Innovation | The Brainzooming Group - Part 3 – page 3
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You’re leading a major new initiative for your organization. It’s kind of a big deal. Since you’re leading it, that means a lot of other people ARE NOT leading it. Nearly all of them are fine with that. It’s one fewer thing to be responsible for beyond their regular day jobs.

One person, however, resents the hell out of your leading the initiative.

This person (let’s make him a guy, because we all know, it’s almost always a guy) knows that HE should be leading the initiative. It’s HIS area of expertise. HE has the best experience. He’s been around longer than you have, is known by all the key executives, and basks in his reputation as always wanting to be the one credited with making things happen.

He sees the new initiative you are leading quite plainly: YOU are going to get the credit if things go well. In his twisted way, if YOU are getting credit for a success, that makes HIM look worse. That leaves only one option: do everything possible (without calling attention to it) to sabotage you, the initiative, and its ultimate success.

What leadership strategy should you employ to succeed while dealing with this type of pernicious corporate antagonist?

The expected answer is probably to keep the corporate antagonist as far away from the initiative as possible.

An Unconventional Leadership Strategy with a Corporate Antagonist

When a new executive at a company faced this situation, I counseled him to instead adopt a leadership strategy where he invites the antagonist into all the planning activities for the new initiative.

The advice surprised him.

Here’s the reason for suggesting it. Inviting the corporate antagonist into the heart of the process forces him to openly share his resistance. Participating in everything, he will be part of a lot of strategy setting, review points, and decisions. Across those opportunities, he’s going to have to either constructively participate or use crazy levels of subterfuge to hide the sabotage he really hopes to carry out successfully. If he elects to go the route of trying to jam things ups for the new initiative later, the initiative leader will have documented a whole array of comments and involvement to challenge and confront the duplicity.

According to the new executive, the strategy is working. The antagonist feels involved. He’s having to go public with several biases and perennial weak spots in his leadership style as he tries to protect his previous work.

In this case, keeping a business ally close and a corporate antagonist even closer is working even when it seems an unconventional leadership strategy. – Mike Brown

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Last week, The Brainzooming Group was in San Francisco for the Social Media Strategies Summit, where Mike presented a content marketing strategy workshop and a talk on collaborative engagement. In the workshop, he brought up the idea of turning seemingly boring brands into cool brands. That’s important, because brand strategy has everything to do with cool. This is true even if you’re an industrial brand, as Mike pointed out:

Well, okay, you might be thinking, But there’s nothing cool about our brand. There’s no fire. We’re completely utilitarian, unhip, the least sexy service on the planet. Possibly the galaxy. Hear me, friend: no matter what you do, there’s something inherently cool about your services, your product, your people, and maybe even all three. Marcel Proust was spot on when he wrote that the voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. So let’s see about getting some new eyes and putting them to work for you.

3 Keys to Creating Cool Brands from Boring Brands

1. Define Cool

Start by making sure your definition is up to date. Cool used to be a narrow space occupied by a select few, but that isn’t the case any longer. Its definition has expanded, if not outright exploded, and now there’s much more space at this particular table. Within the current landscape, here are a few traits I see that fit inside the broad category of cool brands:

  • On trend
  • Intelligent
  • Humanitarian
  • Rebellious
  • Kind
  • Honest
  • Clever
  • Unique
  • Consistent
  • Simple

What makes these things cool? It all boils down to the same thing. And despite its recent run as an overused buzzword, at its core it’s all that matters. It’s authenticity, of course. When something is true, we know it on an instinctual level that can be hard to quantify. Perhaps it’s easier to quantify its opposite. It’s a scientific fact that phoniness disguised as authenticity creeps us out. To paraphrase the incisively smart Eve Callahan from Umpqua Bank, whose presentation at the Social Media Strategies Summit left my brain…well, zooming: humans are great at spotting blanks.

But when we’re interacting with authenticity, there’s a sense of order and peace about the interaction. There’s even, dare I say, a sense of fun and creativity about it. In this unreliable world, authenticity is as cool as it gets. So whether you’re authentically kind, consistent, rebellious, clever, or something else altogether: you’re cool. Humans love authenticity. (It’s essential for excellence. If excellence were a planet, authenticity would be its carbon, the basis for all its life forms.)

