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“Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence  featured an article this week with strategic planning questions based on Amazon. Inspired by an article in The Wall Street Journal by professor Scott Galloway, they lay out five strategic imperatives Amazon uses to disrupt markets and grow. For each strategic imperative, they suggest strategic planning questions to adopt an Amazon-like perspective in devising a company’s strategy:

Bringing Amazon-Based Strategic Planning Questions into Your Planning (via Inside the Executive Suite)

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal featured an article by Scott Galloway, marketing professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, and author of The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Galloway shares market dynamics, the DNA behind Amazon’s success strategy, and his view that Amazon (of the four companies) is positioned for a scenario where it “takes over the world.”

Via Shutterstock

We participated in conferences and client discussions recently where Amazon and its aspirations were an overwhelming focus. Wherever players in retail, consumer goods, transportation and logistics, and technology (among other industries) are grappling with uncertainty, Amazon is part of the conversation.

The Amazon Strategy DNA

Working from Galloway’s analysis, let’s look at how to incorporate a strain of the Amazon strategic success DNA into your own strategy development.  For several imperatives Amazon pursues, we extract questions you can use to frame explorations at your own organization.

#1 – Strategic Imperative: Pursue the market’s “most enduring wants”

Amazon Approach: According to Galloway, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos remains strongly focused on putting money into addressing the “most enduring consumer wants – price, convenience, and selection.”

For Your Organization:

Amid uncertainty, there’s tremendous benefit in focusing investment and market penetration initiatives on the enduring wants among your customers and prospects. Does your organization know the enduring wants in your market for the foreseeable future? How are they strongly shaping and prioritizing your business strategy decisions?

Ideally, your organization can go beyond speculation in answering the first question, using a history of quantitative data on what drives customer decisions. Our experience has demonstrated that having a statistically-projectable view of customer behaviors is strategically beneficial. If that is unavailable to your team, explore the most permanent and behavior-driving structural market dynamics. Regulations, resource limitations, and other factors can all play a part in making some decision customer factors more lasting into the future.

#2 – Strategic Imperative: Target narrow, disproportionately profitable niches to dominate

Amazon Approach: While Google leads in overall search market share, Amazon is the major player in product search. Searching for products is the more lucrative market, putting Amazon in a prime position to dominate a profitable segment Google’s core market.

For Your Organization:

Talking with executives about focusing on specific markets or niches frequently reveals a sense that targeting implies giving something up, rather than gaining. Surrendering bigger market size for greater profitability, however, is typically a winning move if you understand:

  • The profit mix within your business by product, service, and segment
  • The extent to which profitability is linked within areas of your business (vs. having generally discrete cost bases and pricing strategies in separate business lines)
  • The way the profitability mix in your organization parallels (or doesn’t) profitability in the broader market

Answering these questions is integral to identifying profitable opportunities and trying to over-penetrate lucrative market segments your brand can own definitively.

#3 – Strategic Imperative: Leapfrog on what’s next or what’s after what’s next

Amazon Approach: The 700 million Apple iPhone users give it the number one position in the voice-controlled market through the Siri app. The next largest (and emerging segment) is voice-driven home computing. There, through Echo, Amazon leads with a 70% share.

For Your Organization:

It is typically easier to successfully anticipate incremental innovation than innovation targeted two leapfrogs ahead. Forsaking near-term innovation for leapfrogs will entail significant failures. One conference presenter this summer shared the sizable list of Amazon innovation failures. While the brand has developed formidable successes, it’s investing in and walking away from leapfrog innovations that aren’t panning out as hoped.

Questions to ask in your planning include:

  • Where do we target innovation strategy exploration: making incremental improvements to what you do today, to what will be next in the marketplace, or toward the market(s) after that?
  • How much effort do we put into anticipating market developments five and 10 years from now?
  • Who are our leapfrog innovators?
  • What innovations are we exploring that can be potential leapfrogs?

Push to integrate a leapfrog element into your strategy, if it needs more innovation.

#4 – Strategic Imperative: Take your critical capabilities to market

Amazon Approach: Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the number-one player in the computer industry’s fastest-growing segment: cloud computing and storage. The genesis of AWS sprang from Amazon’s internal computing capabilities as it powered its multi-faceted online offerings.

For Your Organization:

As you focus on selling what you offer, there may be supporting capabilities within your organization that could deliver value and growth if companies outside your own could purchase them. If your leadership team hasn’t explored this possibility, it makes sense to do so periodically:

  • What core competencies allow us to deliver the best product or service we can?
  • Among these competencies, which ones are important to your competitors?
  • Which of our top competencies are sought after by companies beyond our competitive set?

If you can identify market-caliber capabilities, they can provide strong spin-off business opportunities.

#5 – Strategic Imperative: Sell-in and stick with your differentiation story

Amazon Approach: Jeff Bezos has made the case to the financial markets that vision and growth are as valuable as, if not more valuable than, near-term profitability. The financial flexibility this provides allows Amazon to play a more disruptive role.

