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There’s a meme — perhaps you know it — in which two stick figures are trying very hard to make plans to get together. Reviewing their calendars, they trade offers and counteroffers until finally they embrace, tearfully, saying, “It was so nice knowing you!” and “I’ll never forget you!”

Adult friendships, it turns out, require a different level of care and persistence. They can be overwrought with complexity.  We’re not often completely sure about its boundaries or rules. We wonder, we worry. And yet we don’t talk about it much.

Enter Randi Buckley and Dyana Valentine.

Last Saturday, I joined forces with these two inimitable women to record episode 3 of their podcast series, The Challenges of Adult Friendships. It’s an ongoing conversation that explores “the terrain, confusion, gravity, importance, grieving, and nuances of adult friendships,” a topic I think about often, and one I was excited to discuss with these two fascinating and brilliant women. We talked about some of the things that happen around the question of, “What if they don’t want to be friends with me?” We also laughed. A lot.

We haven’t yet figured out how to solve the challenges inherent in adult friendships, but there’s something intensely freeing, and–I hope–helpful about this type of discussion. You can listen in to the podcast here — click on episode 3, far right. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the Challenges of Adult Friendships! Emma Alvarez Gibson

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You’re working on an important new employee or customer communication to further your branding strategy. You’re trying to say things succinctly. Perfectly. But as you’re looking for just the right word that will have just the right impact, it’s not coming to you.

What do you do?

The answer is obvious: you go to an online thesaurus and look up synonyms for the tired old word you would typically use. Or maybe you will settle for a little inspiration to imagine what the right new word could be.

Either way, I have a request to make.

STOP loving those generic words in the thesaurus.

I mean, if you REALLY think communication supporting your branding strategy will be fine with just any old generic word, than I suppose you can go ahead and do it.

On the other hand, if you want to use language that sounds like your intended audience and resonates with them, don’t make the online thesaurus your first stop for ideas.

Instead, explore previously-well received communications you’ve delivered to your audience. While you may be looking for new ways to communicate key elements of your branding strategy, chances are what works with your audience has more to do with building up consistent language that means something to them than it does with constantly throwing new terms at them.

Another great source to draw from?

Revisit comments and language that your audience already uses to talk about your brand. Those can come via documentation from online surveys, online collaborations, customer service calls, emails, testimonials, or content they have shared through social media.

If you have some time and/or the means to do it, reach out to your audience with questions that allow them to talk about the area of interest to you.

In our experience, any of these options are better, more on-target sources for meaningful language than an online thesaurus.

Why?

It’s because these words come directly from the audience. That makes the language more likely to score on its simplicity, understandability, and resonance.

So, yeah, I know it can be tough, but do yourself a favor: step away from that thesaurus.

Your audience will thank you, and so will your ROI.  – Mike Brown

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What You Get Traveling

First trip of the year, and I started getting a sore throat by the first morning. How did I not build up more immunity than THAT? A scratchy throat makes for a long week . . . While walking around downtown Boston in 20-degree weather, I had a great hoodie on under my coat. I felt like Bill Belichick . . . When I was frozen and finally ready to give up and get an Uber, my phone kept shutting off. Or maybe it was user error. Either way, THAT is bad timing . . . The restaurant one night featured a “Roasted Half Roasted Chicken.” Not sure if that is bad proof reading or that chicken is really snockered . . . I was pushing my luck on both legs of this trip. No crab cakes until I had some at the Baltimore airport. No lobster roll until I had one at the Boston airport. Gotta start getting my regional food needs covered on arrival.

Doing The Work

You know you have the right data set when a clear implication is that a corporate executive intrigued by “fun strategic planning” is destined to work with us . . . When someone is all-in to your movement, find every way to involve them. Then get out of the way and let them go . . . There really is an interesting bond with people born around the time you were. They always feel like home. Just discovered that two fave clients and I were all born within 3 months of each other . . . “Invest in people.” No truer words from a great guy that advises us on inbound marketing . . . Yes, in answer to your question, I do have one of those Facebook things. Brainzooming does too. Wanna come join us?

Getting There, Here, and Yon

This flight attendant’s favorite (and frequently repeated) phrase, “Go long.” Okay, sure. Whatever you say . . . I just got A-List status on Southwest Airlines. I need to learn the perks, and figure out how to take advantage of them. In the meantime, the soon-to-expire free drink tickets from a friend came in handy as anything . . . The guy across the aisle from me on the plane insists I am a character actor he’s seen on TV . . . I don’t have the need for speed. The need to have peed? Yeah, that’s what I need. It’s a long way from Boston to Kansas City . . . Uber drivers in many places seem to be wannabe entertainers. Not in Boston, though. They are surly enough to be actual cab drivers . . . For my first Uber on Monday, I was the driver’s FIRST Uber ride ever; she missed my house on the pickup and curb hopped once. On the last day, I was somewhere in the 19,000s of that driver’s rides. It must have been an even longer week for him than it was for me. – 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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While we are whole-hearted proponents of fun strategic planning activities, that doesn’t mean every strategic planning workshop we design and facilitate has exactly the same type of fun. In fact, in some situations, we never get out the fun squeeze toys.

And we all know that toys are a universal signal that a strategy workshop is supposed to be fun.

