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It’s been quite some time since Alan Black, Ph.D., CSP, DLA, guest posted on Brainzooming. Based in Athens, GA, but a true global traveler, Alan’s mission is to travel the world to help spark the increased development of Creative Thinking everywhere he can in every way he can. Here is Alan’s take on pushing beyond a single answer to embrace excessive creative thinking!

EXCESSIVE CREATIVE THINKING by Alan Black

For thirteen years, from K to 12th grade, children are taught to memorize the SINGLE CORRECT ANSWER in all their classes.  Seldom are they encouraged or taught how to generate multiple answers.

So, what might EXCESSIVE CREATIVE THINKING be?

Instead of asking WHAT IS IT? or WHAT WAS IT? or who, when, where or how a specific thing happened or happens, what if teachers began to ask:

What, Who, When, Where, Why, How MIGHT it happen?

Or

What, Who, When, Where, Why, How ELSE it may happen?

Instead of asking for the ANSWERS in the back of the accepted teacher’s manual for a course, why not encourage students to generate multiple possible to probable to perhaps provable potential ideas that may lead to workable solutions.

Such EXCESSIVE Creative Thinking is purely that: CREATIVE THINKING.

Around the world, professions, occupations, businesses, schools, and governments drastically need CREATIVE IDEAS more so today than ever in history.

Yet children and adults are taught to know the RIGHT ANSWER, the CORRECT SINGLE ANSWER.

Try this with your students, employees, or family members this week.

Instead of asking for a specific, in the back of the teacher’s answer book answer, ask for 6 possible, probable, or potential ideas.  Once they respond with 6 ideas, automatically begin asking for 12. Then 24. Then 144.

Push, pull, encourage your students, employees, and family members to THINK CREATIVELY first.  Then select the most acceptable, fun, new idea and turn it into a solution. – Alan Black

Mike Brown

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

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Ten years ago, last week, I gave what I’ve always considered my worst presentation ever.

I call it my “Lee Harvey Oswald presentation.”

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

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

Public Speaking Skills and My Worst Presentation Ever

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Michael Irvin

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

Why do I call it my Lee Harvey Oswald presentation?

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

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

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

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An April story in Fortune suggests, in so many words, that TED Talks are enough to break open the flow of ideas in your organization. It detailed how TED and its CEO, Chris Anderson, are trying to aggressively penetrate the corporate event strategy and production market. Targeting Fortune 500 companies for revenue, TED is pitching its event strategy production capabilities (with full conferences and Salon events), popular TED Talks speakers and TED fellows, speaking workshops, and even space at its headquarters to immerse in the TED vibe.

Rubbing elbows with the TED brand is pricey. The article reports the cost of the TED crew’s producing a one-day conference for your organization starts at $1.5 million. That involves a healthy premium for the TED brand and the halo from its well-known production look and feel.

An Event Strategy to Tell Your Stories and Ideas

While the multi-million-dollar investment takes many organizations out of the TED Talks event strategy market, the need for high-impact corporate events exists in many companies. Some get it right, too many don’t. That is why too many conferences with the potential for game-changing impact fizzle: they fail to embrace an event strategy incorporating the important basics that TED delivers in its conferences.

If you are looking to an event strategy that creates impact but TED is not the answer, try these practices TED masters. You can emulate all of them to improve your internal meetings:

1. Pick a Theme and Use It for All It’s Worth

TED events feature intriguing themes that set the tone for the featured presentations. You can use a theme to help your audience understand the presenters and the overarching message you want them to take back to their daily work. The easy part is placing a theme on slides, lanyards, and posters at the venue. The challenging, and much more important aspect, is developing the right theme and using it to drive EVERYTHING you do with the conference.

Here are several suggestions for exploring the right theme:

  • Don’t delay selecting a theme until late in the conference preparation. Invest time early to develop the theme so it drives all your event planning and execution.
  • Create a theme that ties both previous and future activities within your organization. It should feel as if it springs from your culture, but also challenge and inspire your team to future successes.
  • Strategically tie everything to the theme leading up to, during, and after the event. Repeatedly communicate it from the stage, using it to link the speakers and the messages they share. Doing this elevates a theme from a few spiffy words to a powerful communication tool that helps instill and align strategy.

Remember: a great meeting theme will work hard to align your activities and reinforce your messages during the meeting and afterward.

