Guest author | The Brainzooming Group - Part 3 – page 3

I woke up this morning, and the first thing I saw on Facebook was this reflection by Emma Alvarez Gibson (from our West Coast Brainzooming outpost) as the election returns in the United States were coming in last night.

It says everything beautifully.


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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This week’s “Inside the Executive Suite” from the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief newsletter highlighted two Wall Street Journal articles examining leadership strategy in light of how involved a teacher or coach should be in the details of teaching and learning. 

Leadership Strategy – How Much Teaching and Coaching Is Enough?

When it comes to your leadership strategy, what are the best techniques to develop your team? Should you be in the thick of things, understanding the details of what is going on with team members, and being an active resource for them? Or are they (and you) better off taking a hands-off approach and letting them handle the details relatively unencumbered?

In the Wall Street Journal this week, two articles addressed these questions from different angles.

An article by concert pianist and instructor, Byron Janis, addressed teacher-student relationships in music. Andrew Beaton addressed the topic of college football coaches forsaking their CEO-like management roles to create game plans, call plays, and behave like traditional coaches.

Learning to Play Music Pleasing to Another’s Ears


Janis offers advice gleaned from his own teaching experiences and from his time as a student of piano great Vladimir Horowitz during the 1940s. He shares four pieces of advice for teachers (that can extend to leaders and managers):

  1. Don’t over-teach to a specific standard

Teachers must balance their knowledge and inclinations to instruct what THEY know with the students’ needs to find and develop their own styles. A student only develops a distinctive talent and style if a teacher remains open and refrains from over-instructing based on what the teacher believes and knows.

Leadership Questions: How much latitude do you give less experienced team members to chart their own directions? Are there areas where you dictate a course of action that would benefit from junior team members exerting greater independence?

  1. Let individuals own their problems and solutions

When a student failed to grasp a particular musical passage, Horowitz would tell the student that something was amiss without indicating what it was. He invited them to ponder it, address what they discover, and return the next week to share the correction. This technique puts students in charge of making mistakes, identifying them, and determining the appropriate fixes.

Leadership Questions: How readily do you dissect errors and problems in detail? What room do you have to point out potential issues while allowing your team an opportunity to diagnose and correct them to develop their mistake-making and fixing skills?

  1. Provide ample room to disagree and interpret your input

Teachers can further free students to self-diagnose and correct problems through realizing their own subjective interpretations of performance strategies can be mistaken. Student can have creative perspectives that are on the mark even though instructors don’t understand them. As Horowitz told students, “‘If any of my interpretive ideas don’t feel right, please disregard them.”

Leadership Questions: Are you providing team members enough creative freedom in subjective areas to listen to your viewpoint, while applying their own ideas for implementing strategies? What techniques do you employ to keep your mind open to creative perspectives different from your own?

  1. Encourage a unique, personal path

It is easy, especially for individuals that strive to be perfect, to take in a more senior person’s vision, trying to mimic it as closely as possible. Instead, Janis recommends teachers show students that inspiration and expression are not primarily the byproducts of learning and practicing. They develop from actively living a varied, diverse life. He points out, in closing the article, that life “is perhaps the most important teacher of all. Hard work alone is not the solution.”

Leadership Questions: When new team members (especially junior ones) join your organization, how much onboarding involves instruction? In contrast, how much onboarding involves getting them started experiencing their new environment and actively doing and trying things right away? What opportunities are you creating to provide room for them to bring personal life learnings to your team to increase diversity and your team’s performance?

Getting Back into Coaching

While Byron Janis’ article emphasizes student-driven and owned learning as a teacher uses a gentler hand, Andrew Beaton’s perspective how active college coaches are in actually coaching raises an intriguing counterpoint.

Beaton points to former University of Texas head football coach, Mack Brown, as a forerunner in the “CEO style of coaching.” With coaches at major programs finding themselves in charge of well over a hundred players and staff (plus a nearly comparable number of prospective students they are monitoring), the head coaching role in college football has changed dramatically. Dedicated coordinators build game plans and make play calls during games. A variety of other “middle managers” assume implementation roles for the team.

Put it all together, and the head coach can feel disconnected and limited during a Saturday game.

That’s why some coaches are reversing the trend. A group that includes new University of Miami coach, Mark Richt, is re-working the head coaching role. Richt is prioritizing working with the team’s quarterbacks, designing game plans, and calling plays during the game. Richt and other coaches are devoting more time toward the Xs and Os of football as a way to tackle the classic dilemma of managers that developed as workers: promotions into senior positions remove them from the strong expertise and performance that originally earned their promotions.