Chances are, your organization can identify two or three of these as descriptors, but generally there’s a standout trait in what you do and how you do it that’s become, in the mind of your customer, a kind of shorthand for your identity. (If that makes you nervous, don’t worry, just keep reading: this is going to help.)

2. Ask Your People

So what is that standout trait? Ask your people. For our purposes, “your people” comprises customers, colleagues, higher-ups, partners, collaborators, and, if possible, competitors. Reach out to as many as possible to get their input. You can do this in person (quickly ask someone on your way to a meeting, or when you’re grabbing a coffee, and jot down their answer), via email, via text, over the phone, using an online survey or collaboration — you get the picture. If you can get everyone to respond on one platform, that’s great, but it’s not necessary. What’s definitely necessary is to have the feedback of multiple representatives from each group.

When you feel you’ve gotten either as much feedback as you need, or as much as you’re going to get, take a close look at it. What words come up most often? Which one most closely matches your brand promise?* Once you’ve identified that, you can move on to the fun part.

3. Amp it Up

This is where you bring it to life. Set aside some planning time, then take that ineffable cool that’s central to your organization and walk it through every available venue. If you can include a couple of trusted associates to help, all the better. Make your cool the lens through which you see, the starting point of everything you do. What does honesty (or rebellion, or intelligence, or kindness, etc.) look like in social-first content, in print, over radio? What does it look it in customer service, in an internal newsletter, in an all-hands-on-deck meeting? How does a fundamentally honest organization start and end the business day?

Chances are, your organization’s doing some (or many!) of these things already, but you’ll find that you’re coming up with simple-to-implement ideas that had never occurred to you before. And while you can’t possibly change everything you’d like to change, there’s probably a whole lot you can amp up to shine a big spotlight on what make your cool brand as cool as it is. Which has the potential to drastically improve the strength and success of your entire organization.

And that’s pretty cool. Emma Alvarez Gibson

*If they don’t match, perhaps it’s time for a little internal disruptive thinking?

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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 was talking with someone who was wondering aloud about how to boost the creative thinking skills of a group made up primarily of fact- and logic-driven individuals. Think accountants, engineers, compliance officers, and others in right-wrong answer professions.

What a great (and challenging) question. We’ve faced a few situations like this. We don’t deal with it more frequently because we consciously push in advance for diverse groups to engage in creative thinking and innovation workshops.

3 Ways to Find Strong Creative Thinking Skills in Logic-Oriented Groups

In response to the question, we shared several ideas to identify the participants more likely to display strong creative thinking skills within a group setting such as the one described.

via Shutterstock

1. Profile the Participants Upfront

The first step is to identify the participants most likely to display strong creative thinking skills by asking someone within the organization to profile each participant. They can do this based on their strategic thinking perspectives alone. They might also profile them based on the types of voices each will bring to a group setting.

2. Ask the Math and Music Question

To identify those most likely to display robust creative thinking skills within a logic-oriented group, look for the math and music people. Invariably, people with interests and aptitudes in both math and music are versatile thinkers. They can more easily disengage from the purely logical side to think imaginatively. You can insert a question about who enjoys math AND music within an ice breaker exercise or within a sign-up sheet asking various questions.

3. Have the Group Perform an Abstract Task

Another possibility is to give the group an abstract ice breaker task with no obvious right or wrong answer. Ideally, the exercise should push participants outside their comfort zones. Even mentioning such an exercise will cause many of them to balk or pout. Most of the rest will display that behavior while doing it. Some of them, however, will have fun. Those individuals are signaling more openness to creativity through their behavior. One ice breaker question we’ve used that happened to work will in this regard was, “What is the last thing on your mind?” Participant’s answers made it clear who could have fun with the question, and who just thought it was the dumbest question ever. An exercise that works well is telling them that you are going to teach them to draw a cartoon. It always works (everyone winds up realizing they can draw) and always unveils the participants interested in doing new things.

