Analysis | The Brainzooming Group - Part 12 – page 12
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I’m at the marcusevans Market Resarch & Consumer Insights conference today talking about strategic thinking and the opportunity that market researchers have to contribute to broader strategic success in their companies. One of the keys to delivering on this promise is to have strong relationships with your key market research partners.

Several years ago, I sat down with our main market research company to address what was wrong in our strategic relationship. Taking the approach that we both had faults leading to problems in our relationship was a constructive way to get both of us back on track. The “Ten Things” list can work for almost any market research relationship. Fell free to use or adapt it with your marketing partners:
Ten Things – The Foundation to a Strategic Research Relationship
  1. Be a “thought partner” with us. This is a two-way street – we’ve got to treat you like one before you can do what it takes to become one.
  2. Your energy and passion for what you do (and your intellectual curiosity) need to be evident.
  3. There’s a difference between researchers who think they’re researchers and researchers who see themselves as business people. It’s tough to explain the differences, but they’re readily apparent. We need researchers who think like business people if we are to be successful.
  4. Understand our business more deeply than from just the numbers that you see. If not, we’ll never get to where we must go.
  5. Bring creativity to questioning, analysis, and reporting (and any place else in the process). That means generating new ideas to produce breakthroughs on mutual efficiencies, high impact insights, easy to grasp reporting, and actionable recommendations.
  6. We must put information into context. We can’t afford to just report numbers or even changes in numbers. We need to get to insights. What does it mean? What do we do about it?
  7. We have to get beyond reports that show charts and have bullets that merely say what is on the chart. We have to offer our audiences relevant insights. That takes pulling information from various sources (including people) and analyzing, talking, and identifying relationships among everything we’re looking at.
  8. Look outside our industry or outside research circles for ways to report information. Review Edward Tufte, Richard Saul Wurman, and others. Are there movie scenes that help us get our points across? Magazine ads? Always ask the question: “What’s that like?”
  9. Communicate proactively – let’s make sure we talk and we’re all clear on things before moving ahead. That may mean a phone call instead of an email.
  10. Exhibit strong attention to detail – that way we can get beyond fact & spell checking and spend our time on delivering insights.

If you can get to this point with your research partners, you’ll truly be doing COOL WORK that matters and that can change your company and your industry. WOW!!!

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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Something happens to take you off plan. Sometimes it can’t be avoided…the first time.

But how do you avoid getting your plan derailed a second or third time? One way is by revisiting an implementation effort that went awry and addressing questions such as those below, turning the answers into lessons that you and your team can use in the future to guide your actions:

  • What happened to cause these implementation effort problems?
  • What was the root cause – really?
  • Was there a backup implementation strategy in place? Yes or No? Did the backup implementation strategy fail as well?
  • What were the indicators that there would be a problem? Did we notice or ignore them? Will the signals likely be there next time in a comparable situation?
  • Was available information not gathered or processed?
  • How did we deal with missing information?
  • In what ways might the implementation effort differ next time?
  • If we think it was “bad luck,” how do we create “good luck” in the future?

These few questions will go a long way toward providing a foundation to improve your performance next time. For an insightful, more in-depth look at various types of mistakes and the personal perspective and processes to address them, check out this essay from Scott Berkun. And while you’re doing so, poke around on his website. I just started, and it looks like there are a lot of cool ideas to discover!

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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There’s a great article by Dan and Chip Heath in this month’s Fast Company about the value of simple, straight forward checklists to improve performance. It’s a reminder of the value of checklists as strategic tools to help ensure that you’re thinking through both routine and new situations in structured ways. Problems on a recent trip underscored that point along with the realization that effective checklists don’t always have to be written.

During a “major winter weather event” (KC television weather jargon for “snow”), I was monitoring the weather by looking out the window and watching The Weather Channel. I was unaware that our airport had been closed for hours until my traveling companion called to ask when I was going to the airport and what my alternatives were.