2. Feature People with Untold Stories

The easy answer for any organization’s conference is putting all the executives on stage, whether they are dynamic presenters or duds. That’s not the TED approach. To paraphrase its direction, TED looks for stories that haven’t been told and ideas worth sharing. That’s a very different direction than essentially turning the company organization chart into a conference agenda.

Look for untold stories and shareable ideas inside and outside the company that effectively convey the theme. Reach into your organization for stories of successes, learnings, innovations, and personal accomplishments. Not every story has to be fact-driven. Emotion is a major component of TED events. An audience will remember personal stories carrying messages of struggle, hope, and overcoming challenges far longer than a senior executive’s PowerPoint full of business statistics!

Sharing the stage with new presenters featuring relevant, albeit different types of stories, introduces risks. You will be putting untested people on the stage. Lower this risk by working with the presenters to hone their stories and delivery. Identify what they want to share, and find ways to help them streamline messages, linking ideas to the theme. Simplify talking points, eliminate text-based PowerPoint in favor of compelling images, inject emotion, and help them practice many times to gain comfort and familiarity with presenting. You will find that the right speakers with strong stories will carry the day, no matter their organizational titles.

3. Develop a Format and Flow that Works for Your People

TED employs a couple of standard talks, the longest of which is eighteen minutes. While that strategy is great for later packaging thousands of talks as videos, it creates a monotonous in-person experience. The take-away from TED is to plan for brief, focused talks compared to typical corporate meeting presentations. Whether it’s ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, select shorter speaking times, ditch the podium (as TED does), and give speakers some flexibility to use a format that showcases individual speaking talents.

While you may want to start the conference with the CEO delivering his or her message, we suggest caution. The best conference flows mimic frequently-used patterns in concerts, comedy routines, and firework shows: start with the second strongest element you have and end with the strongest one. In between, arrange other elements to maximize moments of excitement, drama, surprise, and quiet. Within this framework, look for the best places to showcase senior executives delivering messages tied to the theme.

TED events do a stellar job in staging and production. Never underestimate how these variables shore up speakers that might not be as strong as you would like. Even if your meeting budget falls FAR short of the $1.5 million TED price tag, using a solid outside production company is generally money well spent. The right production team will bring experience across conferences along with lighting, sound, and other resources to maximize your event’s impact.

Developing Your Event Strategy for Impact!

Obviously, this doesn’t cover everything you need to know to create a TED-like event. It may surprise you (or maybe not), that strategic creative production for corporate events is something The Brainzooming Group regularly does for clients.

If you are facing this type of challenge, contact us, and let’s chat about ideas. We love see an organization chart a new course and succeed dramatically with a breakthrough event! Mike Brown

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Emma Alvarez Gibson is here today, as a Gen Xer, to get the multi-generational workforce on the same program. Well, maybe as a first step, to get the Baby Boomers and Millennials to understand there are options for them (beyond whining to the Gen Xers) to upgrade their own performance and make more sense to each other. Because the Gen Xers have their own work to get done, and translating for all of you is making it tough for them.

Short story, it’s a powder keg out there in the multi-generational workforce, so here is to making it a little safer!

Field Notes: A Gen Xer Speaks to the Multi-generational Workforce from Emma Alvarez Gibson

Hello, colleagues.

We have a pretty decent working relationship, don’t we? We are gracious and professional, we exchange pleasantries even when we don’t have to, and we weather the ups and downs of corporate life together, or anyway near one another. Things are fine! I think we probably all agree on that.

You may not be aware of it, but as the lifeblood of our organization, as a Gen Xer, I’m holding together two disparate worlds in the multi-generational workforce. Having one foot in Baby Boomer Biosphere and the other in Millennialandia, I translate all day long, you to me to them and back again. I tell the youngs what the olds want, and I tell the olds what the youngs mean. I switch gears so that the inhabitants of both worlds will understand that I know what I’m about and that I’m trustworthy. (It’s tiring, yes, and I imagine this is the sort of situation that led Atlas to shrug, but that way lies a discussion about Ayn Rand, which, frankly, I’m too worn out to consider at the moment.)