No Guarantees, but these Provide Possibilities

While none of these approaches is guaranteed, they can all help identify participants with stronger creative thinking skills. You will want to make sure you spread these individuals throughout any small groups. This will help create more focus on generating ideas versus analyzing them to death! – Mike Brown

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For the first six years of The Brainzooming Group, I published a list near our anniversary date with twenty-five lessons learned or reconfirmed in the most recent year away from full-time corporate life. I skipped the article for two years as the pace and focus of business expanded.

When things took a dramatic stop, turn, and figure out how to regroup recently, I revisited the idea, figuring I HAD to have learned or reconfirmed many lessons during the two-year hiatus for this previously annual article.

35 Lessons Learned (or Reconfirmed) in the Last Two Years Away from Corporate Life

Here is what I have from these last two years away from corporate life:

  1. Be careful about being too exact in what you pray for, thinking that is what you want. You may get it only to find it is exactly NOT what you wanted.
  2. If you’re an entrepreneur coming up with an idea, the core is built around you, no matter how much you want to open the doors for a group to collaborate.
  3. After you run on so little sleep for some time, it seems (at least for me) that daily activities and interactions do not have enough opportunity to imprint on the brain, making them even more of a blur.
  4. Build the things that make sense for the heart of the business. Find the team that makes sense with the core, not the other way around.
  5. You can’t blindly depend on what you have depended on before.
  6. Work your ass off more, but talk about it less.
  7. Even if you don’t write down a strategy, have a strategy to shape all the decisions you make.
  8. If you can remain strategic, things continue to fit together even if you had not been thinking through how they might fit together. That does not mean it happens as quickly as you might like, though.
  9. Many things seem to be easier for others to do for you than for yourself.
  10. You’re not going to have all the talents you need, but you may have some talents that you’ve never given yourself credit for having.
  11. It’s one thing to have the foundation in place, but you need the talents to take advantage of the foundation and to build on it.
  12. Don’t settle. Maybe you wait, but don’t settle.
  13. If someone checks out, they are not likely to check back in.
  14. It is easy to say you are thankful to important people. It is not as easy to clearly demonstrate your thankfulness to them.
  15. Get the resources you need to be able to make better long-term decisions. That may be money. It may be something else. But if you are having to make huge compromises because of missing resources, you’ll be compromising long-term success daily.
  16. I learned early on in a professional services business that your time is your inventory and you can always create more inventory. There is a limit to that strategy, though. At some point, it is not worth your time to sacrifice your time to create more time inventory.
  17. Say no more often (all the time?) to off-strategy opportunities.
  18. Once you learn something solidly, it’s comfortable to put yourself into positions where you are subtly re-learning it. AVOID THAT AT ALL COSTS. Skip the 1% confirmation learning and go for the 65% learnings that come from new situations.
  19. Don’t over-leverage on any resources: financial, people, a customer, capabilities, etc. As difficult as it might seem to avoid over-leveraging, an entrepreneur can’t afford the crippling downside effects if things go wrong. There are OTHER ways to scale.
  20. Seeing a mistake and understanding a mistake are distinctly different activities versus actually going back to fix the mistake. That is where successful people set themselves apart from everyone else.
  21. Try to be ready to cleanly cut the cord on anything at any time you might need to do so. It would be great if that were a 100% (ALWAYS BE READY AT ALL TIMES), but hey, you’re an entrepreneur. You’re working on the margins.
  22. It is disconcerting to realize there is a reality around you that you have no idea exists until someone clues you in to what it is.
  23. It is very possible to re-set your personal story. It does not happen by accident, though, and it requires more concerted effort than setting your personal story the first time.
  24. Get to meetings early and keep your back to the wall.
  25. When you smell a problem, keep forcing the issue.
  26. Shit doesn’t always happen for a reason, but there is always a reason to get your shit together and keep moving ahead.
  27. The lyrics in that one Christina Aguilera song. All of them.
  28. Some important conversations ALWAYS begin the same way.
  29. Once you’ve founded something, no one is EVER going to be co-anything with you.
  30. Your initial ideas on timing and when things should happen are probably right. Stick to them.
  31. People dump growth stocks. Be prepared for your version of a micro-market crash.
  32. You may never realize the important people that love what you are doing until you need them most because you are all out of options.
  33. The corporation you left will hardly notice your absence. It carries on just fine without you. That does not mean it is not great to go back and see the people you worked with and reconfirm that it was the right thing to leave when you did.
  34. That development that seems so crushing? You’ll move on. Believe in that. YOU WILL MOVE ON.
  35. There is an inherent value to ordering your life around a set of interdependent priorities to keep everything in check. Having deliberately walked away from that order the past two years, I can attest that I am weaker overall, even though the one area where I concentrated remains solid.

