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We wrote recently about lowering the stakes for sharing creative ideas. Right after that article, The Brainzooming Group facilitated a small innovation strategy workshop with a client.

We discussed the approach for the client’s upcoming thirty-person new process innovation strategy workshop. The question emerged of how much prior thinking to share with the newly involved participants. Our client thought we shouldn’t bias them by initially reviewing the innovation work that had already been done. The concern was that it would limit potentially contrary thinking about ways to improve the internal process they’re seeking to improve. These concerns followed an extended conversation about the value and applicability of having participants complete a pre-workshop survey to gauge their initial thinking and reactions.

We pointed out that bringing a large group together with little preparation and information-sharing would make the workshop way more risky than it should be.

Innovation-Strategy-Workshop

For example, think about the salary cost (and associated risk) of having thirty people (many of them senior leaders) coming together for a day-long innovation strategy workshop without taking advantage of all the inputs we can.  We think lowering risks in these situations ALL THE TIME.

That’s why we never convene people for live, multi-hour innovation strategy workshops without pre-workshop input to understand:

  • What they are thinking
  • Where they see opportunities and challenges, and
  • How we can best organize the in-person time to maximize productivity and efficiency.

Upfront input lowers the risk of an unsuccessful meeting developing.

5 Ways to Lower Risk in an Innovation Strategy Workshop

Here are five ways we lower risks with an in-person workshop:

  1. Carefully selecting participants to get a sufficiently diverse group with as few people as possible.
  2. Reaching out to as big a group as makes sense with pre-workshop surveys or online collaboration sessions so we can introduce their voices and perspectives into the in-person meeting, even if they aren’t physically present.
  3. Sharing as much one-to-many information as we can before the in-person workshop (since it’s often low efficiency time when one person is talking and everyone else is sitting and listening).
  4. Customizing and sequencing exercises based on what participants are thinking and need to accomplish (instead of some standard arrangement that’s always the same).
  5. Creating open space within the meeting where we encourage participants to challenge thinking already advanced by the core team.

With that approach, we can move faster and make an in-person innovation strategy workshop tremendously productive.

If you’d like to learn more about doing the same for your innovation team, contact us! We’d love to fill you in on the approach and how it could look for your organization. – 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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I’m at the Social Media Strategies Summit in Dallas today, delivering a two-hour workshop on developing a branded content marketing strategy. The key is finding the right balance between employing outside-in topics and outside-in timing while still making sure your brand personality and messages come through clearly.

We recently conducted a dedicated content marketing strategy workshop for a client on this very topic. We worked with nearly thirty of its business and communication leaders to explore topics four different audience personas would find valuable and that the organization, a healthcare non-profit, could credibly address.

The client is a non-profit focused on healthcare. It entered the workshop with five profiles of target audience members that The Brainzooming Group helped them develop. These profiles, called personas, are three-to-five paragraph descriptions it developed describing specific individuals it serves, seeks to hire, or collaborates with in serving clients.  Small groups prepared the personas in advance by brainstorming answers to ten questions on each audience member.

The personas provided the basis for other workshop activities imagining topics audience members would be interested in and willing to read, watch, or listen to if the non-profit were to address them.

Here’s an overview of each of the strategic thinking exercises:

5 Content Marketing Strategy Exercises to Generate Audience-Oriented Topics

content-marketing-strategy-topics

What questions do audience members ask during the buying journey?

The initial exercise explored three phases of an audience member’s journey. The first phase (Awareness) encompassed their initial exploration as they became aware of an opportunity or issue an outside party might address. The second phase (Consideration) involved the audience member describing the relevant opportunity or issue and looking at organizations to help satisfy needs. The final phase (Decision) involved the audience member selecting, engaging, and evaluating the relationship with the outside party they chose.

Within each phase, the small groups identified questions audience members might ask. The comprehensive list of questions each group identified became the basis for the second content marketing exercise.

What topics address important audience questions?

The second exercise used questions from the first one to generate content topic ideas. For each audience question, participants suggested one or more topics or working titles. The topics they generated were not intended to communicate an overtly promotional brand message. Instead, the content would help audience members be smarter in their exploration, evaluation, decision-making, engagement, and post-purchase experiences. As the brand addresses topics of interest to audience members, it has the opportunity to subtly convey its helpfulness, expertise, and audience-focus through sharing beneficial content throughout has the audience journey.

Why do audience members select the brand?

Another exercise focused participants on the relationship stage where audience members either choose or do not choose the brand. Workshop participants identified five primary reasons audience members select the brand. They then identified five reasons audience members do not pick the brand. For each positive reason, they generated multiple topic ideas (of interest to audience members) that would back up the brand’s attractive characteristics. For reasons the brand was not selected, they brainstormed possible topics to help counter or refute misperceptions about the brand.