Not really; just kidding.

There is a lot more to making a strategy workshop fun so that people want to participate the first time and in subsequent years. We detail all those ideas in 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.

4 Times to Avoid Toys during Fun Strategic Planning Activities

But back to strategy workshops and skipping the toys – here are four situations where we do not rush to put out toys:

1. The dynamic with the group doesn’t feel right

Sometimes, it is obvious that the participants are not jelling and funny is not the best thing to get them comfortable with each other.

2. It’s too cramped and cluttered in the room

We want a lot of square feet per person for a strategy workshop. Often, we wind up in a tiny room because it’s convenient, and everyone is on top of one another. In those situations, the last thing we need is to add to the clutter with toys.

3. The people may kill each other

Toys are meant to be fun. They are not meant to be weapons. When the strategy workshop participants are a little TOO aggressive with one another, someone could put an eye out by zinging a squeeze ball at a co-worker. If people can’t play nicely, NO TOYS.

4. We’re told “no funny stuff”

We have talked about situations where a client came to us before the workshop to say there was to be no funny stuff. In those cases, we don’t go to the toys – at least not right away!

Other than those four times

Beyond those four times, we’re all about the toys. And everything else that REALLY makes strategic planning a mentally stimulating experience! – Mike Brown

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I came up with this list a few years ago when some friends were searching for high school reunion ideas that would help pass the time.

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It’s reunion time again. Here’s the list of fun questions in text and image form. Try them out, and see who fits each category at your high school reunion!

High School Reunion Ideas – 18 Fun Questions to Ask

  1. Most unrealized intellectual potential?
  2. Who has most over achieved?
  3. Most changed physically—male?
  4. Most changed physically—female?
  5. Least changed?
  6. Person I would most like to change places with?
  7. Would have taken better care of him/herself if he/she had thought he/she would make it to this reunion?
  8. Great news! __________ showed up.
  9. Great news! __________ didn’t show up.
  10. Too bad. ________ didn’t show up.
  11. Highest (unwarranted) opinion of themselves?
  12. Most changed?
  13. And I would know you from?
  14. When did you get so big?
  15. Boy…I’m glad I’m not __________.
  16. Over/under—plastic surgeries? 2
  17. Most interesting conversation?
  18. Most thought provoking conversation?

High School Reunion Ideas – 18 Fun Questions to Ask (image)

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The Larry King Post View

Keep moving. At all costs . . . Since my flight was cancelled, I was going to hang on to my rental car while I went in to the airport to figure out my options. Then my standard mental travel checklist kicked in (which says she’d all things that will slow you down), and I dropped it off. If I’d have kept it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten home. #ChecklistsRule . . . Songs for an airport: Husbands, don’t let you wives bend over and show butt cracks.

Candy-crush

There is more than one way to get home by 10:30 at night . . .  If I weren’t in shape, I wouldn’t have made that connecting flight . . . The food service areas at LaGuardia are incredible compared to how they used to be. Sorry I had to run by them on this trip . . . In a future life, I’m changing my last name to Gatechek. Our family crest will be a pink tag . . . I don’t wear headphones on planes. I like to make sure the engines are still running. Just in case.

Let me be clear: I don’t want a clear drink, and I’ll whine until I get the right one . . . I don’t think it’s possible to drink enough in first class to make up for the cost differential, in case you are keeping score . . . Candy Crush? I don’t know from Candy Crush . . . I write on planes the way some people play games. Or listen to music. Or watch videos. Or snore . . . You may need exactly the right conditions to be able to engage in a mundane activity. Or maybe you don’t . . . Apparently not everyone is familiar with the concept of time zones. Because if they were, the woman next to me on the plane wouldn’t have had to try to explain them to the person who kept calling her even after she hung up on them.

Drinks

All this, and I still have to drive home.

What Made the Delta Customer Experience Work

I was trying to get back to Kansas City from the East Coast late Tuesday afternoon. Right before arriving at the airport, I discovered Delta cancelled my flight through Atlanta. After running to the Delta ticket counter, they directed me to the Special Services Line designated for those of us on cancelled flights. Starting out ten deep, I decided to try and get somebody from Delta on the phone and take my chances. I Googled and found a local Atlanta customer service number and called. Surprisingly, in almost no time at all, Tina answered the phone.

Manhattan

Tina was in an INCREDIDBLY good mood (despite the Delta system melting down this week), and I let her know that multiple times. After detailing my situation, Tina diligently went to work on my Tuesday options (beyond catching a flight at 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning). She found a flight through LaGuardia, with a tight connection to Kansas City. We discussed the likelihood of making the connection given a potential delay on my initial flight. I said I thought it was worth the risk to be able to get home at the exact same time I was expected. Tina replied so charmingly, “I’m with you! I’m feeling this is going to work!”

I said let’s go.

Tina booked me in first class for both legs and checked me in for the flight. All by the time I made it up to the counter.

We’ll see how well Delta social listens. Because if they reach out to me about my Delta customer experience, I’d be happy to supply my confirmation number so they can track down Tina and do something incredible for her.

Amid what could have been a completely crappy situation, Tina put the Delta brand on her shoulders and delivered an exceptional customer experience. – Mike Brown

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