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Want to try something to get a particularly new and insightful look at a situation?

Here’s how it works.

After you identify the “characters” in a particular situation, completely shift their roles. After you do that, see how the situation looks differently, simply because the characters are playing different roles.

smile-frown

We frequently facilitate a strategic thinking exercise that uses a character outside a situation as the perspective. This is different, however. Here are situations where you can use it:

  • If it’s a discussion for or against an idea, shift the protagonist and antagonist roles to see how the argument might change or develop.
  • If it’s an interaction between people in different groups, flip the roles, characteristics, or natures of the parties.
  • If it’s an evaluation of before and after performance, make the after scenario before and the before scenario after to see how the switch looks from this different perspective.

The other day, I was revisiting a personal exchange between two business people. Switching their characteristics unveiled multiple insights about the strategies, decisions, and outcomes related to their interactions. It also led to identifying other comparable situations to mine for insights and expected behaviors.

There’s no guarantee this strategic thinking exercise works in every situation. There’s not even a clear and certain sense of what it might yield in each situation.

Since it worked so well the other day, however, we wanted to pass it along right away as a strategic thinking exercise to consider when you have the right types of characters to make it work. – 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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We were on a hotel site visit to scout the location for an upcoming client conference. Beyond meeting with the client team, we spent considerable time with the hotel staff. The objective was to solicit their innovative ideas for how to create the highest impact in a challenging conference space.

innovative-ideas-experts

While we developed ideas for high-impact options, we wanted the experts at the hotel to come to the table with ideas. With that situation, we wanted to ask plenty of questions and provide plenty of room for them to contribute their experience-based, innovative ideas.

9 Strategic Thinking Questions – Innovative Ideas from Experts

Many of the strategic thinking questions we share help people imagine things that have never happened. The following nine strategic thinking questions that we used with the hotel staff were meant to get them to mine their previous experiences and aspirations to generate innovative ideas we could incorporate into the meeting:

  1. What are things you have been dreaming about or trying to figure out how to do, but haven’t had a chance yet?
  2. What are outlandish things you tried but didn’t work as you expected?
  3. What things have worked, and how would you like to do more of or do them in a bigger way?
  4. What are things you’ve seen elsewhere we should consider trying?
  5. What’s something no one in our audience will have seen happen before?
  6. How have you thought about reimagining a familiar something or other?
  7. What are things you’ve done elsewhere you would like to try here?
  8. What have you done in a completely different setting that might work for what we’re doing?
  9. What cool things haven’t we asked about that we should consider?

Whenever you’re dealing with experts and looking for innovative ideas, consider these strategic thinking questions (or variations on them) to help them not do as so many experts do: dismiss what they know as routine and normal, when in fact normal for an expert is often quite innovative and sensational for everyone else! – Mike Brown

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Ready to boost your innovation strategy?

New-10Barriers-Cover-BurstDo you need a quick evaluation to understand your organization’s innovation challenges so you can create a strategy to boost new ideas and successful implementation?

Download “The Ten Big Nos to InNOvating – Identifying the Barriers to Successful Business Innovation.”

This free Brainzooming eBook highlights ten common organizational innovation barriers. A one-page evaluation sets the stage to quickly self-diagnose where to focus your organization’s efforts in customizing a successful innovation initiative.

Download Your FREE eBook! 10 Big NOs to Innovating in Organizations

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 attended a presentation on cultivating a creative culture delivered by Michael Perman, formerly of Gap, at The Marketing Conference last week in San Francisco. During his keynote, Perman discussed twenty-plus three-day creativity sessions he organized while at Gap. Called M!ndspark, the sessions brought together thirty team members from The Gap in three-day “mini-TED conferences” to capitalize on creative diversity. The objective for M!ndspark was to provide creative stimulation, pave the way for cultivating a more creative culture, and to address business opportunities and challenges.

During the time for audience questions, I asked Michael how long it took during the four year run of M!ndspark to settle on a standard format, if they ever did?

He said they learned over time about how to purposefully manage creative diversity most effectively.

creative-diversity

Originally, the goal was simply bringing a diverse group together from across the company. Over time, however, they discovered that while they wanted participants with creative diversity, it was important to include individuals from groups that would actually return to the business and work together to solve problems. Solving the creative diversity puzzle with an eye toward ultimate implementation success led to better cultivating a creative environment.

What mix of creative diversity will drive implementation?

That is a great lesson whenever you are thinking about selecting a diverse group of participants for a strategic or creative thinking workshop. Beyond getting the right mix of people for that day’s activities, you want to make decisions based on how a work team will most benefit from the shared experience to cultivate a creative environment.