What do audience members say about the brand relationship?

One exercise focused on interactions audience members have with the brand further into the relationship using a 4-box grid. One axis listed “questions” and “statements.” The other listed “negative” or “positive” interactions.  Each of the four cells named a relevant situation and several questions to trigger potential topics. For instance, positive questions present “Education opportunities,” and negative questions signal “pain points.” Positive statements suggest highlighting ” brand value.” Negative comments indicate “objections to anticipate.” Questions associated with each of these four areas suggested jumping off points for additional topic ideas.

What do we think, know, and do that is relevant for audience members?

Audience members’ interests primarily extend beyond the brand’s traditional focus areas. That is why brands focusing only on content about themselves miss so many rich areas in which to share content. To counter this, one exercise explored areas in which audience members exhibit interests, seek information, and focus priorities. For each of the areas identified, participants generated audience-oriented topics. They made the brand connection to the audience based on what the brand thinks about audience interest areas, knows about the information they seek, and does relative to their priorities.

Coming Away with Plenty of Audience-Oriented Topic Ideas

During the Brainzooming content marketing strategy workshop, participants generated hundreds of potential content topics. Before adjourning, each person walked the room to review the topics and select those they thought had particular potential to interest audience members.

The next step is documenting all the topics on a content calendar. This enables the brand to address topics in an organized fashion across the year when, as they can best determine, audience members are most interested in the information.

If you want to learn more about specific details of this approach, contact us. Let’s collaborate to develop richer content that matters to your audiences. – 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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If you’re developing an innovation strategy initiative inside your company, is your primary focus on bringing executives together in a creative way to imagine new ideas?

That’s the focus some companies get enamored with based on innovation training that puts creativity front and center as the key to jump starting innovation.

From our experience, that’s far from the first step.

Strategic-Planning-Fun

Sure, the idea of getting everyone together for a creativity session is a sexy part of innovation.

But convening executives for a creativity session is the right step ONLY AFTER you’ve done a lot of decidedly non-sexy innovation strategy work. All the pre-work will suggest whether an in-person session even makes sense and how to make it successful if it does.


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9 Critical Steps Before Your Innovation Strategy Gets Sexy

What are the non-sexy upfront steps in an innovation strategy?

Here’s a checklist:

  1. Setting appropriate objectives
  2. Gathering internal and external input
  3. Internal fact-finding
  4. Surveying external sources and environments for relevant ideas
  5. Conducting analysis
  6. Synthesizing pre-work into themes and directions to shape the innovation strategy (and workshop)
  7. Determining which parties will disproportionately contribute to an in-person innovation strategy workshop
  8. Designing the right type of workshop to help participants maximize their contributions
  9. Planning all the logistics and experience variables for the in-person workshop

Yes, those are all significant steps BEFORE you ever conduct a creativity session or in-person innovation strategy meeting.

Yet these steps may get insufficient attention in quickie innovation training classes because they:

  • Happen outside the organizational limelight
  • Can be ill-defined and cumbersome
  • Aren’t as sexy as facilitating a creative workshop

Here are two warnings:

  1. If the innovation training you’re attending goes right to how to have a creative workshop with executives, you’ve chosen the wrong training.
  2. If an outside company that is supposed to help with your innovation strategy goes right to the details of scheduling an in-person workshop, you’ve chosen the wrong partner.

If you find yourself in either of these situations, get creative about getting away FAST! – Mike Brown

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Ready to boost innovation in a high-impact way?

New-10Barriers-Cover-BurstDo you need a quick evaluation to understand your organization’s innovation challenges so you can create a strategy to boost new ideas and successful implementation?

Download “The Ten Big Nos to InNOvating – Identifying the Barriers to Successful Business Innovation.”

This free Brainzooming eBook highlights ten common organizational innovation barriers. A one-page evaluation sets the stage to quickly self-diagnose where to focus your organization’s efforts in customizing a successful innovation initiative.

Download Your FREE eBook! 10 Big NOs to Innovating in Organizations

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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What leadership skills are necessary to successfully champion a collaborative strategy?

A client fully immersed in developing and implementing a collaborative strategy asked that question. The task at hand is selecting “champions” from among the organization’s leadership team to move forward with strategic initiatives developed from the input of employees across the organization.

The question is a critical one that’s started emerging with a variety of client organizations. Since we’re involved at the heart of driving the process to develop a collaborative strategy, we navigate our way through the development process based on an organization’s specific culture enablers and quirks.

