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The day the IHOP/IHOb story broke, Emma messaged me that her son, Luke, wanted to discuss branding strategy with me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Twelve-year-old Luke Gibson’s insight on the dangers of brand extensions was intriguing. We had quite the conversation about when brand extensions do or don’t make sense. Luke clearly saw fewer opportunities for smart brand extensions than I did.

His strong perspective on what would likely be a family restaurant decision underscores how consumers outside the intended target are forming opinions and influencing purchase decisions. And, since Luke and I didn’t exactly agree on brand extensions, I asked him to share his thoughts with Brainzooming readers. – Mike Brown

Luke Gibson on Branding Strategy: Change is Good. Greed is Not.

If you’re good at one thing, then most likely the right thing to do is stick to that one thing. For example, if you’re really amazing at pottery, you do that as your job, and people know you for your pottery business, then why would you suddenly switch to supply chain and logistics, with little to no experience in that? Don’t be selfish.

So yes, what I’m hinting at is IHOP, or should I say, “IHOb.” I’m sure that all of you knew IHOP, or “IHOb,” for their pancakes, and have gone to eat their pancakes at least once. Most likely you ate them during the day.

In an article for Business Insider, Darren Rebelez, president of IHOP, said, “We had to make a bold move to get people to be willing to talk about us for something other than breakfast food.”

Why? Your brand name is still about breakfast food. Might I add, what’s wrong with this picture?

Sam and Pam were walking to the International House of Pancakes. Sam asked, “What are you going to get at the the International House of Pancakes, Pam? Pam said, “I am going to get a hamburger from the the International House of Pancakes, Sam.” Sam said, “That is a good idea, Pam. I think I will have a hamburger, too,” said Sam.

Exactly. And yes, while the burgers at IHOb might be okay, you know what would taste even better? Their pancakes.

I’ve noticed that California-based Foster’s Freeze has done this as well. They have added burgers to their menu. What’s more is that it’s one little burger poster among thousands of ice cream stickers, so it’s also kind of hard to notice. And yes, hamburgers and ice cream are delicious together, but I would like to assume that the better place to get that would be at your local greasy spoon. It’s probable that most people don’t even order the hamburger! As many times as I’ve driven past, there is not one person holding a hamburger! (That Foster’s Freeze happens to be located across the street from a grocery store and surrounded with hot food places, so…) Yes, while their burgers probably taste okay, you know what would taste even better? Their ice cream.

To tie it up, brands should stick to the one thing that they are good at, and can branch off into other related areas. Leave the completely different opportunities for other brands. Your customers see you as greedy when you do this.  – Luke Gibson

Social-First Content to Make Your Customer the Star of Your Content

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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Everyone who speaks or has attempted to speak more than one language has truly excellent stories of times when their linguistic wires got crossed. I find these types of stories incredibly charming; in our efforts to understand one another, we often create a delightful kind of chaos–or at least a hilarious kind. For instance, one woman I know proudly introduced herself to someone in Rome by saying that she was “a happy milk” rather than “happy to meet you.” As a second-generation American child, having learned English and Spanish simultaneously, I was eager to make sense of both languages, and particularly colloquialisms. At some point I discovered that TV commercials were an easy way to learn about American English as well as American behavior at large. Mainly, I learned that there were very specific ways of doing everything, and my family was doing all of them wrong — but they were useful, nonetheless.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned I wasn’t alone in having gone the commercial route to becoming American. My mother, as it turned out, had blazed that trail before me, and as today’s guest blogger, she’s here to share her first-generation American childhood experiences with the worlds contained in 1960s American television commercials. Welcome, Mom!  Emma Alvarez Gibson

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor – Sarah Andrade

I cannot recall exactly when I became Brahtti, or rather a part of Brahtti. I know I was too young to find the word in the dictionary, although it would have been futile to try.

Prior to becoming one of (the?) Brahtti, I had lived in a very small town in Mexico where evening entertainment consisted of playing in the street with the neighborhood children — roughly fifty or sixty of us — until our parents had shouted to us to come in at least ten times and we had shouted back “Just a little while longer!” at least eleven.

This changed when the wealthy family of the neighborhood bought a black-and-white television set and those of us who had a centavo could sit on the floor of their living room and watch a show. There were so many of us, and the TV was so small, that it was difficult to see. It was doubly difficult to hear, given all our excitement and the munching of our pumpkin seeds from newspaper cones, but we were all awed to be taking part in this new thing called television.

A year later, when I was five, my family moved to the United States, and wonder of wonders, we soon had our own television set in our very own living room! We did not have to pay a centavo to watch it, and there were a lot more shows. Everyone spoke English on this new set, but my sister and I were learning the language quickly. What’s more, this television actually addressed its audience, which is how I came to discover that I was part of Brahtti.

At first I thought Brahtti was a particular person, but soon I realized it was the name given to us, the collective audience. Prior to each show, there were things that we were asked to buy: shaving cream, cereal, soap, cigarettes, etc. They would say something like, “And now we present Dobie Gillis! Brahtti, YOU buy Tide detergent.” [You might want to say this out loud a couple of times for best results. “Brahtti” rhymes with “hot tea.”] I noticed that they always emphasized the “you,” and I was unsure if they were being a little too demanding, or just trying to make each one of us Brahtti feel special.

Because I was trying to learn the culture as well as the language, I took my cues from the people that would show Brahtti how to do things such as spread peanut butter (huge amounts, followed with a flourished S, as in Skippy), apply shampoo (LOTS of suds) and conditioner (toss my head s-l-o-w-l-y back and forth to show how rich and manageable my hair was) and even relate to the boys (wink, smile, and walk away).

