest significant, seemingly unjustified amounts on startup businesses with scant revenues and no discernible business models.

Big-Idea-Dollars

The original article from Inc. by Dev Aujla claims major companies use these acquisitions as a new variation on research and development. A major corporation may be able to pick up a whole startup for many millions of dollars. Despite seeming like an excessive figure, the purchase price could still put the major corporation dollars ahead versus developing whatever the startup offers on its own.

Aujla highlights three reasons major companies target these acquisitions. They are typically looking for:

1) New learnings and research
2) The opportunity to more easily plug a hole in their product or market portfolio
3) Talent that moves them ahead in new areas

AEIB-GraphicThe folks at the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief used Aujla’s three items and offered strategic thinking questions for each of the three areas.

The strategic thinking questions provide a way for companies, even ones far beyond startup status, to develop strategies boosting their chances for acquisition or spin-off opportunities. Armada agreed to let us share the questions here for each of the three areas.

The remainder of this post with the strategic thinking questions comes directly from the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief newsletter and its “Inside the Executive Suite” edition.

Strategic Thinking Questions for Crafting Startup Strategy in Any Business

1. Developing New Learnings and Research

Many companies claim to be learning organizations. This is often professional development jargon for “educating the staff.” While education is important, it won’t prompt another company to pay a premium simply because your employees have current training.

Try this strategic flip, though. Instead of characterizing your company as a learning organization, characterize it as a “discovering” organization. With that change in strategic perspective, evaluate where you stand today and where you would like to be a year from now:

  • What is our organization discovering that no other party knows?
  • How many people inside our organization are hell-bent on discovering new technologies, capabilities, and possibilities to bring to market?
  • Who are the people and organizations outside our own that we are collaborating with on major discovery efforts?
  • What discoveries can we make happen at lower cost, with less risk and red tape, and at a markedly faster pace than bigger firms can?

These answers should stretch your organization to move beyond learning what everyone else knows into discovering breakthrough knowledge with real value to outside parties.

2. Filling Holes in Markets, Audiences, or Product Portfolios

Aggressively examine market, audience, and product strategy gaps at other organizations to discover missing elements you can fill through your own exploration.

  • Which organizations have bigger, more sweeping product visions than ours? What gaps exist in their product portfolios we might be able to supplement through our narrower focus on product and market development?
  • What markets adjacent to ones we serve include competitors with missing elements in their market, audience, or product mixes?
  • Are there companies in related or even far removed categories lacking strong platforms for innovation that our discovery strategy could readily address?

Don’t think about fixing everything with these discovery efforts. Focus on the minimum standard product or market development allowing another organization to readily fill a gap by eventually acquiring what you are doing.

3. Gaining New Talent

Consider how your organization pursues new talent. Is there a deliberate attempt to hire the types and caliber of people most ready to help your organization discover and grow along a valuable path?

While you may be hiring to clear standards, evaluate – if you haven’t already – who will be the “explorers” you need to discover the knowledge, markets, audiences, and products with the greatest potential value. Think about these questions:

  • What deliberate actions are we taking to bring on extraordinary discoverers?
  • What steps are we taking to identify and target emerging talent, i.e., people who aren’t as well known, but are about to become rock star talents?
  • What relationships are in place (or can we develop) with educational institutions that are doing new work and introducing new programs in areas of discovery for our organization? (BTW, you may need to be looking at grade schools, middle schools, and even home schooling programs.)

It’s clear that answering these questions won’t lead to simply placing online ads and waiting for your email inbox to fill with too many resumes! – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

 

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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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