When we leave after the plan is completed, however, we’re finding many leaders aren’t prepared to implement a collaborative strategy plan. The big difference a leader has to account for is that even if an organization operates in silos, you can’t implement a collaborative strategy plan in a silo. Since so many people have a stake in a collaborative plan, those individuals need to participate in the implementation or at least have visibility to the plan coming to life.

This is a topic I’m turning my attention toward increasingly, because we HAVE TO help develop leaders that can successfully implement collaborative plans. It’s not necessarily a different type of leader than exists in business today. They are out there; we’ve worked with them across industries. The issue is it requires a leadership style that many organizations have never fostered.

4 Vital Characteristics of Collaborative Strategy Leaders

collaborative-strategy-leaders

Here are four vital characteristics of collaborative strategy leaders:

#1 – They actively seek out the energy of the organization.

These leaders are continually reaching out in all directions for what people in the organization are passionate about and trying to make happen. They affiliate up, down, and across the organization; they reach out to all levels and areas to ask questions, listen, synthesize what they learn, and share updates back to all the areas that participate in implementation.

#2 – They integrate the organization’s energy and activities into the collaborative strategy.

You can’t simply send out a plan and think everyone will implement it. As a collaborative leader sees activity even remotely linked to the bigger organizational plan, they work to integrate it. That means finding points of connection, offering or suggesting adjustments that align activities to the plan to accelerate their momentum, and/or inviting cooperation among parties driving activities that should be in the plan.

#3 – They connect the people, parts, and pieces that will benefit each other.

This seems a like number 2, but there’s a difference. The previous characteristic is about connecting people and activities in the organization to the plan. This focuses on connecting people and activities to one another that are related. Creating these connections helps the organization move forward more quickly and dramatically with greater alignment.

#4 – They serve the people, the collaborative initiatives, and the organization above their own concerns.

You could put this first or last on the list. It’s the foundation of the leadership style. These collaborative leaders are motivated and act based on the overall good instead of what suits their own agenda or part of the company. They are in the collaborative strategy leader role for the organization’s overall success even if it means their own interests have to take one for the team.

There’s more to say on collaborative strategy leaders.

We’ll keep after this topic. This is a starting point, however, to look around and see which current and emerging leaders are ready to step into new roles championing collaborative strategy.  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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When you’re first launching some type of innovation initiative, what is the most important innovation strategy question to ask?

A. Who should participate in the innovation workshop?

B. What exercises will generate the strongest ideas?

C. What are we trying to achieve?

D. All of the above

What do you think?

innovation-strategy-question

If you’ve been a Brainzooming reader for any amount of time, you probably know we think “C” is the most important first innovation strategy question to ask.

We call C the granddaddy of ALL strategic thinking questions.

If you have a solid strategic perspective on what you are trying to achieve, you are in a position to apply all the other aspects of a solid innovation strategy process (such as who will participate and the best exercises) in a meaningful way. If you don’t start with what you are trying to achieve, you run the risk of coming up with innovative solutions to issues that can wind up being wildly off the mark.

Talking with a potential client about an innovation workshop, I cautioned that his organization wasn’t ready for a high-stakes innovation workshop just yet. There was an entire information gathering and analysis phase that was yet to be completed.

But even more importantly, from our relatively brief conversation, there were at least two (and maybe more) candidates for the answer to what they were trying to achieve. And not surprisingly, when we chose a different one of the possibilities for what they wanted to achieve, the range of innovation possibilities suddenly grew larger and different than they were imagining.

That was only possible, however, by spending a little time thinking about what they want to achieve. – Mike Brown

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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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What are your expectations from a creative thinking workshop?

That is the first question I ask the audience at a Brainzooming creative thinking workshop. While I have a rich array of content planned, audience member expectations shape the points I emphasize and lead to including other unplanned content.

7 Expectations from Creative Thinking Workshop Training

Preparing for a creative thinking workshop this week, I looked back at a recent workshop to review the expectations participants shared. The expectations are a good representation of issues, from personal creativity to organizational strategy, important to getting things accomplished in a large company.

creative-thinking-workshop

How do you move an organization and its strategy from reactive to proactive?

On a personal basis, certain strategic leadership basics are a good place to start adjusting your attitude and growth as a strategic leader. Organizationally, a change management assessment we use identifies the types of change challenge an organization faces, along with ideas for approaching them successfully.

What are techniques to look at problems in new ways?

We offer a wide variety of strategic thinking exercises to change perspectives and look at day-to-day and longer-term problems in novel ways. At that workshop, we concentrated on the “What’s It Like?” strategic thinking exercise as a flexible tool suitable for many situations.

How do you build a team to move forward in a new direction?

We recommend assembling a diverse team with members filling specific important strategic perspectives. You can add to the core group with three distinct voices that include traditional leaders, emerging voices, and those challenging the status quo.