Leadership Questions: If you made the transition from worker to manager in your career, how much time do you spend still doing? Are you doing enough doing to keep your skills and perspectives relevant? Or have you long ago walked away from daily activities that generate the value and benefit your team delivers to internal and external audiences? If you see yourself as too removed from daily team activities, what are the best ways to get closer to what your organization does?

It’s about a Balance that Keeps Moving

As with most leadership topics, the only clear direction is that what you do depends on your situation. And in this case, it may vary by specific team member. All of us as leaders need to determine the right balance to guide and grow our teams, and only you may know the right answer! – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 


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Facing Innovation Barriers? Here Is Help!


Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

We have free Brainzooming eBooks for you to help navigate barriers and boost innovation!


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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One of my favorite things is when clients, blog readers, and Brainzooming workshop attendees use our strategic thinking exercises to explore new ideas. They often end up creating new formats and adapting tools in ways we hadn’t envisioned!

The most recent example came our way this weekend.

Diane Bleck of Discovery Doodles  and I were tweeting each other a couple of times in the past few weeks about innovation.

Early yesterday, she alerted me to expect a custom drawing heading my way via Twitter later in the day.

Imagine my surprise when Diane’s drawing turned out to be a representation of an innovation strategy formula we shared on the Brainzooming blog a year earlier. Diane took the simple 5-step innovation strategy formula and brought it to life via this infographic.


What’s particularly cool is step number five. The original step was “Revel and Repeat.” This was meant to encourage celebrating successes and incorporating new learning into future innovation strategy.

Diane modified “Revel” to become “Reveal,” which creates an additive impact to the formula since you definitely have to let the world know about your innovation!

Thanks, Diane, for expanding the range of Brainzooming tools with your creativity and skill! – Mike Brown


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Mike Brown

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

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In its  “Inside the Executive Suite” newsletter, Armada Corporate Intelligence featured a recap and expansion on a Wall Street Journal article called “Win Over a Remote Boss.”  The prevalence of remote collaboration (and the new strategic thinking and other challenges those situations can create) prompted sharing the “Inside the Executive Suite” story here in an edited format.

Strategic Thinking – 4 Strategies for Successful Remote Collaboration


I Can’t See You! What Do You Think?

Roughly forty percent of US workers work from home or in other virtual work settings. Include individuals reporting to an office but working directly with bosses and/or employees in other locations, and the prevalence of distance working relationships grows.

We liken the advice to employ different communication styles in remote work settings to how actors vary gestures and speaking approaches based on how readily an audience can see their faces. TV and movies allow for more subtle gestures because facial cues are readily visible to the audience. Stage actors (who are further away from the audience) have to use bigger gestures to convey the same messages with comparable impact. The acting style must vary relative to the level of connection.

A recent Wall Street Journal article shared advice for individuals working remotely as part of a team.

Similarly in remote work settings, you have to adapt interaction styles to fit the challenges of reduced interaction when people can’t see each other.

4 Strategies for Clarifying and Modifying How You Interact

Based on ideas from the Wall Street Journal article and our remote working experiences, consider these strategies for successful remote collaboration. Instead of ideas tied to particular apps, we’ll concentrate on behaviors adaptable to the tools available to your work team.


Create clear understanding about communication and decision making styles

It’s imperative to clarify communication preferences and decision styles irrespective of whether you are the boss or an employee. Not every boss, however, can readily articulate personal communication and decision preferences. We suggest answering these strategic thinking questions to improve clarity:

  • Do you like learning the main point immediately (with details to follow) when someone delivers a recommendation? Alternatively, do you prefer a run-through making the case for a recommendation before someone shares the big idea?
  • Can you identify typical situations where team members can make decisions on their own, either with or without the boss’ input? What types of decisions can the boss alone make? Are there any situational factors impacting these guidelines?
  • Do you comfortably make quick decisions, or do you mull over the possibilities prior to deciding? Does this tendency apply to all decisions or just certain ones?
  • Relative to approval situations, are there times when specific approval (i.e., receiving a Yes or No) isn’t required? In these cases, will it work to simply have a “reply by or we will move ahead” date to reduce back-and-forth communication and accelerate the review process?

The answers lead to more independent work processes and efficient communication. Try converting the answers into general guidelines or a decision tree everyone can use.

Use the right communication channel for the situation

While it is convenient to use email as a predominant form of communication, it isn’t ideal in every situation. Consider what communication channel makes it easiest for the receiver to consume, process, and act on your inbound communication.

The WSJ article recommends email for delivering project status updates and other information plus bouncing ideas off of someone else. Instant messages or texts typically generate greater attention for time-sensitive issues.

While over-communicating is important in remote work settings, you don’t want to overdo it inadvertently. Test yourself by considering whether you would seem to be a nuisance if you showed up as often at someone’s office door as you are showing up in his or her email inbox/text message list/voice mail box?

