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How do you help people with varied creative thinking skills perform most productively in a group setting?

We ask ourselves that question regularly, both in a general sense and with specific groups participating in creative thinking sessions we design and facilitate.

If you lead group meetings or teams, you should be asking this question also. If you don’t you’ll waste a lot of your time and others’ time fumbling around and hoping they individually, collectively, and spontaneously apply their creative thinking skills in the best possible way to solve whatever challenge you’ve presented.

From hundreds of formal creativity and strategy sessions and thousands of less formal meetings, here’s how we answer the question. The best way to help people with a wide array of creative thinking skills perform most productively is to provide questions for them to answer.

Sometimes they are simple questions. Other times, the creative thinking questions are more complex or approach an issue from multiple directions.

When you give someone a creative thinking question and some structure, however, you set the stage for people with different perspectives to work together successfully.

Questions and Structure Fostering Creative Thinking Skills

For example, at the Literacy Kansas City strategy session we facilitated, we wanted the group to react (in a constructive, additive way) to in-process planning underway for a new initiative’s launch. After two staff members shared their current plans, we could have moved to a blank flip chart and asked for reactions, which is what happens in most meetings.

Instead, we used the strategy poster in the photo below with targeted creative thinking questions. We designed it to help participants focus on critical success factors, ramifications from implementing a new model, and the metrics needed to measure success. By using multiple questions, people had a target for how they could contribute to the discussion and the planning’s progress.

Session-Poster

At the meeting’s end, one participant told the group she came to the session intimidated and wondering how she’d be able to contribute. After she saw the collaborative approach, however, she realized she had a lot to contribute throughout the day.

That’s a wonderful confirmation for using questions and structure to help people contribute to a productive meeting and a successful strategy.

Next time you’re expected to plan a meeting, spend time thinking about how YOU can help participants tap all their creative thinking skills through questions and structure.

Or if it’s a high-stakes, big, complex meeting, call us. We’ll do the planning for you to get the results you want! – 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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Before tackling the current topic on strategic thinking exercises, I have to admit something: In my capstone MBA strategy class, we ran a business simulation throughout the semester. Upon its completion, my partner and I won an award for our performance. We garnered the “Understock Award” for stocking out of product more than any other team.

Yes, I had created a spreadsheet-based model to perform what-if analysis and forecast our business levels. But my tendency to plan for surviving the downside of a situation led us to repeatedly under-forecast our sales volume in the simulation. Thus we invariably experienced more demand than we had product to satisfy.

Flash forward to last week’s strategy session we designed and facilitated for Literacy Kansas City. The organization, under the leadership of executive director, Carrie Coogan, is a nonprofit advancing literacy for teens and adults in the Kansas City region through direct services, advocacy, and collaboration.

While we were identifying critical success factors for a new Literacy Kansas City program launch, one of the board members announced she was going to play the “Positive Devil’s Advocate” role. By “Positive Devil’s Advocate,” she meant she wanted to plan for overwhelming success with the new program. Would the organization be ready to handle a dramatically higher enrollment than expectations?

Literacy-Kc-Session

Playing the Positive Devil’s Advocate in Strategic Thinking Exercises

This role came up once before in a strategy session. Based on my award-winning tendency to plan for the worst and not for wild success, however, we haven’t developed specific Positive Devil’s Advocate roles in current exercises or designed new strategic thinking exercises focused on dealing with overwhelming success.

We’ll fix that and incorporate the “Positive Devil’s Advocate” role into strategic thinking exercises. It will a bit of a flip to the Black Swan exercise we’ve talked about previously. We’ll also incorporate this role into other exercises, making sure we identify a person to push thinking on wild success wherever it’s appropriate. – Mike Brown

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This new ebook features sixteen strategic thinking exercises to help you ideate, prioritize, and develop your best innovative growth ideas. Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Learn and rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate crowd sourced perspectives into your innovation strategy in smart ways

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It’s fantastic to have Woody Bendle back on the Brainzooming blog after too long away with an admonition to consider going opposite with your new product innovation strategy. Here’s Woody! 

New Product Innovation Strategy – Go Opposite by Woody Bendle

If you are a student or practitioner of new product innovation strategy, you are undoubtedly familiar with the “Go Opposite” strategy.  If you are neither however, the Go Opposite new product innovation strategy is a specific example of an innovation technique sometimes called “Challenge Existing Conventions” that seeks innovation opportunities by going after sacred cows – or purposefully diverging from the herd.