While we work aggressively to ensure a strongly diverse group that understands the issues we’re addressing, we’ll had this new question to our creative thinking workshop design process. Ultimately, business creativity is about creating strategic impact. Solving the diversity equation for implementation success is a smart approach. – Mike Brown

 

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Facing Innovation Barriers? Here Is Help!

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Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

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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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This week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief newsletter highlighted two Wall Street Journal articles examining leadership strategy in light of how involved a teacher or coach should be in the details of teaching and learning. 

Leadership Strategy – How Much Teaching and Coaching Is Enough?

When it comes to your leadership strategy, what are the best techniques to develop your team? Should you be in the thick of things, understanding the details of what is going on with team members, and being an active resource for them? Or are they (and you) better off taking a hands-off approach and letting them handle the details relatively unencumbered?

In the Wall Street Journal this week, two articles addressed these questions from different angles.

An article by concert pianist and instructor, Byron Janis, addressed teacher-student relationships in music. Andrew Beaton addressed the topic of college football coaches forsaking their CEO-like management roles to create game plans, call plays, and behave like traditional coaches.

Learning to Play Music Pleasing to Another’s Ears

Leadership-Strategy-Teaching

Janis offers advice gleaned from his own teaching experiences and from his time as a student of piano great Vladimir Horowitz during the 1940s. He shares four pieces of advice for teachers (that can extend to leaders and managers):

  1. Don’t over-teach to a specific standard

Teachers must balance their knowledge and inclinations to instruct what THEY know with the students’ needs to find and develop their own styles. A student only develops a distinctive talent and style if a teacher remains open and refrains from over-instructing based on what the teacher believes and knows.

Leadership Questions: How much latitude do you give less experienced team members to chart their own directions? Are there areas where you dictate a course of action that would benefit from junior team members exerting greater independence?

  1. Let individuals own their problems and solutions

When a student failed to grasp a particular musical passage, Horowitz would tell the student that something was amiss without indicating what it was. He invited them to ponder it, address what they discover, and return the next week to share the correction. This technique puts students in charge of making mistakes, identifying them, and determining the appropriate fixes.

Leadership Questions: How readily do you dissect errors and problems in detail? What room do you have to point out potential issues while allowing your team an opportunity to diagnose and correct them to develop their mistake-making and fixing skills?

  1. Provide ample room to disagree and interpret your input

Teachers can further free students to self-diagnose and correct problems through realizing their own subjective interpretations of performance strategies can be mistaken. Student can have creative perspectives that are on the mark even though instructors don’t understand them. As Horowitz told students, “‘If any of my interpretive ideas don’t feel right, please disregard them.”

Leadership Questions: Are you providing team members enough creative freedom in subjective areas to listen to your viewpoint, while applying their own ideas for implementing strategies? What techniques do you employ to keep your mind open to creative perspectives different from your own?

  1. Encourage a unique, personal path

It is easy, especially for individuals that strive to be perfect, to take in a more senior person’s vision, trying to mimic it as closely as possible. Instead, Janis recommends teachers show students that inspiration and expression are not primarily the byproducts of learning and practicing. They develop from actively living a varied, diverse life. He points out, in closing the article, that life “is perhaps the most important teacher of all. Hard work alone is not the solution.”

Leadership Questions: When new team members (especially junior ones) join your organization, how much onboarding involves instruction? In contrast, how much onboarding involves getting them started experiencing their new environment and actively doing and trying things right away? What opportunities are you creating to provide room for them to bring personal life learnings to your team to increase diversity and your team’s performance?

Getting Back into Coaching

While Byron Janis’ article emphasizes student-driven and owned learning as a teacher uses a gentler hand, Andrew Beaton’s perspective how active college coaches are in actually coaching raises an intriguing counterpoint.

Beaton points to former University of Texas head football coach, Mack Brown, as a forerunner in the “CEO style of coaching.” With coaches at major programs finding themselves in charge of well over a hundred players and staff (plus a nearly comparable number of prospective students they are monitoring), the head coaching role in college football has changed dramatically. Dedicated coordinators build game plans and make play calls during games. A variety of other “middle managers” assume implementation roles for the team.

Put it all together, and the head coach can feel disconnected and limited during a Saturday game.

That’s why some coaches are reversing the trend. A group that includes new University of Miami coach, Mark Richt, is re-working the head coaching role. Richt is prioritizing working with the team’s quarterbacks, designing game plans, and calling plays during the game. Richt and other coaches are devoting more time toward the Xs and Os of football as a way to tackle the classic dilemma of managers that developed as workers: promotions into senior positions remove them from the strong expertise and performance that originally earned their promotions.