It is in the spirit of our mutual respect and collaboration, then, that I implore you to consider a simple upgrade to your modus operandus. Herein I shall recommend one upgrade for the Baby Boomers, and another for the Millennials. In both cases the goal is the same: greater productivity within our multi-generational workforce.

via Shutterstock

Millennials, I’m going to start with you.

You are much maligned, it’s true; but all of us could benefit from some improvement. (And hey, Gen Xers know from being maligned. Everything was our fault until you guys were in grade school, at which point everything magically became your fault.)

Here is the one weird trick to improving your reputation around the office: have good manners. That entails, for instance, making eye contact. It means that when someone greets you in the hallway, you say hello back, even if you don’t know the person who’s just spoken to you. (The odds of your needing to ask that person for permission in order to carry out various parts of your job repeatedly over the course of an average week will be high. Trust.) Don’t just waltz into someone’s office and say, “I’m supposed to get a folder from you?” Knock, even if the door is open, and introduce yourself. Say please. Say thank you. Respect the pecking order, or make the effort to appear as though you do. You’re probably way faster at what you do than the majority of the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers you work with. But we’ve got years on you, which translates into breadth, depth, context, and relationships. Relationships are everything. Remember that.

Baby Boomers, you’re up now.

You have that aforementioned breadth, depth, and context. You have the relationships. We rely on you for structure and order, for insight and reason. So please, please, please: learn how to use technology, already.

Stop spending so much time talking about the ways you used to be able to do your job without it. Stop finding clever ways to avoid doing tech-related things because you don’t want people to think you’re too old. Spoiler alert: it’s heartbreakingly obvious to us when you’re avoiding it. We can tell from the language you use whether or not you’re scared of technology. Avoid the mental calisthenics: admit what you don’t know, and then learn what you should know. Stop pretending you can be as good as you once were without it. Change is inconvenient for everyone. It’s just that your generation is the only one still in the workforce that’s ever had the luxury of stability. We understand the impulse to ignore this pesky quicksand atop which we all stand. But we know it’s futile at best and self-destructive at worst.

Manners, meet technology. Technology, say hello to manners.

And yea verily will the skies part and the hallelujah chorus sound. Well, anyway, things will get better for our multi-generational workforce: we will grease the wheels of both form and function, and the Gen Xers will get a little breathing room, which in turn will make us a whole lot less resentful and irritatingly prone to dramatic statements about what martyrs we are.

So, now it’s your turn. Because fair’s fair. What are Gen Xers doing to drive you nuts? How can we contribute to the good of the group? Let us know on the Brainzooming Facebook page. (Yes, Millennials, we know it’s for old people. Yes, Boomers, we know you don’t want your life all over the internet. But everyone else is using it, so…c’mon. Do it for the team.)

Change is not only possible; it’s inescapable. So let us go willingly. The only thing we stand to lose is a bad stereotype.

– Emma Alvarez Gibson

 

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

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Last week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence featured ideas for how to handle confidential information. The business strategy focus revolved around how an executive can maintain confidences while employing confidential information to best benefit his or her organization. While passing along confidential information was more in the news last week than this week, it’s a daily issue in business.

Here are ideas the Armada newsletter shared on how to handle confidential information:

Business Strategy – How to Handle Confidential Information via Inside the Executive Suite

Confidential information has been in the news recently. It is a topic relevant to any senior executive immersed in business strategy. While the nation wrestles over handling confidential information in a government setting with geopolitical implications, similar and dissimilar questions exist in private business. Beyond trade secrets and insider knowledge that could move markets, organizations consider a wide variety of information as confidential.

How should you go about handling confidential information within your business strategy?

What are the different varieties, the implications behind a confidential information designation, and the way executives are using it?

These questions drove a chat with a former Fortune 500 executive about how he navigated confidential information at senior levels. It was not a legal conversation (so don’t take his comments as legal advice). His strategies suggest a real-world, pragmatic approach to protecting confidences while getting work done.

One Executive’s Take on Using Confidential Information

“Unless I’m too far removed from it to remember, I don’t recall any extensive training in business school about confidential information. While we undoubtedly covered it in class, I learned the ins and outs of confidential information on the job. When I worked on the consulting side, that was largely client information. In the Fortune 500 world, it was dealing with our own business information. Honestly, ‘confidential’ was as much code for ‘don’t tell anyone this’ as it was legally confidential information.”