Schedule brief, informal updates with high regularity

It’s easy to be lazy and use cc and bcc as your primary avenues to communicate updates to others. What is easier for a sender than listing multiple names on an email and expecting that including someone on the email serves as an update?

Unless you have an app signaling when a recipient opens an email, however, you have no idea when or how a recipient processes the information. Additionally, copying people on emails in place of targeted updates places all the work on the recipient to sift through nested email strings to understand where things are at currently.

It’s far better for a team member to create a legitimate update listing high priority initiatives, along with current activities, potential issues, and likely next steps. Consolidating multiple “cc and update” emails into one communication (with hyperlinks to more detailed information) saves time and doesn’t waste the attention of a boss already inundated with “cc and update” emails daily.

Prioritize and escalate issues in smart ways

Despite creating guidelines for expected situations, there will be unplanned times requiring alternative methods of prioritization and escalation approaches. Here are suggestions in these cases:

  • Prioritize tasks that others need to get started addressing. Better to get someone else working sooner than later so you can both be active on high priority items.
  • When it comes to deciding on responding to communications, jump on quick email and phone response to bosses and co-workers that don’t have visibility to what you are doing. Suggest that the team put a phrase such as “Immediate Attention” into priority emails to help with this.
  • Anticipate an escalation path if a co-worker has not responded in a timely fashion, leaving you hanging. Do you have an okay to reach out at unusual times to keep things moving? Ask about this upfront to minimize potential anxiety if there’s a situation where you need to demand attention right away.

When in doubt?

Whenever a remote working situation leaves you questioning how best to communicate, interact, or keep a project moving ahead, a fantastic strategic thinking question suggested by the WSJ article is to ask: What path will best grow and maintain trust in this working relationship? The answer will generally be a smart way to go.  – Armada Corporate Intelligence

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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your brand’s innovation strategy and implementation success.

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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I retweeted a Brainzooming article on seven reasons to ask for forgiveness, not permission in launching a new strategy. Tara Rethore, CEO of M. Beacon Enterprises, a strategy development and execution consulting firm, replied that there needed to be a post on the seven best reasons to be forgiven, instead.  It didn’t take long to jump on the offer and suggest that Tara guest write that article for us!


Tara (@TRethore on Twitter), works with organizations and leaders to develop realistic business strategies and to break them down into the key actions that allow them to succeed. She earned an MBA from the University of Chicago and an AB cum laude from Mount Holyoke College. Tara also comments on business strategy, execution, and results in Strategy for real™.

Here are Tara’s seven reasons why leaders should grant forgiveness, not enforce permission when it comes to innovation strategy:

Innovation Strategy – 7 Reasons to Grant Forgiveness, Not Enforce Permission by Tara Rethore

Tara-Rethore-Innovation-StrategyIs it better to ask for forgiveness after (not permission before) launching a new direction or innovation strategy? That question is targeted at employees or staff.

In our strategy work, we’ve found that reframing the question can be a powerful tool for executing strategy.

So, what if you’re the boss?

If you grant forgiveness, what’s in it for you?

7 Reasons to Grant Forgiveness, Not Enforce Permission on Your Innovation Strategy

Here are seven reasons – in order of increasing importance and impact – to grant forgiveness and spur innovation:

7. You are allowing, or perhaps creating, space for insight.

6. It encourages creativity and initiative, critical sparks for innovation.

5. The potential reward surpasses the risk – or the risk is being sufficiently managed to avoid catastrophe.

4. The initiative is bringing people together in a new way and for a common purpose that could benefit the organization.

3. The freedom to experiment – and permission to fail – is a great way to build a “test and learn” culture.

2. The idea or approach is sparking new ideas, or another direction that make even more sense.

And the #1, best reason to grant forgiveness: It’s working!

Innovation often comes from insight, mistakes, or accident. So the next time someone starts without permission, then begs your forgiveness, consider whether she/he also sparked something awesome! – Tara Rethore


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

Download our FREE “Taking the No Out of InNOvation eBook to help  generate extreme creativity and ideas! 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 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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Who could find a connection between the “Hokey Pokey” and internal branding ideas? None other than B2B marketing expert Randall Rozin! Randall, who leads the Global Brand Management function within Dow Corning Corporation, serves as the company’s key strategist on brand creation, internal branding, and strategy alignment. Besides all his corporate accomplishments, Randall is always a popular guest author on the Brainzooming blog.  

