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I presented on “Getting Ready for This” at the Fort Hays State University Business and Leadership Symposium. The talk focused on six strategic success skills vital  in today’s workplace amid a dramatically changing business world. The premise is it’s fundamental to possess strategic success skills in co-creating, contorting, and abandoning ideas and strategies based on what’s relevant at any time. It’s not so much “what” you know, as “how” to continually deconstruct and reassemble your  knowledge in dramatically new and relevant ways throughout your career.

It starts with several amazing factoids from the video “Do You Know 3.0?” recounting dramatic demographic, technology, and information-based changes worldwide. It’s been viewed millions of times, and in the event you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes to watch it.

As a brief overview and reference for the presentation, here are the six strategic success skills to more concertedly embrace:

1. Knowing Answers Is Good – Knowing How to Find Answers Is Vital

Since facts change and information deteriorates, it’s vital to be able to know how to seek and vet potential answers since no one can be expected to have a full command of all available knowledge.

2. Balanced Thinking Allows You to Be More Strategic

USA Today featured an article in July on retraining a left brained orientation to a right brained one in order to cope with a changing job environment. We talk plenty about the importance of knowing your thinking orientation, surrounding yourself with a complementary team, and the strategic impact of being able to work with contradictory points of view.

3. Possibilities and Emotion are Important in Business

From someone whose more natural orientation centers on facts and logic, this has been the most challenging of the 6 areas to retrain my own view. The best place to go on this topic is Benjamin Zander, who has been mentioned frequently here. As a homework assignment for attendees at the FHSU presentation, I asked them to watch these two Zander videos and get a genuine sense of the importance of emotion and possibilities thinking:

4. You Have to Be Able to Communicate in Multiple Ways

Communication is in the top 10 topics addressed on Brainzooming so far because it’s so critical to successful creativity, innovation, and strategic thinking. Students need to be pushed to go beyond the typical team presentation that summarizes a semester-long project. They need to be adept at using formats of varying lengths (simple recommendations, elevator speeches, tweets, etc.) and mediums (songs, video, acting, etc.).

5. Leadership Starts Day One on the Job

Leadership is about service, not titles. That means day one is the time for new graduates to start leading on the job. Taking on a strategic leadership role can be simple. You just have to be willing to do something about it!

6. People All Around You Are Making Decisions Based on Personal Branding

Personal branding isn’t a meaningless concept authors dreamed up to sell more books. It’s truly the driver behind why anyone gets hired, advances, and has intriguing opportunities develop. Step one is understanding your talents and exploiting them. Here are two great books to read on how to further develop and sustain a personal brand:

I look forward to comments from those in attendance (and non-attendees as well) with thoughts on the topic since it applies to all of us as dizzying changes occur around us. Stay close to the Brainzooming blog for more on change and dealing with it in the near future!  – Mike Brown

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 brainzooming@gmail.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can get your Brainzooming!

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’m chairing the American Marketing Association Marketing Research Conference October 4 – 7. It’s going to be a great event, with three educational tracks all tied back to theme, “Making Business Sense of What’s Next.”

Our main programming objective for the conference is providing ideas, tools, and networking to help researchers approach business more broadly and with a clear means to help lead their companies successfully into the future. Through the conference social media effort, you’ll be able to track the conference’s progress using the hashtag #amamrc on Twitter and on the conference website, where I’ll be blogging along with others next week.

To give you an early sense of the conference tone and content, today’s guest Brainzooming columnist is presenting a workshop this Sunday at the conference’s start. Sean Buvala is an award-winning trainer who teaches businesses and nonprofit organizations how to improve their business results through the power of storytelling. You learn more about his work at www.seantells.net.

In this piece, Sean challenges researchers (and really anyone communicating in business) to better incorporate framing to fully realize the impact of great storytelling.

The more esoteric your work, the more you need storytelling in your job. Those of you in research, I am talking to you.

Sometimes it is hard for others to understand the ins, outs, and mysteries of research. By using the power of storytelling in your communications, you can create “frames” to highlight, carry, and explain bigger concepts.

Every house I have ever been in has place filled with pictures of family and friends. Rather than just glue these pictures to the wall, the pictures are placed in frames that help draw the eye to the subjects within. In the most artistic homes, frames surrounding pictures have been carefully chosen to emphasize the content of the pictures. More important pictures (the “everybody in the family” type) have the most expensive and sturdy frames. Done well, frames are an extension of the pictures.

Just like picture frames in someone’s home, framing complicated and important data in the context of a memorable story protects and carries your message to your listeners. Here’s an example.

You could talk about the collection methods used to complete a survey and how that proves the validity of the data. However, folks want results first. So, instead of talking first about how the data means you must completely drop an ingrained and “sacred cow” program from your company, you could start with the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” (JATBS) emphasizing how Jack’s mother was furious with Jack for trading her sacred cow for a few magic beans. In the end, however, Jack ends up with a goose that lays golden eggs, giving Jack and his mother more than they ever dreamt.

You’ll still present your data, but after you tell your version of JATBS, showing the data that correlates to your conclusion. Then, you might lead a discussion based on the data asking, “Just like the mother in JATBS, what do we fear in what the data tells us? In what ways is this data like magic beans for our company’s future?” Finally, end your presentation with a recap of JATBS.

Now, you have framed your data (which is important and needed) in the center of a very familiar and comfortable story. I can assure you the first time you do this you will wade through some discomfort and come out with a presentation that will cement the conclusions into the minds of your listeners.

Here are three things you should know about story and narrative as framing tools:

1. People just want to know, “What’s in it for me?”

Co-workers aren’t as interested in you job’s mechanics as you are. I know you have gone to school to learn how statistics work. However, the people you work with haven’t. For most of them, how you collected the data is not nearly as important as what the data means for their work. Storytelling lets you talk about benefits of research, not just mechanics.