Market-Moving and Insider Information

“The first consideration is whether the information has legal implications. Information that moves markets, is insider knowledge, contains trade secrets, or has some other legal standing must be handled with the strictest confidence. In these cases, you sign legal documents with specific parameters. I read through what I’m signing and strictly apply the restrictions. If something is unclear to you, reach out to your legal staff for advice so you have a clear, actionable guideline to work with as you conduct business.”

Via Shutterstock

Handling Business Strategy

“Much of what I dealt with involved information that an organization does not want disclosed because it changes the business and competitive environments, typically for the worse. Maybe there is paperwork attached to disclosing this type of information. Sometimes someone passes along information and declares it confidential as they spill the beans to you about something. These are tricky situations because they center around your ethics and smart business practices.

“What I do in these situations is step back and think about what the information means for daily and longer-term business. For example, in a corporate parent role, one of our subsidiaries had to disclose a new service offering it was planning. When the new service reached the market, the staff of another, competitive subsidiary visited my office to try to understand the market implications. The plan had to remain confidential to protect business relationships. I applied my knowledge of the new service offering to prompt them with questions they needed to ask or service implications they might need to explore. The questions were what I might have suggested if a competitor outside our corporate family had made a similar move.

“That kind of upfront exploration may suggest that activities currently underway might be more important, or less important, based on confidential information. In these cases, try to offer guidance or manage priorities to foster smart business decisions without disclosing confidential knowledge. Provide context to others so they think about their activities in a bigger or slightly different way that better fits a future outcome. Do this by finding a relationship between current, publicly-known strategies and what will happen as you implement confidential information.

“This happens with branding changes. Executives cannot disclose exact branding moves to their teams before public announcements. However, waiting to tell employees until after the market has learned the information leaves employees ill-equipped to support the change. I suggest finding ideas you can share with employees to prepare them for change without disclosing confidential information. If a rebranding will more heavily emphasize an aspect of a brand that exists today, ramp up the emphasis ahead of time. This is not necessarily easy, but savvy executives find ways to apply confidential information to maximize the impact as early as possible without compromising confidentiality.”

When You Can’t Say, or Don’t Know

“When there’s a buzz about something confidential in a company, it creates questions about what the secrets are. Some questions are point blank; others are more subtle. If you are in the know and receiving those questions, how do you handle it? It is important for me to never lie to people. I suggest executives develop an answer to questions about confidential information that they use in every instance, whether the person asking is on the right track or not. One example might be, ‘I can’t and don’t speculate about rumors.’ Rather than lying to someone accurately asking about a confidential matter (by telling them an emphatic ‘no’ to correct information), using a non-committal response is truthful and protects your own reputation.

“On the topic of consistency, in some cases, you may not know confidential information but have to continue your work. I’d analyze these situations after the fact to understand what the indicators were for the confidential situation. For example, when our company considered M&A activity, I’d receive certain questions about competitors’ market positions. The questions were always about multiple competitors, never one. The questions surfacing became a signal a deal might be in the works. That consistency helped me be more effective for the company without ever having to know the specifics of a confidential matter.”

Only One Point of View

These suggestions are from one individual. They are not legal advice about confidentiality. But they do suggest the importance of creating the policy and practices that work best for your organization.   – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.


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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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Following up the post about why so many mid-career marketers have missed out on becoming outstanding content strategists, Emma Alvarez Gibson, from our West Coast (or Best Coast) Brainzooming HQ, is here discussing the steps to become a content strategist and avoid marketing career extinction.

How to Become a Content Strategist and Avoid Becoming Extinct by Emma Alvarez Gibson

Once I was a creative writer.

Then I was marcomm. Then I was a copywriter. These days, I’m a content strategist.

Titles change; it’s a fact of Western business life. But in this space, that’s not all that’s changed. Take a good look at the job description for any number of content strategist positions. More often than not, we aren’t just creating content. We’re managing SEO and Google Analytics, editing images and graphics in PhotoShop and InDesign, sending and tracking emails via a CMS or two. Or seven.  

I’ll admit it was a transition I came to reluctantly, and with a fair degree of resentment. Look, I remember saying, If I’d wanted to be a marketing analyst, I’d have become a marketing analyst. Are they also looking for chemical engineers who can rollerskate and sing opera? It seemed ridiculous and not a little unreasonable. But it’s been a few years now: I think that model’s going to be calling the shots for awhile.