Leadership Questions: If you made the transition from worker to manager in your career, how much time do you spend still doing? Are you doing enough doing to keep your skills and perspectives relevant? Or have you long ago walked away from daily activities that generate the value and benefit your team delivers to internal and external audiences? If you see yourself as too removed from daily team activities, what are the best ways to get closer to what your organization does?

It’s about a Balance that Keeps Moving

As with most leadership topics, the only clear direction is that what you do depends on your situation. And in this case, it may vary by specific team member. All of us as leaders need to determine the right balance to guide and grow our teams, and only you may know the right answer! – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

 

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Facing Innovation Barriers? Here Is Help!

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Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

We have free Brainzooming eBooks for you to help navigate barriers and boost innovation!

 

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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By and large, hotel meetings rooms suck for actually encouraging people to collaborate and work productively.

Hotel-Meeting-Rooms-Suck

That’s why I find myself so frequently trying to manipulate hotel meeting rooms in ways that hotel proprietors never imagined. Most of the time we have to go well beyond what hotels consider standard ways groups will use their meeting rooms when we’re trying to create an effective space for a Brainzooming creative thinking workshop.

12 Reasons Hotel Meeting Rooms Suck for Collaboration

Based on the challenges we typically encounter, here’s my basic list of twelve reasons why hotel meeting rooms suck:

  1. The seating plans cram too many people into rooms to the point where there is no room for people to spread out and think
  2. The room configurations don’t allow for people to move around and collaborate with each other
  3. Valuable wall space (where people can place and react to ideas) is taken up with ugly, bland artwork
  4. They place lights in front of the areas where they set up screens to project images
  5. If there are lights where you need to put a screen, they are always on switches tied to half the lights in the front of the room
  6. They insist on putting the food and beverage in the meeting room where it takes up wall space and/or makes the room stink (instead of using the hallway for food service)
  7. Too many big hotel ballrooms have very low of ceilings so you can’t raise a screen high enough for people in the back to see it
  8. In their room setups, they have no concept of presenters that don’t remain in one spot at the podium
  9. There is never enough room for two different seating configurations that would allow people to move into a new setting for a different activity
  10. They place U-shaped table configurations nearly up to the screen so there’s no room to move about
  11. They insist on skirting things you may need to move around, such as AV carts, screens, and extraneous tables
  12. They typically have all kinds of big, impressive hall space that goes unused

Even at at the last minute, however, you can try things to improve these meeting spaces to boost collaboration.

Last Minute Changes to Boost Collaboration

All those frustrations surfaced the other day as I was pacing back and forth in front of an open hotel meeting room door where I was getting ready to facilitate a Brainzooming workshop. Since it was such a quick turnaround to fly to Chicago to facilitate the workshop (and it was tucked into a much longer meeting), I had no opportunity to influence the room setup.

Hotel-Meeting-Room-Space

Pacing in the hallway and trying to sneak peaks at the meeting room through an open door, I noted incredible wall space outside the room, and no other meetings were taking place. Thankfully, our client agreed with taking the workshop “outside” into the foyer. After the first poster-based exercise, everyone went into the hall for the rest of the Brainzooming workshop. SUDDENLY, we had all the room we needed to boost collaboration.

Yay for flexible clients, lots of wall space in the hall, and no other meetings!

If not for those, a successful creative thinking workshop would have been VERY DIFFICULT to keep from sucking.

Which is one more reason why hotel meeting rooms suck. – Mike Brown

 

Conquer Fears of Business Innovation!

FREE Download: “7 Strategies to Conquer Your Organization’s Innovation Fears”

3d-Cover-Innovation-FearsWhether spoken or unspoken, organizations can send strong messages saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t screw around with it” in a variety of ways. Such messages make it clear that good things do not await those pushing for innovation involving any significant level of risk.

This free Brainzooming innovation eBook identifies seven typical business innovation fears. For each fear, we highlight strategy options to mitigate the fears and push forward with innovative strategies. We tackle:

  • Whether facts or emotional appeals are ideal to challenge fear of innovation-driven change
  • When it is smart to call attention to even bigger fears to motivate progress
  • Situations where your best strategy is taking business innovation underground

Download your FREE copy of 7 Strategies to Conquer Your Organization’s Innovation Fears today!