How do you motivate others – and yourself – to engage in greater creative thinking?

It may seem easy to stay stuck in the status quo. But for as easy it is to not change, you can’t stop all the change going on around you. We recommend inviting people to participate in creative thinking through using idea magnet behaviors. Idea magnets excite and propel others to tackle challenging creative tasks. Leaders also need to cultivate an atmosphere where people understand it’s okay to imagine and try ideas that won’t be successful right away, if ever.

How do you choose specific creative thinking ideas your team develops?

Ideas are a numbers game. It takes many ideas to uncover the most creative possibilities. Our experience suggests that as few as 8% to as many as 20% of ideas in a creative thinking workshop are viable candidates to move ahead right away. Involve a team in narrowing ideas by letting them select up to 20% of the initial ideas consideration. Then use a four-box grid to let team members express their initial views on the value of potential ideas, while group discussion helps decide which ideas advance.

What’s the life cycle of creative ideas?

The cycle to get from few ideas to many ideas to the best few ideas may happen multiple times during one initiative or plan. You, as a creative leader, need to be on the lookout for when it’ s time to move between divergent to convergent thinking and back again.

How do you communicate new strategies to those that are less open to change?

Personally, you can ask open, neutral, and lean questions of people reluctant to change in order to better understand their concerns. Invite them to play a challenger role in constructively helping to vet new thinking. For setting an overall strategy to handle change fears, download our innovation fears eBook offers seven possible strategies to consider.

Creative Thinking Is a Broad Topic

These questions suggest how a creative thinking workshop can cover a wide range of techniques and tips.

If your team would benefit from honing its creative thinking skills, it’s a great time to schedule a Brainzooming workshop before you dive into planning for next year! Contact us to get your workshop booked today!  – Mike Brown

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

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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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One way to deal with a common innovation strategy barrier – fear of change and new ideas – is to disguise new ideas as your team develops and implements them.

Yes, you got that right.

If your organization or other important audiences that will feel the impact of your new ideas truly fear change, it may be best to make your ideas appear less new, less frightening, and less like change than they might normally seem.

Innovation-Strategy-Disguise

Innovation Strategy in Disguise

For a quick innovation strategy inspiration along these lines, this video is an example of doing something that doesn’t fit, but making it seems as if it does.

An Innovator’s Prayer for Humility

As an innovation leader, pursuing an innovation strategy in disguise requires a different perspective. Thinking further about the leadership qualities it takes to successfully engage an innovation strategy in disguise reminded me of a litany of humility I read frequently. It seeks help relinquishing our desires for the things most of us want.

Using the litany of humility as an inspiration, here is an Innovator’s Prayer for Humility to gain the perspectives to make successful change happen without seeking the notoriety and credit for it.

  1. Give us the purity of motive that the new ideas and innovations we want to pursue are truly for the benefit of customers and the organization.
  2. Give us the ability to identify the people and resources we will need to create change.
  3. Reduce our need for credit for generating new ideas and moving them forward.
  4. Reduce our need for overt direction so we can imagine and improvise the needed changes without asking for permission or guidance.
  5. Give us the energy to work early and late hours when fewer people are liable to pay attention to our efforts.
  6. Reduce our organizational visibility to allow us to make progress without calling unnecessary attention to our work.
  7. Give us the foresight to move forward with needed changes that take a long time to implement because we are innovating unconventionally.
  8. Increase our skills in innovating through trial and error, real-time learning, and integrating our tough lessons into future success.
  9. Increase the opportunity for others to see the innovation as their own in order to take credit for and support its success.
  10. Give us patience to wait without comment if people never notice new ideas as their own.
  11. Reduce our need to call attention to and seek credit for the innovation our team accomplished.
  12. Give us a sense of personal consolation if people never notice that new ideas have changed things.

You may think this innovation strategy is nuts. Trust me though: it can work.

Sometimes the only way to make positive change happen is to make it happen WITHOUT calling attention to what you are doing. While we have done this successfully as an innovation strategy, it takes a different mindset to do it with honest motives and a willingness to abandon your need for others celebrating you for innovating once it is successful.

Call this a prayer or call it a checklist for an innovation strategy in disguise. Either way, if you are trying to hide innovation to be able to innovate, these are twelve things to pave the way for it happening!

Are you encountering innovation barriers in your organization? Here is help!

Innovation-Strategy-eBooks

If you are facing innovation barriers in your organization relative to the fear of change, scarce resources, limited perspectives, an overly-internal focus, or other innovation challenges, we have free Brainzooming eBooks available to help navigate around barriers to boost innovation! – Mike Brown

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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations innovate successfully by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Contact us at info@brainzooming.com 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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