I have recently come across a terrific example that really drives home the Go Opposite new product innovation strategy in running shoes. Consider this depiction of 40 years of running shoes:

Running-Shoe-Trends

From the 1970s through the late 2000s, the prevailing trend in running shoes was the evolution and advancement of materials and technologies.  Shoes became more constructed with better out and midsoles that were designed for runners with different gates and foot-strike patterns.

In 2009, Christopher MacDougall’s book Born to Run (affiliate link) unleashed the “Go Opposite” trend of minimalism and for the next five or so years, nearly every running shoe company introduced an array of minimalism innovations that were designed to emulate the feeling of being barefoot – without actually being barefoot.

Right about the same time as the release of Born to Run, a completely different type of running shoe company started up called Hoka One One.  Rather than following the prevailing trend of minimalism, Hoka (affiliate link) innovated by Going Opposite and produced running shoes with maximal cushioning.  And, for going opposite when it comes to its new product innovation strategy, they have been rewarded with a ton of awards and accolades.

Regardless of the market that you happen to compete in, it is always important to understand the prevailing trends driving your industry.  But just remember, chasing the prevailing trend is usually a pretty crowded space and some terrific innovative opportunities regularly exist by exploring the opposite direction! Woody Bendle

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                                          Affiliate Link

 

Download: FREE Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookAre you making the best use of customer input and market insights to deliver innovation and growth? Creating successful, innovative new products and services has never been more dependent on tapping perspectives from outside your organization.

This new ebook features sixteen strategic thinking exercises to help you ideate, prioritize, and develop your best innovative growth ideas. Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Learn and rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate crowd sourced perspectives into your innovation strategy in smart ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s growth.

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Suppose you are under the gun to get your strategic planning done before the end of the year and time is running out quickly.

The problem is you have delayed strategic planning, the holidays are creeping up, your team is in multiple locations, and there’s no budget or time left to get everyone together. And even IF you did get everyone together, you know the meeting won’t be as innovative and productive as you need to be more successful next year.

What’s an Answer to Your Strategic Planning Questions?

One possibility for answering your nagging strategic planning questions is shutting the door and trying to sketch out next year’s plan all by yourself.

Unfortunately, that’s a crappy answer.

Your team won’t feel involved or have deep buy-in (with good reason) and chances are the plan will be either too incremental (because you’re just trying to slide by) or overly aggressive (because it lacks multiple, realistic perspectives from your team).

What’s an Answer to Your Strategic Planning Questions that Will Work?

So, would you prefer a positive, productive answer to your strategic planning challenge? One that can even make planning interactive, productive, and enjoyable?

If that sounds like what you need to get your planning completed, let us facilitate your strategic planning ONLINE in a Zoomference.

You’re likely asking, “What’s a Zoomference?”

A Zoomference is where we invite your team to address your important opportunities and challenges inside a collaborative, facilitated Brainzooming session that takes place online.

A Zoomference is not just any online hangout where people chat and bounce ideas around.

During a Zoomference, The Brainzooming Group uses its incredibly efficient and engaging strategic planning approach to your bring your team together in one place online. We’ll work with you through the fundamental steps you need for a collaborative plan. In the process, you will see stronger interaction and strategic understanding among your team because of the engaging, stimulating experience. And it will take place in less time than you’d ever imagine possible.

We’ve been using Zoomferences with clients for several years. Amazingly, they can be even more productive and thorough than getting everyone together in one physical location.

How is THAT possible?

Because the online environment lets everyone participate simultaneously, contributing planning ideas. They can also group, rank, and prioritize the group’s strategies so ideas turn into strategic impact with a solid plan.

141116-Zoomference

How do you get started?

Email (info@brainzooming.com) or call us at 816-509-5320 to schedule time to learn how The Brainzooming Group can create a Zoomference to help you address your strategic planning questions and complete your plan for next year while there’s still time.

Trust us; it’s not too late – if you take that first step NOW! – Mike Brown

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Download: FREE Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookAre you making the best use of customer input and market insights to deliver innovation and growth? Creating successful, innovative new products and services has never been more dependent on tapping perspectives from outside your organization.

This new ebook features sixteen strategic thinking exercises to help you ideate, prioritize, and develop your best innovative growth ideas. Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Learn and rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate crowd sourced perspectives into your innovation strategy in smart ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s growth.

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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During our Brainzooming “Outside-In Innovation” workshop at the Compete Through Service Symposium, participants applied several of our benefits-based strategic thinking exercises.

These inter-related strategic thinking exercises help explore higher-impact benefits. These longer benefit lists highlight new innovation opportunities, improve messaging, and suggest potential competitors.