Download Your FREE eBook! 7 Strategies to Conquer Your Organization's Innovation Fears

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 mentioned upcoming business collaboration opportunities for Brainzooming yesterday, including co-presentations, creating content, and developing new workshop and training offerings.

What to look for in a business collaboration?

Shame on me, but I’ve never put the criteria I look for from a business collaboration into the type of strategic decision making tool we develop for clients. The criteria are in my head. There is a time for everything, however.

Business-Collaboration-2

Here are criteria to evaluate when considering business collaborations:

  • There is a clear way we can be of help to the collaborator.
  • The collaborator brings something different (and complementary) to what we do and offer.
  • The other party shares comparable core business values to us.
  • There is a mutual commitment to learning from the business collaboration.
  • The collaboration will yield mutual benefits.
  • Beyond learning more from the collaboration’s outcomes, it should provide an opportunity to learn about each other and our brand.
  • The collaboration helps us grow in a new way.
  • The collaboration helps us reach a new audience.
  • With an event-based collaboration, it provides opportunities to extend it in strategically smart ways.
  • The other party is as enthusiastic about the possibilities from the collaboration as we are.
  • The collaboration doesn’t have to be completely aligned with what we are trying to do, but giving attention to the collaboration won’t become a distraction to important goals.
  • There is a clear motivation for both of us to invest in the collaboration to make it as successful as possible.
  • There is a mutual contribution from both parties toward the strategy and ideas.
  • There won’t be a big exit cost if the collaboration doesn’t develop successfully.
  • The investment and work to make the collaboration successful is spread among both parties, even if the types of investment in it are markedly different.

There may be more, but thinking back on business collaborations from the past few years, those items characterize the decision making and expected impacts of our varied collaborations.  Mike Brown

10 Keys to Engaging Employees to Improve Strategic Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategic planning and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

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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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We wrote recently about lowering the stakes for sharing creative ideas. Right after that article, The Brainzooming Group facilitated a small innovation strategy workshop with a client.

We discussed the approach for the client’s upcoming thirty-person new process innovation strategy workshop. The question emerged of how much prior thinking to share with the newly involved participants. Our client thought we shouldn’t bias them by initially reviewing the innovation work that had already been done. The concern was that it would limit potentially contrary thinking about ways to improve the internal process they’re seeking to improve. These concerns followed an extended conversation about the value and applicability of having participants complete a pre-workshop survey to gauge their initial thinking and reactions.

We pointed out that bringing a large group together with little preparation and information-sharing would make the workshop way more risky than it should be.

Innovation-Strategy-Workshop

For example, think about the salary cost (and associated risk) of having thirty people (many of them senior leaders) coming together for a day-long innovation strategy workshop without taking advantage of all the inputs we can.  We think lowering risks in these situations ALL THE TIME.

That’s why we never convene people for live, multi-hour innovation strategy workshops without pre-workshop input to understand:

  • What they are thinking
  • Where they see opportunities and challenges, and
  • How we can best organize the in-person time to maximize productivity and efficiency.

Upfront input lowers the risk of an unsuccessful meeting developing.

5 Ways to Lower Risk in an Innovation Strategy Workshop

Here are five ways we lower risks with an in-person workshop:

  1. Carefully selecting participants to get a sufficiently diverse group with as few people as possible.
  2. Reaching out to as big a group as makes sense with pre-workshop surveys or online collaboration sessions so we can introduce their voices and perspectives into the in-person meeting, even if they aren’t physically present.
  3. Sharing as much one-to-many information as we can before the in-person workshop (since it’s often low efficiency time when one person is talking and everyone else is sitting and listening).
  4. Customizing and sequencing exercises based on what participants are thinking and need to accomplish (instead of some standard arrangement that’s always the same).
  5. Creating open space within the meeting where we encourage participants to challenge thinking already advanced by the core team.

With that approach, we can move faster and make an in-person innovation strategy workshop tremendously productive.

If you’d like to learn more about doing the same for your innovation team, contact us! We’d love to fill you in on the approach and how it could look for your organization. – Mike Brown

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

Ready to boost your innovation strategy?

New-10Barriers-Cover-BurstDo you need a quick evaluation to understand your organization’s innovation challenges so you can create a strategy to boost new ideas and successful implementation?

Download “The Ten Big Nos to InNOvating – Identifying the Barriers to Successful Business Innovation.”

This free Brainzooming eBook highlights ten common organizational innovation barriers. A one-page evaluation sets the stage to quickly self-diagnose where to focus your organization’s efforts in customizing a successful innovation initiative.

Download Your FREE eBook! 10 Big NOs to Innovating in Organizations

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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