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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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When it comes to creating incredible social-first content, brands can extend their personalities without compromising their brand characters is they are smart and strategic about it. On fantastic example is from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Minneapolis. The church got it ALL perfect.

In case you weren’t following the NFL playoffs last weekend, the Minnesota Vikings offed the New Orleans Saints on a very improbable (perhaps, miraculous) touchdown on the last play of the game. The New Orleans Saint safety was described by Monday afternoon commentators as making the worst defensive play in the history of the NFL.


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Nevertheless, the back and forth scoring in the last moments of the game was conducive, one might expect, to desperate-for-a-Super-Bowl Minnesota fans making any number of deals with God IFFFFFFFFF the Vikings could win.

Taking advantage of that sentiment, Our Lady of Lourdes parish offered this Facebook post on Monday morning following the game.

This demonstrates that a brand (i.e., a local Catholic parish) not typically associated with humor can extend its personality into new realms. It is also a fantastic example of managing the right mix of delivering on:

  • Audience Needs and Interests
  • Compelling Content
  • Smart Brand Integration

For its targeted Minnesota audience, the content addressed an over-the-top interest: the Vikings win.

This compelling content was also over-the-top with its simplicity and clear ties to the Vikings. It cleverly walked the line between serious admonishment and a wink of the eye acknowledgement that people make promises to God all the time that they never live up to successfully.

Finally, because the Facebook post fulfilled the first two expectations so marvelously, the church was free to insert its brand directly into the message through including its Sunday mass times.

We love, love, love how smart this post is. You can see how well-rewarded it was based on the shares and reactions it earned.

Want to go deeper into winning social-first content marketing strategy?

Want to immerse yourself in valuable learning from practitioners doing the real work of social media and content marketing strategy?

Do you want to comfortably network with business and marketing professionals across industries in a reasonably sized setting where you don’t have to navigate through 15,000 attendees and a mile of conference rooms?

Then join The Brainzooming Group crew at the Social Media Strategies Summit in San Francisco, February 6-8, 2018!

You can even enroll at a 15% discount if you sign up NOW using the promo code, SMSSMB15BTW, I think the MB in that SMSSummit promo code may stand for Mike Brown, but I’m just guessing.

The Social Media Strategies Summit is one conference where we’ve participated multiple times across several years and ALWAYS learn new concepts and ideas!

If you want to go all-in for the Brainzooming experience at the Social Media Strategies Summit, sign up for the pre-conference workshop I’m presenting: Writing an Effective and Sustainable Social Media & Content Marketing Plan. We’ll be talking about developing the components of a social-first content marketing strategy that makes sense for both your brand AND your audience.

Be sure to join us and learn more about creating compelling content that will bring your social and content marketing strategy to life. Register today and save 15% with the SMSSMB15 promo code and join us in San Francisco this February at the Social Media Strategies Summit! – Mike Brown

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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.”

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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.
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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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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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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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