Earlier this week, one of my fellow writers who’s looking for full-time employment expressed dismay over these broadly-drawn requirements, ending with: When did this happen? If you’ve not had to look for a job in a number of years, it’s a fair question. There were no announcements made. These expectations crept in slowly, like fog. When the market crashed in 2008, I saw many organizations let people go and distribute the resulting wealth of tasks among the employees who were left standing. No one’s going to complain about having a heavier load when their neighbor doesn’t have a job. You make it work. We all made it work as best we could.

Nine years later, here we are with a stronger economy and the continued legacy of these career mash-ups. We made it work, and we have to continue to make it work. That means getting on board with the expectations of our chosen field. It means stretching. Learn that CMS. Take the InDesign class. Familiarize yourself with basic photo editing. Pick up a copy of Web Analytics For Dummies. Read a few blog posts on how easy SEO really is. Things have changed, and that means we have to change. To deny it, to refuse, to stay stuck in the outrage, is professional suicide.

At the start of my career I worked at a PR firm. One of the publicists there was roughly 107 years old, to my twenty-something eyes. He was pure 1960s camp, only he didn’t know it. He seemed intrigued by the fact that women were in his workplace and held positions of authority. He referred to us, the assistants, as “the girls” (despite the fact that some of the assistants were, in fact male).  Best of all? He refused to have a computer in his office. He’d never needed one before, and he wasn’t going to start now. And if he did need to look something up that wasn’t in a book, “one of the girls” could do that for him. He repeated this speech often, and everyone would smile and nod, and wait for him to leave the room so they could roll their eyes and get back to work. He was a ridiculous old dinosaur.

But I’m not.

What about you? – Emma Alvarez Gibson

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Mess Wright, who just recently opened Mess Labs in Dallas, has been an online friend for many years, and an in-person friend since August 2016.  

Invariably, Mess puts words to ideas that rattle around in my head in a half-formed state. Mess not only pulls ideas together; she puts herself out there by articulating them. Here’s the most recent example of this, with Mess weighing in on business mentoring and the importance of protecting your time and attention when you are trying to make things happen.

Trust me: Mess is a person that makes things happen! – Mike

Business Mentoring – Be Careful of Who Promises You Help by Mess Wright

Abe Nadimi and Mess Wright of Mess Labs

You can go ahead and file this one under, “Things You Aren’t Supposed to Say but Mess Says Anyway.” Oh, well, here goes:

It seems there is some sort of incubator, accelerator, or entrepreneurial center popping up everywhere lately.

I think this is supposed to (and can) be a good thing, but I have to tell you something.

I’ve been in this startup world for nearly a year, and I’ve found the majority of the “entrepreneurs” and “mentors” I’ve met are actually either hacks, delusional liars, con-artists, or people who are otherwise lost or unemployable.

It takes a minute to decipher the people who are actually “in business.” That minute is long and hard, but my advice is to take the time to really vet people you might let into your life.

I’ve taken a lot of hits (mostly inside my co-working space) for pointing out the people who are time and money sucks. I’ve been told it’s rude or impolite. I’ve been told “community” means “supporting” people, even people who are clearly trying to take whilst offering nothing.

I say all this because I think a lot of people romanticize self-employment or entrepreneurship. My advice for them is if you take that jump, be very selective about who gets time with you. You don’t have to say Yes to every invitation, every introduction or entertain every opinion. It’s way okay to be exclusive in some ways – don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.

Just because someone is older, more experienced, more educated, or did the thing you want to do, that does not make them mentor material. Gravitate to people who lift you up, listen to you, and help you grow. Don’t worry if those people aren’t marketing themselves as leaders or guides. The ones who do aren’t always the support you are seeking and needing anyway.

Everyone who is in a position to refer mentors to mentees needs to also vet people better. Let’s hold anyone we call “mentor” to a higher standard and drop the assumption that “accomplished” or “perceived as accomplished” translates to “can mentor.” It’s a horrible assumption, if you think about it. And a bad mentor figure can do amazing harm to a mentee.

Finally, if you feel you want to mentor someone ask yourself if you have the time, you have the inclination, and if you truly hold the mentee’s best interests as a priority.

If you’re doing business mentoring to feed your own ego, stop. Just stop! – Mess Wright

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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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