One participant struggled on the strategic thinking exercise to identify competitors. Participants were trying to list three types of organizations delivering comparable benefits to their own. The three types are:

  • Expected competitors – Those on a brand’s typical competitor list
  • Surprising competitors – Dissimilar organizations that could still clearly be competitors
  • Left Field competitors – Completely non-traditional, out of category organizations that could possibly compete with yours

As an example, here’s a left field competitor someone identified. A health insurance company selected Google as a left field competitor. Google has massive amounts of information on healthcare needs. It could also introduce ways to collect more. Additionally, Google has dabbled with delivering online healthcare.

The participant stymied in pushing his thinking on left field competitors asked for help to push further.

Left-Field-Fenway

Two Other Ideas to Imagine Potential Left Field Competitors

As is often the case, one great way to push your thinking into new areas is to combo multiple strategic thinking exercises.

Strategic Thinking Exercise Idea 1 – What’s It Like?

If you’re challenged by identifying unlikely but potentially emerging competitors, you can combo the benefits approach with the “What’s It Like” strategic thinking exercise.

In “What’s It Like,” you list five diverse characteristics of your business situation. You use this list to explore others organizations facing the same types of generalized situations.

To imagine more unusual potential competitor possibilities, you could pick various combinations of only two of the five characteristics. What left field competitors might match just two characteristics similar to yours? The answer can still tie to what you do. But using only two common characteristics should create room for a wilder exploration of potential left field competitors.

Strategic Thinking Exercise Idea 2 – What’s Getting in the Way?

The recent story we shared from Armada Corporate Intelligence about how the Oreo brand is staying fresh inspired another way to spot left field competitors.

Oreo identified online video games as a competitor. The reasons were consumers play with video games – and spend discretionary dollars on them – while they wait in retail lines instead of looking at (and buying from) Oreo point-of-sale displays.

Cookies and online video games competing is a pretty left field comparison, if you ask me.

You can identify comparable left field competitor comparisons. Explore how else your customers may be using the time, attention, and resources they usually would have used to buy from your brand. Even more critically, examine other brands, in or out of your market, that are inserting themselves and disrupting the traditional buying process.

Why imagine left field competitors?

If you wonder about the value of identifying left field competitors, consider the benefit to Borders Books, Tower Records, and any cell phone company of imagining Apple as a far-off competitor twenty years ago! – Mike Brown

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Download: FREE Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookAre you making the best use of customer input and market insights to deliver innovation and growth? Creating successful, innovative new products and services has never been more dependent on tapping perspectives from outside your organization.

This new ebook features sixteen strategic thinking exercises to help you ideate, prioritize, and develop your best innovative growth ideas. Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Learn and rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate crowd sourced perspectives into your innovation strategy in smart ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s growth.

 

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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So, CAN analogies change the world?

That’s the bold claim conveyed in the headline of a Wall Street Journal article pulled from the book, “Shortcut: How Analogies Reveal Connections, Spark Innovation, and Sell Our Greatest Ideas.” The book is by Jon Pollack, a former Bill Clinton speechwriter (affiliate link).

Given we’ve tried to spend more time on how to generate analogies as part of strategic thinking exercises, this may be one of those books I will kick myself for not writing!

In any event, the Wall Street Journal article highlights four ‘rules” for gaining the greatest values from analogies. All of them include sound advice and intriguing examples. They are all worthwhile to include within your repertoire of strategic thinking exercises.

Apples-Orange-LO

Four Rules for Discovering Analogies

Here are Pollacks four rules for discovering analogies, in my own words:

1. Challenge all the typical analogies

The analogies you always hear may have some value because they have stood the test of time. Even so, it’s smart to

Pollack’s Example: The Wright Brothers saw an analogy between flying machines and bicycles because of their instability and the dynamics of balance.

2. Don’t settle for identifying just one analogy

When it comes to analogies, the same principle holds as with ideas: the more the better since you have the ability to try many of them and determine which are most effective.

Pollack’s Example: Darwin employed two fundamentals to hypothesize about evolution: water eroding grains of sand and agricultural breeding were applied to his views of gradual change.

3. Include a wide range of sources for your analogies

You won’t open a book and find all the ready-made analogies you’ll need to solve your problem or explore new ideas. Be prepared to take pieces from multiple, unusual sources and apply them in new ways.

Pollack’s Example: Bill Klann, a Ford mechanic, is credited with the original inspiration for the assembly line. The key analogy came from disassembling carcasses on a line at a meatpacking plant. Re reversed it to apply to assembly of cars, instead.