In those days there were door-to-door salespeople, which took my Brahtti status to a whole new level: face-to-face contact. Mama would ask me to interpret for her when these folks would come around, and I would have to explain that no, we could not purchase anything. Sometimes, however, they would leave samples for us. One such sample was the beautiful little bottle with a liquid that smelled of violets. The sales representative asked me to tell Mama that it was toilet water. We both stared at the little bottle in amazement. What a country! Even the toilet was supposed to smell lovely after every use. I proudly placed it on the commode and used it. Every time. After all, I was BRAHTTI. Sarah Andrade

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 into the Brainzooming blog, it seemed right to have someone else tell the story from a fresh perspective. Emma Alvarez Gibson, who helped shaped the Brainzooming brand before it even launched, is exactly the person.

Ten Years Now and Mike Brown Has a Blog – Emma Alvarez Gibson

It’s 2009, and I’ve just gone into business for myself, doing branding and copywriting. Thanks to Twitter, which is at that point still a place to have thoughtful conversations with smart people, a great-sounding gig has fallen into my lap. This guy I’ve never met has just hired me, after a couple of emails and a single phone call, to help launch his company. He’s kind of shockingly sincere, but he lives in Kansas City, and maybe that’s just how they do there. He’s about to leave his job as a strategic planning and marketing VP at a Fortune 500 transportation company and he’s got this whole other direction mapped out for himself—he’s been blogging now for a couple of years in preparation for this move.

“I don’t think I had any clue, at the start, about the impact the blog would have on my life.”

We work well together. He says I really get what he’s trying to do. And he pays promptly, as the best clients do. I wish him well, and we follow one another on Twitter. Every now and then we exchange pleasantries and silly jokes, sometimes an email or two. We tweet, we message, we leave comments on one another’s Facebook updates. I sign up for his blog posts, which are astonishing in their frequency as well as their depth.

“The blog paved the way for me to create a brand-new business identity. It allowed me to create a new present and future that built on, but wasn’t beholden to, my experience in the transportation sector.”

And so it goes for the next three years. By 2012 I’m no longer working for myself, as I’ve discovered that I’m terrible at it. I’ve got a capital-J job, and excellent health insurance, and tons of banked vacation time. One afternoon in 2014, I’m in my office with not a lot to do, and a message pops up: the guy from Kansas wants to know if I have a couple of minutes for a phone call. I’m a little weirded out, but say yes. He’ll be in San Diego in a month, he says, and wonders if I’m available to help facilitate a workshop. I am.

The evening before the workshop, I drive down from LA immediately following a Neil Finn show, accompanied by a girlfriend, just on the off chance that it’s all a setup and I’m meeting up with an ax murderer. (Spoiler: I’m not. The guy from Kansas is exactly as he represents himself online.) But despite it being our first time meeting face to face, it feels like we’ve known each other for years. Probably because we have.

“It gave me an identity beyond Mike Brown, which is in the top 5 most nondescript names.”

The workshop goes well. It’s fun, and challenging, and so gratifying to see that we’re giving people tools and resources that will continue to improve their work lives and also have the capacity to improve their personal lives. This work calls to me on a deep level.

Back in LA I keep thinking about how naturally we worked together and how our skills and expertise complemented one another. What if that could be my job? But I can’t really allow myself to venture too far down that path. There are too many variables and it isn’t as though he’s hiring tons of people—particularly not people 1600 miles away. I’ve got a child, a chronic illness, a mortgage, and my husband and I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country. I climb back down into the salt mines, so to speak, and focus on making things go.

“The body of work is a personal one. But it allows us to compete with the biggest consulting firms in the world.”

When the guy from Kansas asks if I’d be interested in the occasional editing gig, I am; soon it’s a weekly thing. I think, often, about what it would be like to do this full-time. One day, the guy from Kansas says, hesitantly, Hey, I don’t know how you’d feel about this, but when I’m in a position to extend the company’s base outside Kansas City, I’d really like to hire you full-time. I’d feel pretty great about that, and tell him so. And then it’s back to the salt mines for me, but now the work I’m doing when I’m not at my day job includes several long-term projects, and we’re presenting workshops and keynotes at conferences in San Francisco and on an island off the coast of Georgia.

Now it’s the fall of 2017. I have a block of time in the middle of my frenzied day that doesn’t belong to anyone else, and I shut my office door and call the guy from Kansas to discuss a couple of the projects we have going. When he answers the phone, I say hello and ask how he is. He says, Wonderful. I’m just finishing up your offer letter. Within fifteen minutes, I’ve given notice.

“The busyness of the business, driven in large part by the blog, has had a tremendous impact across my life.”

This month marks the tenth anniversary of what became the Brainzooming blog. I tease Mike about the sheer volume of content he’s created across these ten years. He must have content running in his veins where we mere mortals have only blood, I say. Oh, no, Mike Brown forgot to write a blog post for tomorrow! Not to worry – just hand him that letter opener! The wound will heal; the content will live on! The truth, of course, is simpler and more complicated than that. The truth involves a different kind of sacrifice, and hell of a lot of hard work.

It’s two months to the day since I joined Brainzooming full-time as Director of Brand Strategy. I can’t quite shake the sense that, at any moment, someone’s going to show up at my door and order me back to the salt mines. Because this kind of work isn’t work: it’s a calling. And that makes all the difference in the world, and to my world. (As do the excellent Beavis and Butt-head impressions Mike and I are prone to when in the same city. Or on the phone. Or, okay, via email.)

We’ve now met in person five times, and next year will bring more opportunities to get together to address problems, create solutions, and bring people together in ways they would not have thought possible. I can’t wait to see where Brainzooming goes next.

Happy blog anniversary, Mike. Happy blog anniversary, Brainzooming. Here’s to the next ten years. Emma Alvarez Gibson

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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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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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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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ebook-cover-redoBoost Your Extreme Creativity with “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation”

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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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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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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