As I said, that’s what I have from the last two years. Let’s see what the next year holds. If you have reactions or thoughts on what you’ve learned moving away from corporate life, please share them over on our Facebook page. – Mike Brown

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Need to challenge your team to being imagining the future, realizing it may look hardly anything like today?

Originating in a long-term future visioning exercise we designed and facilitated for a client, we developed these questions to prompt a group’s thinking about dramatic future change. The point was to push them to consider the future as something other than a trend line based on yesterday and today.

Strategic Thinking Questions to Imagine a Radically Different Future

Photo via Shutterstock

Once you provide hypotheses on what you suspect the future will be like in your market, these strategic thinking questions are productive to reinforce dramatic changes ahead.

Ask the team (whether individually or in small groups), what if our future were:

  1. Seemingly magical?
  2. Totally surprising and unexpected at every turn?
  3. Unbelievably scary and threatening?
  4. All about only addressing exceptions from what was expected?
  5. Totally automated and run by robots?
  6. Rapid fire?
  7. Filled with data at every turn?
  8. Devoid of personal, face-to-face communication?
  9. Run by 125-year old people that haven’t reached retirement age yet?
  10. Run by 16-year-olds with 10x more intellectual horsepower, knowledge, experience, and energy than people five times their age?
  11. Playing out fine with no need for human involvement?
  12. Completely unpredictable?
  13. Unlike ANYTHING we have known so far?

Coupled with other exercises to envision a radically different future, these strategic thinking questions, all rooted in projected trends, will help push the group to consider new perspectives you need to prepare to address. – Mike Brown

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What personal success strategies do high performers employ to get and stay ahead in business?

Morton T. Hansen, a business professor at the University of California, Berkley, tackles that question in a new book: Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More. (affiliate link)

According to Hansen’s article about the book in The Wall Street Journal, and based on a multi-year study of five thousand business people, the key difference in personal success strategies is the ability to be selective in taking on priorities and activities. High performers narrow the range of assignments they address and pour themselves into initiatives with intensity.

Four Personal Success Strategies for High Performers

Hansen lists four behaviors and perspectives to support selectivity for high performers:

  1. Reducing and simplifying activities
  2. Making specific trade-offs relative to new priorities
  3. Basing their work around value creation
  4. Innovating work process through varied strategies

These four personal success strategies provide a menu from which to improve your personal and team performance.

1. Simplifying Processes and Activities

Hansen discusses simplification and doing as few things as possible as important success factors. As he describes the strategy, it entails doing, “as few (things) as you can, as many as you must.”

One way to separate activities and priorities that deserve attention from those that don’t is through determining:

  • How much ability you possess to change something
  • The degree to which there is a return associated with a positive change.

Being able to make a big change with a significant return suggests an initiative to prioritize. To operationalize the strategy, we employ these questions:

  • Who is this initiative very important to, and how do they reward high performance?
  • Who would notice the impact of ignoring this?
  • At what point will the standards of everyone that matters already have been surpassed?

Within an organizational setting, there is a tendency to over-engineer simple. The simple way to simplify is to aim for as few moving parts as possible.

2. Making Trade-Offs with New Priorities

High performers are aggressive reprioritizers. In the face of new assignments and expectations, they say yes to the right things and no to things that will distract them and reduce performance.

One effective way to prioritize is to force yourself to make yes and no decisions. You can accomplish this by writing all your potential priorities on individual sticky notes. Place them on a wall or desk and select two priorities and compare them. Ask, “If I could only accomplish one of these priorities, which one is more important?” Place the priority you selected at the top of the wall or desk, with the other, lesser priority below.