For Your Organization: Executives love to guffaw at messaging as so much business fluff, but Bezos’ big vision and messaging are integral aspects of the company’s success.

Does your organization have a big, consistent differentiation message that ties directly into your business strategy? If not, it deserves time on your strategic planning agenda for 2018.

Picking What Makes Sense for Your Organization

You won’t hear us advocating a strategy just because another organization is pursuing it, and that’s not what we’re doing here. What we do suggest is identifying one or two areas to explore for your organization’s strategy: either what it is today, or what it should be fur the future. In those cases, go to school on Amazon and explore what a comparable approach means for your organization’s future. – 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.
Download Your FREE eBook! 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times



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 Hubspot Inbound conference is coming up at the end of September. Based on last year’s attendance at the Hubspot Inbound conference, I’m guessing there may be 20,000 or more people this year.  That’s more people than where I grew up in Hays, KS. That’s why I call Inbound, and other conferences drawing tens of thousands of people, small-town business conferences. At those sizes, conference organizers are essentially creating a small town, focused on education, sales, marketing, networking, entertainment, recreation, and a variety of other activities concentrated into several days.

Developing a Small-Town Business Conference Plan

While an event of this size poses massive logistical and infrastructure challenges for organizers, it also provides opportunities and challenges for attendees who want to maximize their experiences. The typical rules do not apply at a small-town business conference. Here are strategies to maximize learning and impact from an event of this magnitude.

Do Homework and Scope Out the Business Conference Location

You would not move to a new town without learning about it first. The same holds for a small-town conference. As soon as possible, find out the titles, descriptions, speakers, and locations for all educational and learning opportunities. Prioritize where you think you’ll get the best learning, categorizing all the possibilities as “Must Attend,” “Good to Attend,” “Interesting,” and “Don’t Attend.” This lets you quickly narrow your top potential sessions. On the second pass, their proximity to each other and meetings you want to have can help you decide what your first choices are. Keep this list handy onsite in case something is canceled or a session proves not to be valuable.

Once you’re onsite, take advantage of early downtime and walk the conference center and other venues. How close are they? How quickly will you have to navigate the event (and the crowds) to get to all the sessions you want to attend? Are there certain seating spots that are better than others and more conducive to your learning style? For example, are you a handwritten note taker, tablet user, or something else – where having or not having a table to work on could make a difference?

Travel Light and Stay Highly Mobile

The sheer size of this type of business conference demands they be spread over a footprint equal to many city blocks. That means good mobility is an important asset to getting the most out of the business conference. Only you know what maximizes your own mobility, but these tips will likely help:

  • Travel with as few things as possible
    Many people want to have many things with them, including a backpack, briefcase, or purse. The more stuff you have with you, the more cumbersome it is to both get around and to find places to sit or stand at sessions. Pare down what you actually bring to the conference to only the essentials.
  • Stay as close as possible to the conference center
    This helps you avoid waiting for the conference bus/transportation system. You can also much more easily bounce back and forth to your room for calls or catching up on work.
  • Position yourself to move quickly
    Part of this is scoping out the venue and knowing short cuts, back ways, and pathways most people never go. Sit in sessions near open doors so you can get out before the crowd starts moving. This might seem a bit obsessive, but the less time you can spend waiting, the more time you have for networking (although you can use the time spent waiting in lines as networking opportunities, too).
  • Move up and fill all available space
    This advice comes from a sign at Disneyworld years ago. Crowds often bog down and move slowly. If there are open spaces, test your ability and the cultural willingness for moving along the side of the crowd to improve your position in line.
  • Take care of your feet and legs
    Make sure you have great walking shoes that allow you to move quickly and deliver maximum comfort. Compression socks can provide extra comfort when you are on your feet, on the move, and easily clocking eight or nine thousand steps simply moving between sessions.

Shift Where, When, and How You Do Things

To avoid lines and unnecessary waiting, shift where, when, and how you do things throughout the event. Knowing where everything is, when things are available, and having inventive ways to accomplish them are all valuable. Using all these to put you just slightly off routine with the crowd allows you to get so much more done.

  • Create teams and assign tasks
    Coordinate with co-workers or friends (including friends you’ve just made at the event) to split up roles. Send one person to grab food and another to get drinks when lines are long. Split up sessions and pool your notes.
  • Know where the infrastructure is and use it earlier
    Avoid waiting in lines unnecessarily by arriving early. Swing by breakfast, lunch, and dinner venues as early as possible before crowds arrive. Pick things you can eat while you move since you are traveling light with free hands. Visit the power outlets and charging stations that are off the beaten path to keep phones and tablets going all day.

What to do with all your time?

With the extra time these tips provide, you can maximize networking, staying up on the work you need to do, and maybe even look around the city in which your small-town business conference is located! – Mike Brown

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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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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

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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:

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  • 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

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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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