How the “Hokey Pokey” Suggests Strong Internal Branding Ideas by Randall Rozin

Randall-Rozin2As kids it was fun, if not somewhat embarrassing, to do the Hokey Pokey at school, at the skating rink or at parties.  The Hokey Pokey (song and dance) goes by many names around the world, but has a common format in that you first create a circle of friends. When the song starts, you begin by putting your right hand in, putting your right hand out, putting your right hand back in and shaking it all about, after which you ‘do the hokey pokey by turning yourself about’.  From there you then proceed with the left hand, each foot in turn, your head, backside and finally your ‘whole self’.

Now take the common Hokey Pokey as a simple metaphor to suggest internal branding ideas.  A stretch perhaps, but let’s have some fun with it as at the end of the day the goal of both the Hokey Pokey and Internal Branding are the same.  We want an employee to put his or her “whole self in” to the brand. This concept applies for both business to business firms as well as business to consumer companies.

7 Internal Branding Ideas from the “Hokey Pokey”

Put your right hand in/out

As the internal branding dance begins, we start slowly with a simple hand to test the waters.  We put our right hand in do an audit of what we know about our brand and what we have been doing to communicate it to our employees.

Put your left hand in/out

With current situational knowledge in place, we put our other hand in to develop a strategy of where we want our brand to be in the future and outline a plan to get there.  Now the left hand knows what the right hand is doing and has a path forward.

Hokey-pokey-right-foot-inPut your right foot in/out

Next we have to get senior management alignment to our strategy and goals with active support for bringing the brand to life with and for employees.  Sometimes this involves a little footwork.

Put your left foot in/out

With visible support from management, we now begin to create awareness of what our brand means, what it stands for.  This involves putting feet on the street to inform all employees.

Put your head in/out

The head in this part of the dance, as with internal branding strategy, is properly timed.  In this phase we move beyond awareness to really helping employees understand what the brand means, why it is important and what role they, as individuals, play in delivering on the brand promises.

Put your backside in/out

With internal branding strategy you want hearts and minds.  We covered minds in the previous step; a way to the heart is by having some fun with your brand to help convey its message in a variety of ways.  In the Hokey Pokey, putting your backside in breaks down barriers by being a bit silly during the dance.  For your internal branding initiatives putting your backside in could include sharing stories, in fun ways, of on-brand behaviors as well as off-brand behaviors and how to correct them.

Put your whole self in

The ultimate aim of internal branding strategy is to have employees’ hearts, minds, bodies and souls committed to supporting your brand in service of your customers.  In essence, getting everyone to put their ‘whole self in’ and do so willingly as they can see the connection between what they do every day at work and why it matters and adds value to internal and external customers.

Enjoy both the hokey pokey and your internal branding ideas and remember to “turn yourself about” to have some fun with it cause “that’s what it’s all about.” – Randall Rozin


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Something I’m trying to improve is being deliberate about what I agree to do that could end up distracting from what’s important. After consciously pursuing many new avenues the past few years, it is evident some very fundamental business capabilities aren’t receiving the attention they need. I’ve been thinking about what strategic thinking questions could help me stay more focused.

In the midst of that personal reflection, kick ass business person and cycle instructor, Kate Crockett, posted “2016 – The Year of No” on Facebook. Kate’s strategic thinking questions resonated with me, and I asked her for permission to share them here.

I suspect you will find them valuable as well. Here’s Kate!

2016 – The Year of No by Kate Crockett

I challenge you to make 2016 the YEAR OF NO.

Before you agree to anything, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I want to do this?

We all need to stop doing things we absolutely do not want to do or things that cause us stress and anxiety just because we feel it’s what others want us to do or it is perceived as the “right thing to do.” The right thing to do is to care for yourself so you can care for others when needed.

Will doing this make me feel satisfied?


Kate Crockett and her daughter, Olivia

Would the person asking me to do this do the same for me if I asked?

We all need to stop bending over backwards and going out of our way for people who wouldn’t help us even if it weren’t out of their way.

Would you allow a friend to say “Yes” to whatever it is if you knew they didn’t want to do it or it caused them stress or emotional anxiety to do it?

Why would you treat a friend better than you treat yourself?

Is this time well spent?

We all need to learn to set our boundaries with those in our lives so that we aren’t the ones driven to stress and anxiety while the others in our lives skate around us caring very little that they’ve have put us in an inconvenient situation.

All of us are extremely talented, caring, generous, loving and amazing humans who allow those around us to exploit those admirable qualities to their advantage with little care for what it does to us. Spend your time this year on those who support your physical, emotional and mental well-being and lift you up. At the end of the day, it will make us less stressed and happier people for those that really matter to be around. – Kate Crockett

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The Brainzooming blog has a wonderful group of guest authors who regularly contribute their perspectives on strategy, creativity, and innovation. You can view guest author posts by clicking on the link below.

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