4. Make things as simple as possible

The strategic thinking trick is to combine multiple analogies without so over-burdening them that complexity takes over and they lose value. In this case, more shouldn’t just be less. It should also be elegantly simple.

Pollack’s Example: Steve Jobs (of course there has to be a Steve Jobs example) applied the idea Xerox idea of a digital desktop to a simple interface that could open access to computing for large audiences.

Strategic Thinking Exercises to Explore Analogies

Here is a sampling of previous Brainzooming strategic thinking exercises on finding and using analogies:

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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The 25th, Compete Through Service Symposium produced by the Arizona State University Center for Services Leadership was fantastic! There were so many great speakers and intriguing discussions. I was honored to facilitate two workshops on Outside-in Service Innovation and using strategic thinking exercises to expand an organization’s thinking and innovation results.

Speaking of strategic thinking exercises, looking back over my Compete Through Service notes and tweets, here are important points that all seem as if they are begging to become strategic thinking exercises. We will be sending all of these to the Brainzooming R&D lab and see what develops from them!

Danny-White

Former Dallas Cowboy Quarterback, Danny White

Mary Murcott, President, The Customer Experience Institute, Dialog Direct

Culture, a provocative point of view, and simplicity drive service innovation.

To disrupt through simplicity, try to enable people to do more, re-imagine the service experience, remove friction in processes, and figure out how to save people time. (This idea has already become an organizing slide in the Outside-In Service Innovation workshop.)

Mike Gaithright, Director, Americas Customer Services, Amazon.com

The Jeff Bezos formula is obsess over customers, think long term, and innovate.

Amazon looks at opportunities as either one-way or two-way doors. A one-way door is a situation where once you make the decision and commit, you can’t return to where you were. With a two-way door opportunity, you can go right back if something is wrong. Amazon goes big, bold, and fast in two-way door situations.

With customer service, treat your customer as you would a friend. Ask yourself, “What would I do to help my friend when something goes wrong?” Then go out and do that.

Brad Haeberle, Vice President, Siemens

People will pay a lot of money for services that take pain off their lap. Or ask customers how they use your product and commercialize that – you’ll make a lot of money.

Accounting systems go against service innovation. You can depreciate product development investments, but typically can’t with a service.

Erik Peterson, Partner, A.T. Kearney

“Power is ‘easier to get, harder to use and easier to lose.’” – Erik Peterson quoting one of his associates

Derrick Hall, President and CEO, Arizona Diamondbacks

During a period of intense change, reach one person at a time. Don’t allow a single call or email to go unanswered when going through change. Even better, meet with people individually and personally to communicate and bring them into the change.

Have an arrival party for new employees. Don’t invest in going-away parties, making a big splash for someone who doesn’t want to work for you anymore.

Bridget Duffy, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Vocera Communications

The first question to hospital patients (or any customer in a daunting, stressful situation) should be, “What are you most concerned about and how we can address that?”

Develop an “Always Event” list spelling out the customer experience that always has to be in place. One question to help identify easy things to add to the Always Event list is, “What one moment in the experience most touched your heart?”

When you’re trying to tackle major customer experience issues, don’t try to solve everything at once or start with the hardest thing to fix.

Mavericks have to be willing to be burned at the stake.

Danny White, former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback

Failure is a resource. It helps you find the edge of your limitations. – Danny White quoting from the book You2

Ray Barton, Chairman of the Board, Great Clips

How do you ensure the brand experience’s consistency when it has to be carried out by other, non-employee parties? Simplicity and consistency in message and behaviors is the key. With simple messages and behaviors comes the ability for other parties to know what to do and when.

Boredom is the enemy of simplicity and focus. When an organization has figured out what works, it can’t afford to get bored and complicate what works.

Randy Wootton, VP Premier Products, salesforce.com

When you create an app or another capability to monitor how a user is using your product or service, it gives you the incredible opportunity to provide improvement recommendations to users based on broad experiences.

Stephen W. Brown, Professor Emeritus – Marketing, Arizona State University

Collaboration with customers is an incredibly strong opportunity. A brand can co-design, co-develop, co-produce, co-deliver  services with its customers.

“To be successful, you have to put your brand out there and be vulnerable.”

Mike Brown

 

Download: FREE Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookAre you making the best use of customer input and market insights to deliver innovation and growth? Creating successful, innovative new products and services has never been more dependent on tapping perspectives from outside your organization.

This new ebook features sixteen strategic thinking exercises to help you ideate, prioritize, and develop your best innovative growth ideas. Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Learn and rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate crowd sourced perspectives into your innovation strategy in smart ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s growth.

 

 

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

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