2. Stories remind you to speak in the language of the people: your fellow employees.

Although stereotypes of overly detailed researchers may seem unfair, there are those in your company still slightly afraid of you. When they know you will speak understandably, they are more open to hear what you have to say. When you share the story of how others have benefited by what you are proposing, they will feel better about providing tools and time to fulfill your projects. It’s far better to talk to others about how Susan at the other office was twice as successful after incorporating research results you reported. In a sense, storytelling allows others to know you are “on their side.”

3. Your CFO approves funds for results not information.

Most people hate the process of change. Results are better than promises. Stories are frames that carry results. You will get much more support for a project when folks know how others have benefited from your proposals. How the office across the city became so successful that they now have doubled sales is 100% more effective in getting results than any presentation mired in how the research was conducted.

Your work in research and statistics is vital. Even more vital is your ability to communicate the benefits of your work to the rest of your company. Information framed in the context of story, information carried by understandable narratives, will stick with your fellow staff members much longer than data alone. Take a chance and frame your next presentation in a story. - Sean Buvala


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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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Craig Ferguson ends his Late Late Show program nightly with a brief segment called, “What did we learn on the show tonight Craig?”

For Craig Ferguson, it’s a regular comedy bit and a time cushion for the program’s close where he reflects on specific moments from the show.

For us, it’s a valuable strategic thinking question to ask and answer at any inflection point in a project that’s in progress. It’s a way to force stepping back and looking for broader, more general strategic lessons to add to your personal or business strategic thinking survival toolkit (and potentially share with others).

Consider variations of this strategic thinking question as well. I try to ask myself a question at the end of each day, “What experiences from today could turn into innovative Brainzooming blog items?” The discipline of asking the question and jotting down (or even tweeting) a few creative answers helps keep Brainzooming running each weekday.  – Mike Brown

If you’d like to add an interactive, educationally-stimulating presentation on strategy, innovation, branding, social media or a variety of other topics to your event, Mike Brown is the answer.  Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how Mike can get your audience members Brainzooming!

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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Brainzenning – A video moment of calm and reflection.

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Today’s guest post was contributed by Elissa Shuck, another cool innovation, creativity, and improvement connection met through Twitter. Based in the Phoenix metro area, Elissa is CEO and President of ES-STRATEGIC, LLC. With more than 2 decades of multi-dimensional leadership experience, Elissa has made a lifelong commitment to innovation, creativity, and improvement while striving to help other experience personal and organizational excellence.

In her guest Brainzooming post, Elissa makes the case for the daily decision to be optimistic!

Life happens; it can be good, bad or ugly and even the most positive outlook has a lifespan.

We get beat up on the job, in traffic and in relationships – all of which can drain even the most committed of optimists of every ounce of water in that “half full glass.” In order to stay positive amid the simplest or most challenging of circumstances, we must consciously and constantly feed our optimistic propensity for it to serve us in times of trouble. A Native American parable calls it feeding the wolf that represents this positive outlook.

Unfortunately, many of us have been feeding the wrong wolf for so long our brains have been conditioned to automatically look for the negative in a situation rather than the positive.

So how do we make a change? We must deliberately choose to “feed” the positive by retraining and renewing our way of thinking.

The good news is our brain physiology supports us in our efforts to make these changes. For instance, cognitive therapy offers some insight on how thoughts, emotions, and behaviors interact and suggests a technique that can be utilized to identify automatic negative thought processes and redirect them toward a new optimistic course. The technique is to not dwell on the negative thoughts when they pop up. Instead, we must stop ourselves at the moment of a negative response and then intentionally refocus our minds toward a better reaction or self-talk message. Practicing the new response by writing it down and reviewing it regularly will help strengthen the newly formed neurological pathway and reinforce the new habit of optimism.

Reading books and listening to speakers encouraging constructive, truthful self-talk can also be a way to condition our minds toward alternative, positive thoughts.

Glasses half full. Clouds with silver linings. Optimism is available to everyone, but it is a daily, moment by moment choice and must be deliberately cultivated. News flash to pessimists: you don’t have to be “realistic” any more. With a little practice and tapping into our natural brain physiology, the habit of thinking positively in any circumstance can happen in no time. - Elissa Shuck ©2009 Elissa Shuck and es-strategic, LLC

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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Joan Koerber-Walker started the #BeOriginal hashtag as a response to all the recycling of old ideas going on in Twitterville. Joan’s been a great friend of the Brainzooming blog, offering encouragement and great guest posts – including several extra for a rainy day if I run short on content!

Here are a few thoughts on creativity I’ve contributed to Joan’s #BeOriginal Twitter list:

  • Les Paul guitar. Bo Diddley rhythm. Chuck Berry guitar licks. What have you or I done to create enduring “signatures”? There’s a point where a signature element can become a creative rut. But for most of us, we have a long way to go to get to that point. Step 1 is identifying our talents and consistently applying them to develop a creative signature truly our own.
  • Something to strive for: Respecting your critics & seeing the beneficial points in their comments. You’ll be better for it. It’s not fun to have people criticize your work. But often, your critics are doing more to move you toward creative excellence than your most enthusiastic cheerleaders. You’ll be better off if you can realize that and use it to your advantage.
  • It may be even harder to stop self-censoring than to quit censoring others. Cut yourself a creative break! As valuable as your critics can be, the critic inside your own head may be a fatal enemy. Learn to drown out the internal voice thwarting your creative exploration. Remember: creating art requires the ability to never say to yourself, “That’s not really art.”

And one final #BeOriginal thought born out of a real-life work experience where I was on the receiving end: Don’t refuse to smile at someone you think is nobody. It will make it easier when you realize later they are somebody.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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