Pick up another sticky note, asking the same question relative to the top-most sticky note. If the new sticky note is a more important priority, it goes on top, and the other moves down. If it’s not more important, keep moving down and asking the question (Is this one more important or is that one?) relative to each sticky note until it’s appropriately placed based on its importance.

This simple model provides a quick prioritization to help determine which priorities warrant focus when everything seems important.

3. Focusing on Value Creation

Concentrating on high-value-creation activities is another element setting high performers apart from others. Instead of checking every box on a to-do list, these individuals concentrate on activities where they can deliver the greatest value for internal and/or external customers.

Part of understanding value creation is being in touch with customers to stay abreast of how THEY perceive and prioritize value. Absent this knowledge, you run the risk of spending time and attention on activities of lesser importance.

We recommend asking three questions to identify value opportunities. You may answer them yourself, but they take on tremendous importance when those you serve provide input, so we encourage you to ask them, too.

  1. What do I deliver that provides tremendous value for others?
  2. What do I deliver that doesn’t provide real value for others?
  3. What do I focus on that has the potential for tremendous value, but falls short because of too little attention or focus?

Answers to the first and second questions should re-confirm the priorities from the previous trade-off exercise. Answers to the third question highlight areas that perhaps can become priorities through eliminating the distractions you identify in question two.

4. Innovating Processes

Hansen found that one way high-performing individuals add value is through improving processes that lead to high performance for others. You can use the priorities providing tremendous value as a starting point to look for innovation opportunities to enhance value to upstream and downstream individuals in your work processes.

For those upstream in the process, think through the view, style, and expertise this person will put into the work product for which you’ll assume responsibility. Identify where you can provide actionable feedback to better coordinate the activities between you.

For those after you in a process, identify what they expect from you. How can you anticipate what they may struggle with to help them work through challenging parts more successfully?

Enhancing Your Personal Success Strategy

Based on Hansen’s work, simplifying, prioritizing, maximizing value, and innovating are vital personal success strategies to lead you to high performance. Does that match your formula? – 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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Before an impending purge of The Wall Street Journal back issues in my office, I reviewed an article from a late December 2017 issue: The New Age of Bespoke Travel. The article, by Nina Sovich, details how certain travel agents have reinvented themselves to compete when online trip planning now dominates over help from actual travel agents.

Photo by Dmitry Sovyak on Unsplash

The article inspired a laundry list of strategic thinking exercise prompts to re-imagine a threatened business model when your service offering is under assault from online offerings, bots, or some other form of complete automation.

A New Strategic Thinking Exercise

Here is how we see this new strategic thinking exercise coming together.

First, detail all the elements of your current service offering. Afterward, re-imagine what you could offer based on these generalized strategic moves travel agents are implementing successfully:

Customer Focus

Extraordinary Customer Service

  • Provide mega-personalized customer service
  • Offer 24/7 availability and assured communication WHENEVER the customer wants it
  • Remove EVERY worry customers in your market harbor
  • Remove ALL complexity before, during, and after your service
  • Establish unquestioned trust in your performance
  • Provide intense troubleshooting for ANY problems that arise – whether related to your actions or not

Amazing Expertise and Experiences

  • Develop and offer COMPLETE knowledge of your category
  • Offer highly-detailed upfront planning, customized for each client
  • Share more potential ideas / options than anyone would imagine
  • Create exclusive access to incredible experiences
  • Address customer needs outside the typical service boundaries your competitors adhere to
  • Design unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities
  • Integrate high-value, unique partnerships into the service offering

New Pricing Structures

  • Create a subscription-based price with no cost per interaction / service request
  • Establish a high-priced initiation fee and sizable annual spending minimums
  • Create an annual fee with a minimum spending volume beyond the fee

This strategic thinking exercise is straight from the Brainzooming R&D Labs. We don’t have any real-life stories to offer you yet on how it works in practice.

We’re excited about the possibilities of this strategic thinking exercise, though, and will probably try it out first on some Brainzooming service lines. – Mike Brown

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  • 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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