It was suddenly essential to develop a checklist to evaluate viable options so that our trip didn’t fall apart. The resulting checklist works in many instances where a plan looks as if it’s in jeopardy of not succeeding:

  • Identify critical plan priorities that can’t be compromised. (We had to arrive Sunday night; all else could be adjusted on the road.)
  • Increase flexibility / options right away to be able to still achieve the priorities. (That meant downsizing my checked bag to a carry-on in 5 minutes and getting to the airport ASAP to have the opportunity to make more flight options.)
  • Secure access to the necessary information flow. (We determined that on the ground info was our best source – first at the counter, then at the gate.)
  • Develop likely scenarios and their implications. (Since it was an airport-wide delay, we had to get as early a flight as possible, while being prepared to catch the latest connecting flight possible.)
  • Secure the resources to operate in the most likely scenarios. (Our important resources were charged phones, water and food to take along, and each other – splitting up & teaming as necessary to get to the front of the customer service line ASAP.)

The end result? We made it on an earlier scheduled flight that left an hour after our original plane was supposed to depart. Our 2-hour Chicago layover was consumed by the delay; we walked off the plane in Chicago and went right to our original connecting flight. We had food because we’d planned ahead, so it wasn’t a big deal to miss eating at Midway. We arrived only 15 minutes late vs. the prospect of arriving 5 hours late. And the checklist made all the difference!

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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Here’s the second installment of one of my favorite posts – the Rules of Can’t Be Right. This edition is focused on written reports. Here are some important checks you can use to spot potential errors:

  • Ask yourself, “What else could this mean?” If you didn’t know what it was saying beforehand, could you really tell someone what your point is?
  • Look at written prose in a different font or format than you originally used to write it. Doing this freshens your eyes to spot mistakes in something that you’ve spent quite a bit of time working on. (It’s amazing how frequently I’ll miss a mistake while writing this blog that becomes readily apparent when it’s published in Blogger with a different look.)
  • When you have a bulleted list, check to see if the beginning words are of the same type (i.e., all verbs, all of the same tense, etc.) and if each line ends in the same way (period, no period).
  • Run the spelling and grammar checkers. Yes, it’s completely basic, but that doesn’t mean people always do it.
  • Print it and read it out aloud. You’ll be surprised to find how fractured something that looks right can sound when you’re speaking it.
  • Have someone else take a look at it. That’s another way to get a fresh set of eyes as a double check. If the person is unfamiliar with the topic, all the better since they won’t subconsciously fix problems that more experienced people might.
  • Ask yourself, “What knowledge am I assuming that the reader has on this topic?” Figure out how you can eliminate the need for the assumption to be necessary by providing the background to understand your material.

Please leave comments with tips you use to double check work and look for mistakes. We’ll run them in a future installment of the rules of CBR.

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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It’s beneficial to determine the vital steps and questions behind a successful project so you can repeat them in the future. If a project doesn’t end as planned, it’s also important to figure out what was missed so you don’t have to re-learn a mistake. I’ve been doing a post mortem for a recent project and finding two frustrating lessons.

Both tie to an unexpected twist near the project’s end. The non-technical team (that would include me) was surprised by an unanticipated outcome that fell short of expectations. Our technically-oriented teammates, closely involved in the project’s design, were also surprised – surprised that we hadn’t clearly seen the (obvious to them, unexpected to us) detail in all the drawings and plans we’d reviewed for weeks.

So what happened?

In retrospect, the critical detail was in the drawings, but it was lost in a misperception of foreground & background. We (the non-techs) were looking at familiar & prominent images in the drawings, so the unfamiliar (and less prominent) detail moved deep into the background of our visual perception.
To compound matters, the non-techs drove a significant design change before the project’s start. Its ripple effects magnified the detail we’d missed once the project neared completion. Because we couldn’t perceive the detail, we didn’t realize our decision didn’t make sense. And since the techs couldn’t perceive that we weren’t visualizing the decision’s implications, they weren’t prompted to say it didn’t make sense.

The first lesson then is that there probably wasn’t any clear way to avoid the disconnect. Since neither group could perceive the potential problem, neither was able to ask a clarifying question or make a mid-course correction. I don’t think I’ve run into a situation quite like this previously. I’ll be more sensitive to this possibility in the future when working with a very proficient technical group, although I’ll still be without a great question that could confirm everyone’s perceptions.

The second lesson? Much of my consternation about the project’s outcome took place just before its completion. While that’s usually a good time to view a project and correct last minute issues, it clearly wasn’t in this case. When everything was done fifteen hours later, the previous day’s glaring problem was barely noticeable within the finished project. The final steps re-oriented my foreground / background perception, allowing the problematic detail to fade into the background once more.

Short story, here are the lessons learned:

  1. Sometimes there’s no way to perceive a potential problem to head it off, and
  2. Sometimes reviewing a project before it’s completed creates more problems than it fixes.

While these certainly seem like valuable lessons, I HATE them both. So if you can figure out better lessons than these, ones that actually involve fixing something rather than simply waiting around to see what happens, let me know. I’d appreciate it!

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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Notice something about the ritual of pulling petals from a flower and saying, “she loves me, she loves me not?” There are only two choices – yes or no, one or the other. Makes decision making pretty simple. You can force this technique on yourself when you’ve got lots of things to prioritize and are struggling in your decision making.

Say you’re writing a Poweroint presentation for your senior management and have 15 points you feel you have to make. But you know that there’s no way you’ll get to cover more than 3 of them. Here’s how you can use a forced comparison model to help in your decision making about narrowing the list:

  • Write all 15 key messages on individual sticky notes and place them on a wall or desk.
  • Select two messages and compare them, asking, “If I could only make one of these points, which one is more important?” Place the one you pick at the top of the wall or desk, with the other below it.
  • Pick up another sticky note, asking the same question relative to the top-most sticky note. If the new sticky note is more important, it goes on top, and the others move down. If it’s not more important, keep moving down and asking the question (Is this one more important or is that one?) relative to each sticky note until it’s appropriately placed based on its importance.

When you’re done using this simple decision making model, you should have a fairly quick prioritization, getting you out of the decision making trap that everything is equally important. The technique works well either individually or with a group that’s trying to do decision making in a whole variety of situations. So try it, or try it not…try it! – 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 us at 816-509-5320 to see how we can provide as-needed assistance to challenge and refine your strategic thinking and implementation efforts.

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 gave up using a red pen while reviewing work several years ago because someone in our department said she felt as if she were being graded in school. Regardless of your pen color though, a critical part of performing & reviewing analysis is the ability to quickly spot mistakes. It helps to have a sixth sense regarding CBR—items that obviously “Can’t Be Right.” In case you don’t have that special power, here are rules you can use to help spot mistakes – whether they’re yours or someone else’s:

  • Before you work on or review analysis, think about what the answer should or will likely be. If the results aren’t in the ballpark, and there’s no apparent reason, do some digging.
  • When reviewing work, start with a “skeptical” attitude – the expectation that something’s wrong – and look specifically for mistakes.
  • Assume things typically won’t change dramatically (or at least outside a typical range). If changes look like big deviations from the norm, investigate why.
  • Try to “break” things—when testing a spreadsheet or program or reading a document, look for ways to make it not work or look for passages that don’t make sense.
  • With a spreadsheet, do the unexpected—put in numbers that you wouldn’t normally expect (i.e., a negative number where it should be positive, change the order of magnitude of important numbers, etc.). As a double check, if a spreadsheet uses lots of formulas, dramatically change some numbers that should make the results change.
  • Do things or read sections out of the natural sequence. This often makes irregularities more recognizable.
  • When reading, repeatedly ask the questions, “Why would I know that? Does it tell me that somewhere else in the document? Is the point consistent within the document?” Be skeptical when you think you have satisfactorily answered these questions.

While it might feel a little better to not use a red pen while marking up analysis, it feels tremendously better to catch a mistake before your boss or client does. Use these rules to help increase that likelihood. And if you have rules that you use successfully, let me know, and we’ll put them in a follow-up post.

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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